Power up!

Sled-Drag Resized

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I decided this was the year I would dedicate to getting stronger. I spent last year training to become a faster triathlete. In fact, I have spent the majority of the last six years focusing on endurance sports.  This year, it’s time for a new challenge, time to get stronger. Don’t get me wrong, I love the competition of endurance sports and I will still race, but I am going to dedicate a majority of my training time this year to natural movement, maximal strength, and power training. I think this change in training will be good for both the body and mind. In the last week, I held my own personal, powerlifting meet.  I wanted to get a baseline of where my strength was at. I worked up to a one repetition max (RM) in squat, bench press, and deadlift.  I performed the lifts in the order of a powerlifting meet.  Squat was first, and it’s my weakest lift. When I was younger, I had several knee injuries that involved dislocating my knee cap and resulting in a meniscus tear.  I ended up having two surgeries on my left knee, and surgery was recommended on my right knee.  Due to weakness and pain, I avoided squats for a long time, and making it a lift I have never excelled at.  However, all those injuries didn’t stop me from getting back to being active and strength training played an important role in my rehabilitation after surgery.  I was told that I wasn’t going to be able to run anymore.  Well, since that prognosis, I have ran seven marathons and three 50 kilometer races. I don’t like having people set limits for me.  However, I will save those details for a future blog post perhaps. Now that I have backed off the running and my legs aren’t always blown up with fatigue, I’ve began to rebuild my squat. I ended up maxing out at 205 lbs, very unimpressive but I know I have the most room for improvement in this lift. I squatted and tapped a twelve inch box to ensure that I was getting full range of motion.  Bench press was up next, and as most young males do, I spent way too much time training this lift when I first got into weight lifting.  Thanks to all that muscle memory from my youth, I pulled off a 225 lbs max.  Pretty sad that my bench press max is higher than my squat, but I hope to right that wrong over the coming months.  The final lift was the deadlift, and this one has come to be one of my favorites. What’s better than trying to see how much weight you can pick up off the ground?  It’s a raw test of total strength and as long as you have good form, it also can be plenty safe. I maxed out at 285 lbs, after taking three misses at picking up 300 lbs.  I ended up with a 715 lbs lift total at a current body weight of 170 lbs.  I am excited to see how much I can improve this total over the year.  I also plan to max in olympic weightlifting at some point in the next few months.  With my commitment to strength this year, I wanted to reveal some of the reasons why you might want to add some maximal strength and power training to your workout program, if you don’t already do so.

Sled Drag

What is the definition of maximal strength and power training? A review in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (JSCR) recommended that maximum strength is best developed in 3 to 6 maximal sets, 1 to 6 rep maximum loads, training to failure in limited training periods, 2 to 5 minutes rest between sets, and 3 to 5 days of training a week. Maximal strength training examples include powerlifting and strongman training.  Power training is done at high velocity and with lower loads or sometimes no load at all. Examples of power training include olympic weightlifting and plyometrics. Heavy loads greater or equal to 80% of one RM have been suggested to improve max power output, while light loads (0-60%) of one RM produce greater rates of force development and higher power output. In terms of power, for optimal loading, a plyometric move such as jump squat is often done unloaded (0% 1 RM), 30 to 40% one RM for an explosive bench press, and 70 to 80% one RM with other weightlifting movements.

Maximal strength and power training has been shown to have really positive benefits for people as they age.  Muscle mass, strength, and power begins to significantly decrease when he hit middle age. While it’s a natural process of aging, we can reduce the loss by continuing to do some high intensity strength training from time to time.  It also helps us retain motor function.  Research in 2011 found that the elderly (60 yrs+) could increase muscle mass by training at an intensity of 60 to 85% of one RM, while improving force development at intensities that exceeded 85% of one RM.  They recommend that healthy senior citizens train 3 to 4 times a week for best results.  A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggested that power training is more effective at minimizing bone loss than strength training in post menopausal women.  Both groups studied did resistance training, a gymnastics session, and a training session at home. The only difference was that the power group trained fast movements. Another study out of the Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews exposed that muscle power was a stronger predictor of functional performance in older adults than muscle strength.  The training routine must emphasize high contraction velocity resistance training. A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine affirmed that high intensity training improved strength, anaerobic power, and mobility at a much greater rate than low intensity training. On top of that, strength and mobility were maintained at a much greater rate through a 48 week detraining period. The high intensity group trained at 82% of their one RM while the low intensity group was at 55% of their one RM. And finally, there is also research that shows heavy resistance/power training resulted in an increase in growth hormone (GH) for men and women aged 60 to 75 years old.  GH can help slow the aging process.

Sprinter Crossing the Finish Line

Training in power and maximal strength can help improve sports performance.  A study by Tricoli and Colleagues reported that heavy resistance training paired with olympic weightlifting helped improve sprint time, counter-movement jump, and squat jump in comparison with vertical jump training. It is obvious that lower body power can be greatly increased, but can it help increase upper body power?  In two different team handball studies, one men’s and one women’s team improved throwing velocity by training with heavy upper body exercises. High intensity training is great for sports that involve a lot of power output, but it is also good for endurance sports too.  Two studies on cross country skiers touted the benefits of high intensity and heavy strength training.  Skiers in one study improved their VO2 max and the other study showed improvement in work economy. There is also a study on cyclists, and one on runners, that show better economy in both from heavy resistance training.  So to all those healthy endurance athletes out there, this type of training could give you an extra edge.

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Flexibility is often a concern with weight training, and some people think that lifting weights will make them too stiff.  I hear that concern quite often and it is actually a bit of a myth.  If you look at olympic weightlifting, the high level competitors display exemplary flexibility. A 2011 study in the JSCR found that well prepared resistance training programs that encouraged full range of motion, worked as well as static stretching to improve flexibility. Another study declared that sedentary young women could significantly improve strength and flexibility through resistance training in comparison to a control group after 8 weeks. The “I will get too stiff” excuse just doesn’t hold up.

So there you have it, some evidence to why maximal strength and power training should be a part of your own training regimen, assuming you are healthy and free of injury. I think it has been revealed in this post that heavy resistance and power training are important for maintaining function as we age, improving sports performance, and enhancing flexibility/mobility. At the very least, a few workout phases (2 to 3 weeks) should be dedicated to lifting heavy things or lifting lighter loads/bodyweight movements at high velocity. Power exercises can be done at the beginning of any workout (box jumps, medicine ball throws, olympic lifts, etc).  Often they require greater concentration on proper technique, so I like to place them at the beginning of a workout before fatigue settles in, reducing the risk of injury. Maximal strength training can be intense on the body, so I feel it’s best to dedicate only a few weeks out of every couple of months to training it.  However, if you are looking to compete in powerlifting, you will need to dedicate much more time to the training. If you are a little unsure about what is considered good form, or if you would like to get your technique checked, it would be a great time to enlist the help of a coach.  I hope this post encourages you to go lift something heavy, jump, toss a medicine ball, you know, have some fun!

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