|Peak Power for Your Clients
Rob Tapia and Len Kravitz, PhD
The incorporation of training systems to produce maximal neuromuscular power for complex movement skills in sports has traditionally been a primary target for various athletic populations. However, many personal training clients also seek fitness programs that may successfully lead to enhanced dynamic sports movements for sports activities including tennis swings and serves, volleyball spikes, running speed, soccer performance, golf swings and vertical jumps in basketball. This article will discuss the fundamentals of neuromuscular power development and present practical ideas for fitness pros to incorporate power training with clients.
What is Maximal Neuromuscular Power?
Cormie and colleagues (2011a) explain that maximal power is the highest level of work attained for muscular contractions during a given amount of time. Broadly thinking, with maximal power a person is attempting to produce instantaneous speed for jumping, running, throwing, striking, swinging, or kicking, all of which are associated to one or more sports. Cormie et al. further explain that power is often called neuromuscular power due to the fact that several neural factors contribute to it, including motor unit recruitment, muscle fiber firing frequency, and synchronization of a muscle's contractile forces. Neuromuscular power is further influenced by muscle fatigue, stretch reflexes, elastic components in muscle, muscle temperature, joint configuration, muscle fiber type, muscle pennation (i.e., the way the muscle fibers align to the movement) and the type of muscle contraction (e.g., concentric, eccentric and isometric) (Cormie et al.). For term consistency throughout the rest of this column, we will use the term power, acknowledging that the neuromuscular component is intricately part of this type of training.
What is the Strength and Power Relationship?
Cormie and others (2011b) highlight that a person cannot produce a lot of power unless they are relatively strong. The researchers, in their review article on neuromuscular power, reference several studies that indicate individuals with greater strength have superior power production capabilities. Decisively, the development of strength will directly favor an increase in muscle fiber cross section (i.e., diameter of muscle fibers) and a host of physiological factors within muscle that contribute to improved intramuscular coordination for power production. Thus, a major take-home to fitness pros is that prior to designing power producing exercises or programs for clients, it is imperative to develop that client's foundational strength first.
What is Movement Pattern Specificity?
The ability to produce maximal power in multi-joint, dynamic movements is dependent on the nature of the movement pattern involved (Cormie et al., 2011b). Exercises selected for a power training program will influence the degree of improved adaptations observed if the muscles being strengthened are trained in a similar movement pattern and range of motion as used in the competitive sport. Exercise training programs that are designed for improving maximal power include traditional resistance training, ballistic exercises, plyometrics and weightlifting exercises (Cormie et al., 2011b). Each of these programs is discussed in the following sections.
Traditional Resistance Training for Power
Traditional resistance training for power includes exercises such as a squat and bench press. These exercises provide a beneficial effect in developing a solid foundational strength for the enthusiast. In addition, Cormie et al (2011b) explain that heavy load (&Mac179;80% of the1RM) training is a viable approach to developing power with traditional resistance training exercises, largely because it is a good stimulus to recruit the larger type 2 (i.e., fast twitch) muscle fibers in the body. The type 2 muscle fibers are considered predominately responsible for powerful athletic performance (Cormie et al). Interestingly, inherit in the traditional resistance training exercises is a slowing or deceleration phase of speed in the latter part of the movement, regardless of the load lifted. Thus, further improvements in maximal power require the involvement of other, more mechanically specific training concepts such as ballistic exercises, plyometrics and weightlifting exercise.
Ballistic Exercises for Power Development
Ballistic exercises include movements like a jump squat and bench press throw (of an object such as a medicine ball). Ballistic movements encourage the enthusiast to accelerate the movement pattern throughout the entire range of motion to the point of takeoff or release of the object being thrown. Unlike traditional resistance training exercises, there is no deceleration period in the movement. Ballistic exercises may be progressed by increasing the load, such as a heavier medicine ball for the bench press throw or wearing a weighted vest on the jump squat. Cormie and colleagues (2011b) note that a variety of loading conditions from 0-80% of lRM of a similar traditional resistance training exercise have been used in the research. Cormie and colleagues continue that force, power and muscle activation are higher during a ballistic movement, due to the continued acceleration of movement through the full range of motion, as compared to a similar traditional resistance training exercise. Many researchers and coaches praise the use of ballistic exercises for power development, based on the fact that ballistic exercises are generally more sport specific and therefore may provide adaptations that allow for greater transfer to sports performance (Cormie et al., 2011b). Cormie and colleagues summarize that the use of ballistic exercises in power training programs is quite effective at increasing maximal power output in sports-specific movements, and for improving power production capabilities using a variety of loading conditions.
