Power: Do You Have Enough?
What exactly is power and how is it different from speed? Why do you need it? Are you powerful enough? How do you train to become more powerful?
With power, everything in life becomes easier. At birth, you are predisposed with either more fast-twitch muscle fibers or more slow-twitch muscle fibers. Most people discover which type of muscle fibers are dominant during school sporting activities. Being a long-legged, slow-twitch endurance guy, power is among my weakest of the ten components. Like most, I made the mistake of defaulting to my strengths so naturally, I avoided many training methods or sports that required power. If I had known then what I know now, during my time as a Royal Marines Commando I should have trained for power because activities such as diving off buildings, running down mountains or scaling cliffs would have been easier and less risky.With Power, Everything In Life Becomes EasierClick To Tweet
The human body is the great adaptor and will change to accommodate the needs of any stimulus that is regularly applied. With consistent power training, nervous reactions occur more quickly, chemical reactions are up-regulated and all movement feels easier. To put more simply, everything happens a bit faster. An incredible crossover effect is also experienced in other components of athleticism, especially strength.
What is power and how is it different from speed?
Speed is the ability to move your body through a particular movement pattern quickly. Power is the ability to accelerate your body or another object of substantial mass to a given speed. Here are some examples to help differentiate the two.
Example One: Lisa and Lucy are twins and have a ball throwing competition. They can both throw a tennis ball about the same distance. However, when throwing a 10lb medicine ball, Lisa can throw considerably further than Lucy. Lisa is therefore more powerful because she can move an object of mass more quickly.
Example Two: Both twins have their 100m sprint measured. Lisa finished first and was faster over the first 50 meters, but both twins had the same time for the second 50 meters. Lisa is more powerful so she was able to accelerate her body to her top speed more quickly than Lucy was, but their top speeds were approximately the same.
Although speed and power are very similar, they are two separate components of athleticism because it is possible to have one without the other. This is especially true as the athlete becomes more advanced.
Think of the 10,000m champion Mo Farrah. Is he fast? Yes. Is he powerful? In other words, can he launch a heavy object or propel himself to maximum speed in under two seconds? Probably not. Now think of professional strongman Eddie Hall. Is he powerful? Can he move an object of mass quickly, such as throwing a keg of beer? Absolutely. Is he fast like a sprinter? I think not. Who is more powerful? Ussain Bolt or Eddie Hall? Discuss.
What’s the difference between speed and power in hand-to-hand combat?
To land a blow with speed and accuracy makes it powerful, right? Wrong. If an untrained 110lb woman hit her would-be attacker in the middle of the chin with a very fast palm strike—so it’s just the weight of her arm that’s involved—there’s a chance he would come away relatively unscathed and continue the attack. In hand-to-hand combat, the difference between landing a powerful blow and a fast blow is mostly technique. If the 110lb woman was able to strike with appropriate body position so it’s more than just the weight of her arm moving forwards at the exact point of contact with the attacker’s chin she would be able to engage her deep core (pelvic floor, TA, diaphragm and obliques), thereby turning her body into a 110lb hammer. In this case, the toughest of attackers would not get back up again. If this has inspired you, I strongly recommend Krav Maga as a means to learning highly practical effective self-defense. I digress.You Need To Be Powerful To Leap Out The Way Of Incoming DangerClick To Tweet
Why do we need power in everyday life?
Example One: Falling over. You slip on a wet surface and go crashing to the floor. The mass of your torso is traveling at speed toward the floor and your arms have to decelerate your body from its current speed to zero. If your upper body muscles are only used for moving slowly and on occasion moving quickly, but without mass being a factor (like spontaneously reaching for something or maybe throwing a tennis ball), you stand very little chance of being able to decelerate the mass of your entire body without tearing a muscle or landing hard on the floor.
Example Two: Leaping out of the way of incoming danger. It’s a windy day and you’re walking down a quiet road with no sidewalks. Your Spidey senses detect possible danger so you look over your shoulder to see a sneaky electric car moving toward you at speed. The driver may well be texting so it’s down to you to save your own life. Power is required to explosively propel your entire body two meters in a different direction.
