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Power Training

A Look at Physical Power and its Applications

Power training is often a very confused and confusing component of training, for both the general public and among coaches/trainers. Most trainers and athletes have a very rudimentary understanding of power and how it is applied in a given context. Here we will look at power overall and explain what it is, how it is used and applied and how to train for it.

Definition of Power

Power is often characterised by fast, explosive activity of a short duration. This is somewhat accurate, in that short and explosive bursts of maximal effort are an expression of power in its rawest form. However this is only a partial explanation. Power training indeed does most often refer to short maximal bursts of explosive and fast activity. However overall power output involves every single component of fitness and physical component. Power operates on a sliding scale, which will be discussed soon. Keep reading.

In physics, power is the rate of doing work. In other words, power refers to the physical output expressed within a time frame. It is the amount of energy consumed per unit of time. So it’s both work and time related. More work in a shorter amount of time equals more power. In most cases this is measured by watts.

Again, power is the amount of work performed within a given time. If you are to walk 5km it is the exact same volume of work as running 5km. The work is the same, but there is more power in running 5km because the same volume is performed within less time. Another example is lifting. If you deadlift 100kg for 3 reps your work volume is 300kg. If you deadlift 300kg just for 1 single rep, then your work volume is also 300kg. The first set took a longer period of time to complete the same amount of volume, therefore the second has a higher power output.

Volume Considerations

Work can be completed regardless of how long it takes. However in most competitive and training contexts it is necessary to complete that work in less time. Volume is the measure of work that has been performed. Volume is one factor of training that will determine a given training adaptation or physical response.

Structural changes occur at a given volume or given level of work. Volume can be manipulated to produce a certain result or to avoid a certain result. Volume is cumulative, in that the volume performed within a single session leaves only a small adaptive response, whereas the consistent volume performed from one session to the next produces greater, more pronounced structural changes. For instance, a higher training volume for squatting will lead to greater hypertrophy (mass) gains than training at a much lower volume.

Training volume will significantly influence the adaptive response in terms of performance. If volume is high and induces fatigue, it will have a negative impact on the development of explosive power because explosive power requires efforts of maximal output in the absence of fatigue. Fatigue will hinder the development of explosive power by teaching the body to operate at a lower intensity for a longer period of time.

Time Considerations

The other piece of the power puzzle is time. Power is a measure of work/output performed within a given time. There are a large number of possible performance goals people will be aiming for. For each person the required training protocols will vary significantly. A weightlifter requires extreme levels of explosive power in very brief, one-off bursts. A 1500m runner requires around an 85-90% output over a period exceeding three minutes. Their goals are different, therefore their application of power is different.

Power occurs on a sliding scale. The shorter the duration of effort, the higher the level of work output per unit of time. Sprinting 10m requires absolute maximum explosiveness. This is a 100% effort with the time being too brief to cause fatigue. So the power is at a peak. The same applies to one-off efforts such as shot put, javelin, weightlifting or powerlifting. Power, or watts, is high. There was a high level of energy output compared to the length of time it took to do it.

Over a longer duration power is still applicable, however the body will not be performing the same high level of work in comparison to the length of time to complete that work. Having said that, the goal, even for longer durations, is to maintain the highest possible level of average power.

The Work – Time Ratio

As we have discussed, power equates to the amount of work performed within a given time. The more work performed in less time the greater the power. Training has become complicated enough without having to measure power precisely. Below are some simple ways to roughly calculate power.

The more power you have over a given duration, the fitter you are overall. This applies to strength training as much as it does to cardio based intervals. Power equals performance. All training, no matter what one is training for, should aim to increase power. More work output performed in less time.

