There are so many facets to training and fitness, yet many of us choose to simply focus on the common techniques used to lose weight and shape up. This one-sided approach means that many of us will miss out on a number of the amazing benefits that a varied and diversified training regimen can offer.
As they say, variety is the spice of life, and it can certainly spice up your training programme, as well as the results you get from your time in the gym, especially when you take a ‘strong first’ approach.
The ‘strong first’ training principle should underpin every form of training, from functional exercise for everyone, be they professionals or a member of a special population, to performance training for athletes or for physique enhancement. That’s because strength builds the foundation needed for the effective development of every other physical characteristic or quality.
Weak at life
Whatever your goal, be it to get leaner, slimmer, fitter, faster, or more explosive, you need to get strong first. There are myriad reasons for this, not least of which is the fact that modern life makes us weak.
That means that if we don’t invest the time upfront to get strong first, we’ll be more prone to injury. That’s because strong muscles are needed to stabilise the body, particularly during periods of repetitive force or prolonged stress, whether that’s training in the gym, running a race, or simply going about our daily lives. Strength training also helps to develop all the supporting structures in our body, from joints and joint tissues, to ligaments and tendons. Without adequate strength we’ll also be less efficient, which means our time spent training will be less effective, no matter what your aim is.
And one form of training has the potential to improve overall strength better than any other, and that is power training.
Power training refers to exercises that specifically target your primary energy systems and help to develop the force and speed with which your muscles contract. This is achieved by lifting heavier weights for fewer reps (4-6), with high intensity, and is often complimented by the use of special training techniques such as plyometrics.
Power training combines elements of both strength and speed, which is why it is often referred to as explosive training. Most power movements are also more technical than standard compound weight lifting movements. The exercises used to develop power are compound exercises like the bench press, squat and deadlift, as well as Olympic lifts like the clean and press, snatch and power clean. Plyometric exercises normally incorporate explosive jumping or bounding-like movements that require good technique and a fair bit of space to execute.
Power training works by stimulating specific patterns of muscle contraction by activating the nervous system to generate as strong a contraction as possible in targeted muscles, and in the shortest amount of time.
A plyometric contraction, for instance, initially involves a rapid muscle lengthening movement (eccentric phase), followed by a short resting phase (amortisation phase), then an explosive muscle shortening movement (concentric phase). This helps to stimulate increases in muscle strength and power, not necessarily muscle growth, but some degree of muscular development will occur. The benefits of these exercises are numerous, as they offer a total-body workout that builds lean muscle and strength, incorporates and strengthens your core stabilisers, boosts your metabolism, burns a great deal of calories – and therefore fat and weight when following a calorie controlled diet – and improves your overall athleticism and performance.
Efficient & Effective
Power training sessions can also be short, often taking just 30 minutes to complete, so they can easily be included into your normal training schedule, once or twice a week. The other benefits of increased strength include the ability to increase your normal workload, the improved structural integrity and load bearing capacity of joints (if proper form and technique is followed). You’ll also find that you have more vigour and vitality in all aspects of your daily life. And because it targets an energy system that is not normally stressed, it is also great for your heart and circulation.
To incorporate power exercises into your normal training routine, follow these tips:
- First develop a base level of strength and conditioning, especially core strength.
- Become proficient with the core power movements of squats, deadlifts, bench presses and shoulder presses and the more complex Olympic lifts.
- Include an adequate warmup before power training sessions, including cardio, mobility work and a few light warm up lifts.
- Implement the correct amount of rest between sets to ensure you train with maximum power during each set. Rest periods between sets should last at least 90-120 seconds and up to 5 minutes for maximal lifts.