Example Three: Walking up stairs. Granted, this doesn’t require power but imagine if you were powerful enough to leap up the stairs explosively launching yourself from one leg at a time. How much easier would this or any type of locomotive movement be?
Are you powerful enough?
This is a matter of opinion, but it’s reasonable to state that all able-bodied humans of all ages should be able to: a) Leap one yard without falling over or injuring themselves to move out of the way of incoming danger, b) break a fall. Breaking a fall efficiently (avoiding injury) requires the technique of tumbling, which all adults would benefit from learning. It also requires a base level of power and strength to absorb the initial impact.
As a base level of power, all Everyday Athletes (people who regularly exercise to varying degrees) should be powerful enough to perform a standing long jump the distance of their own body height.
For under 50’s, to be considered powerful (meaning excelling in the component of power) one should set one’s sights on being able to perform a standing long jump to a distance of one and a half times their own body height for men or one and third time their own body height for women.
For over 65s, performing a standing long jump to the distance of three-quarters of your own height demonstrates an exceptional level of power.
Prerequisites to Power Training
First, establish good movement patterns by working on your mobility, stability, and balance. These are the master components of complete athleticism, which must be established before any progress can be made in other areas. It’s relatively straightforward to build strength, endurance or power on a body of any age that moves well. Training for strength involves adding load to a movement. Training for power involves adding explosive speed. Attempting to add load or speed to a bad movement pattern is a recipe for injury. As the great Dr Perry Nickelston says, “Speed hides need.” This means that when a person doesn’t move well or can’t perform a movement pattern, they’ll speed it up to let momentum lend a hand.
After establishing good movement patterns, it is then time to build basic strength (see previous Strength blog). Your body must be able to create force in order to produce power. It’s physics!You never know when you might have to explosively propel yourself to save your own life or to help anotherClick To Tweet
Training For Power
Unless you specifically train for power, it’s likely that the only time you’ll have to use it is when you least expect it. You never know when you might have to explosively propel yourself to save your own life or to help another. For the more advanced strength enthusiasts, training for power is also extremely useful for boosting strength gains.
Power training is a subject for an entire book. A few words at the end of a short blog does not do this justice, but I’ll leave you with some bullet points and principles.
- Seek a great sprinting coach, such as Franz Snideman or sprinting club for technique coaching and programming advice. Try a session like this:
3 x 10m with 1-minute rest between sprints
3 x 20m with 2-minutes rest between sprints
3 x 30m with 3-minutes rest between sprints
1-3 x 40m with 4-minutes rest between sprints
If you’re really fit and think this looks too easy, especially with the long rest periods, I urge you to trust me and try it. Sprint training is for explosive power production, not cardiovascular capacity. Appropriate rest is needed so you’re able to create maximal force in minimal time. A 10 to 20-meter sprint is like a maximum personal record deadlift—it requires every ounce of energy and mental focus.
- A recent parkour training session, under the guidance of an incredible coach, Dr Julie Angel, involved climbing trees. We were precision jumping, which required explosively propelling ourselves with one leg from a branch and landing on two legs on another. This was raw power and balance training. It felt primal, youthful and amazing. If jumping in trees isn’t your thing, you can replicate the same movements on the ground.
- If you’re relatively new to this training malarkey, but are inspired to build some upper body power to help save you in a fall or a tumble, try this: Stand two feet in front of an open doorway. Keeping your feet still, allow yourself to fall forwards. Decelerate your fall by placing your hands on the doorframe then using your arms to bounce back to upright. If that was fun, try again but from a little further away from the doorframe. Keep moving further then advance onto something lower such as a bathroom counter or the arm of a sofa.
- Other upper body power training exercises for the Everyday Athlete: clap push-ups; pull-up bar-to-abdomen; medicine ball toss; kettlebell snatch (although that’s mostly legs and hips); sandbag throwing, sandbag cleans, barbell cleans.
- Stairway, steps or hill sprints. Keep the goal the goal and go short and sharp. Repeatedly jogging up a steep hill is great for cardiovascular capacity and endurance, but unless you’re sprinting at close to maximal effort with long rest periods, it won’t do much for developing power.