Plyometric Exercises for Power Development
Plyometric exercises are also ballistic in nature. However, Cormie et al. (2011b) explain they differ from ballistic exercise in that they are performed with little to no external resistance. Plyometric exercises tend to use body mass for the exercise performance. In addition, plyometric exercises focus on the initial active stretch, which is an eccentric contraction of a muscle, followed by rapid shortening concentric contraction of the same muscle. Plyometric exercises emphasize this initial 'pre-stretch' action, that is commonly observed during human movements such as in jumping. hopping, jumping rope, skipping, bounding, lunges, jump squats, and clap push-ups are all examples of plyometric exercises.
Weight-Lifting Exercises for Power Development
Weightlifting exercises for power development include the snatch, clean and jerk, hang/power clean, hang/power snatch, and high pull. Weightlifting exercises are ballistic in nature as they require athletes to accelerate throughout the entire propulsive or pulling phase of the movement. However, weight lifting exercises differ from ballistic exercises because the enthusiast actively decelerates her/his body mass in order to catch the barbell. A favorable characteristic of weight-lifting exercises is they provide the potential to produce large power outputs across a variety of loading conditions. Cormie et al (2011b) summarize studies showing that power output during weightlifting exercises is greatest at loads equivalent of 70-85% of lRM for a snatch or clean. Furthermore, the movement patterns required in weightlifting exercises are very similar to athletic movements in many sports.
The Velocity Specific Training Controversy of Power Development
Cormie and colleagues (2011b) explain that one velocity specific theory of training is that optimal adaptations will occur doing training at or near the velocity of movement used during the sport. Contrariwise, a second theory submits that moving explosively during the exercises, regardless of the actual movement velocity of the sport, is the key to power development. After a comprehensive review of studies investigating both theories, Cormie and colleagues recommend to do both; velocity specific and explosive training. The researches propose that both types of training provide vital stimuli required to elicit neuromuscular adaptations leading to performance improvements.
Incorporating Power Training for Clients
Fitness pros can add power training exercises into a client's exercise program a couple of meaningful ways. If the client is seeking an adaptation for a selected sport, the approach might be to include a power phase (i.e., 1-2 weeks of power training) into a periodized training program, as that is how traditional periodization has been used in sport. If the fitness pro seeks to add power training as a unique training stimulus (i.e., for variety for a client), incorporating some power training circuits may be recommended (see Sample Power Circuits in Side Bar 1). From this synthesis of the research review compiled by Cormie et al. (2011b) on power development, here are the key takeaways.
1) Developing a foundation of muscular strength with traditional resistance training as an essential first step.
2) Ballistic, plyometric and weightlifting exercises can be used effectively as primary approaches to use in a power training program.
3) Heavy load training (&Mac179; 80% 1RM), with traditional resistance training exercises, is essential for the recruitment of the high threshold type 2 muscle fibers of the body
4) In order to maximize the transfer of training to performance, the power training must incorporate the use of movement patterns, loads and velocities that are specific to the demands of the individual's sport.
5) For long-term power improvement, incorporate all of the training strategies discussed in this research column
Side Bar 1: Sample Neuromuscular Power Circuits
Here are two sample neuromuscular power circuits (using the same six exercises) a fitness pro can use with a client. Key performance tips are noted for each exercise. Use a variety of loading conditions (or bench heights on the box jump) where appropriate, and progress the client based on their current level of fitness. Do ten repetitions of each exercise. Start a client on two circuits, with 2-3 minutes of active recovery (brisk walking, elliptical training, or cycling) between circuits and progress up to 5 circuits.
Rob Tapia, B.S. is an Exercise Science and Sport Administration M.S. student at the University of New Mexico (Albuquerque). His research interests are sports performance, strength/power development, sports nutrition and resistance training interventions for healthy adult populations.
Len Kravitz, PhD, CSCS, is the program coordinator of exercise science at the University of New Mexico, where he received the Outstanding Teacher of the Year and Presidential Award of Distinction. In addition to being a 2016 inductee into the National Fitness Hall of Fame, Len was awarded the 2016 CanFitPro Specialty Presenter Award.
Cormie, P., McGuigan, M.R., and Newton, R.U. (2011a). Developing maximal neuromuscular power. Part 1: Biological basis of maximal power production. Sports Medicine, 41(1), pp. 17-38.
Cormie, P., McGuigan, M.R., and Newton, R.U. (2011b). Developing maximal neuromuscular power. Part 2: Training considerations for improving maximal power production. Sports Medicine, 41(2), pp. 125-126.