Power in Exercise

POWER isn’t exactly something we normally associate with exercise and healthy living, but more something reserved for athletes and those involved in competitive sports. However that’s not to say it doesn’t have its place amongst us mere mortals. On the contrary, the benefits of power-based exercise are so great, that it should be a staple part of anyone’s routine.

I will get to what those benefits are shortly, but first we must define what we mean by power. It can be a confusing term; often used synonymously with strength and heavy weight lifting, and while strength is a component, it’s only half of the story. Power, in scientific terms, means the rate at which work is done, and because we are talking about a physical phenomenon, we can apply that definition to exercise. Simplified, power is equal to force multiplied by velocity.

In other words, power training involves using both strength and speed (as opposed to regular weight lifting, which should be performed with slow and controlled movements). But why is using this method in exercise so important? Well on a basic level, it should be obvious that training two aspects of fitness simultaneously will yield greater results than just focusing on one. A number of studies have been conducted over the years on the health benefits of training using power vs using strength.

Most notably, a study published in 2009 in The Journals of Gerontology: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences compared two exercise programmes on a sample group of 150 randomly assigned people of 65+ years, all showing mobility problems. One focused on building strength using resistance exercises, and one focused on building power using everyday tasks such as climbing stairs or rising from a chair, with added resistance from a weighted vest. The results at the end of the 16 week test showed the sample group who had engaged in the power training programme reported better mobility, as well an overall improvement quality of life.

In order to understand what makes a power based exercise, it should be noted that there are two different types: Cyclic, in which the activity is sustained over a period of time, and A-cyclic, in which the activity is performed maximally, just once. Further to this, it should be noted that when power training, a suitable weight should be chosen so that the maximum benefit is being achieved.

The weight cannot be too heavy, as the body could either get fatigued too quickly, or simply be incapable of providing enough muscle contraction to make the movement in the first place, and likewise, the weight should not be too light as it won’t be putting the muscle under enough tension. Thus, a moderately heavy weight should be used for best results. Try and choose a weight of about 60-80% of your 1RM (1RM refers to a weight that you can only push for one repetition before being fatigued).

Examples of cyclic exercises include: sprinting, rowing or cycling (spinning is highly recommended) and rowing. Some acyclic examples are: are throwing activities, jumping and Olympic weight lifting (such as the clean and press). Boxing is a fantastic form of power training which fits into both categories; it can either be cyclic (punch combinations), or acyclic (single, powerful punches).

There are many more power exercises out there to be factored into your workout regime; too many to be listed here, so get out there, discover them, and most importantly factor them into your weekly regime. Thirty minutes of power-based exercises, once a week should be enough to keep you on top form.

David Staffell is a Personal Trainer Brighton and Hove www.dsfitbrighton.co.uk