Calculating Power

For strength training: The weight on the bar combined with the number of repetitions and the time it takes to complete a set. Set a target for each set. The goal is to beat that target each time you train. This should take into account the main goal. For maximum strength, such as with a powerlifter, you might be performing sets of just 1 single rep. In this case you will be aiming to perform that single rep as fast as possible (while still using good form). Another is hypertrophy. The repetition range and therefore the volume of work is greater than with training for strength. Power is naturally going to be lower when you perform 12 reps instead of just a single. The goal in this instance is to firstly complete each rep in a short time, but to also shorten rest times and pauses between individual reps. All reps within a set should aim to be completed in the shortest time without sacrificing quality of movement.

For sprinting and running: This one is as simple as the distance travelled combined with the time it takes to complete that distance. Again, shorter distances will have a higher level of power output. Aim either to run a set distance in the shortest time, or run for a set length of time and aim to cover more distance.

The same applies in all modes of training. More work output completed in the shortest time equates to greater power output.

Using a Ratio For Measurement

As we have discussed, power is a combination of the amount of work performed and the time in which it is performed. This can be calculated roughly, like in the above two examples, or it can be calculated using a ratio. The following are some examples of work to time ratio. The aim is for the work output to be significantly higher than the time it takes to complete that work.

Running – Every metre is given the value of 1 for work and every second given the value 1 for time. 100m completed in 10 seconds is a power output of 100:10, where 100 is the work (metres ran) and 10 is the time (seconds to completion). This can work at any distance, for instance a 20km race completed in 90 minutes. The power output is 20,000:5400 or 100:27. The shorter distance is obviously a greater power output, with the ratio having a larger difference between the distance and time. The idea of measuring power this way is to apply it consistently to the same distances or the same investment of time. This is used for comparison. So if your 100m power is 100:10 then you might aim for an output of 100:9.8 and the same applies to longer durations or distances. This can be used to also compare one distance or time to another and aim to consistently perform more work in a shorter time.

The above example applies not just to running, but anything else distance based, such as cycling, swimming, rowing etc.

With these forms of training it is most often not necessary to calculate and use a ratio to gauge training or competition efforts. Generally one aims to simply improve times over a given distances. For the next example though it is useful using the work to time ratio.

Resistance Training – Every kilogram is given the value of 1 for work, every second is given the value of 1 for time. Performing a set of squats at 100kg for 10 reps gives the value of 1000 for work output. If that set takes 60 seconds the power output will be 1000:60 or 100:6. As with running, a shorter duration generally equates to greater power output. A squat could be 300kg for just one single rep completed in just two seconds. This is a power output of 300:2 or 150:1.

The work ratio for resistance training is useful. The aim is to increase work output in each movement over time. Fairly simple concept. The greater the difference between the work output and the time, the higher the power output.

The Foundation For All Training

Looking at power as an expression of work output in relation to time, most training for performance purposes is power based. In all methods of training your aim is to increase power output, to perform a greater amount of work in a shorter amount of time. This concept is nothing new in practical terms. People have always trained to increase power output. The runner has always aimed to run their chosen distance in a shorter time. The same goes for swimmers and cyclists and anyone else you can imagine. In strength based activities it is slightly more complicated. We have always looked at the work output, such as with lifting a heavier weight or performing a greater number of reps. However time has never been a major factor in most strength programs. Using this power principle though we can measure training density, which is the same as power output.

Regardless of the training outcome, power is a factor in all expressions of performance. As an athlete or coach the goal should always be to increase power output in the times and durations relevant to the task one is training for. Thinking in this way will not necessarily alter training a great deal, but it will alter the direction of the training focus. More effort is applied towards increasing work output within shorter time frames.

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YOUR COACH – Chris Lyons

Chris Lyons is an experienced strength and conditioning coach, having trained athletes of all ages and levels since 2002. Chris specialises in coaching athletes for speed and power specific to fast-moving sports such as rugby league, rugby union, soccer, Aussie rules football etc. Since 2002 Chris has conducted close to 15,000 hours of training and coaching directly with athletes and members of the general population. From this experience comes Sprint Ninja, based on tried and tested training methods combined with up to date research. Chris continues to challenge himself not only as a coach, but also as an athlete, competing in sprinting events, strongman and Olympic-style weightlifting.

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