Why You Should Care About Adding Power to Your Workouts

Spoiler alert: Training for power isn't just for professional athletes.

woman lifting weight


Contrary to what you might believe, training for power isn't only applicable to boxers, powerlifters, or professional volleyball players. In fact, you've likely incorporated some type of power training in your previous workouts, whether you were doing an all-out sprint on the track or slamming battle ropes into the ground.

Power, ICYDK, is the ability to exert the most force possible in the shortest period of time, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). In physics, power is the amount of force multiplied by velocity (aka speed).

So why should you care about power in your workouts, especially if you're just moving for the fun of it? Here, trainers explain the concept of power in fitness, how to develop power, and why finding your true power can improve both your workouts and your daily functioning.

What Is Power Training?

If physics isn't your forte, think of power as the amount of energy exerted during a shortened time, says Jacqueline Howard, NASM-certified CPT, VKNJA steel mace and kettlebell certified coach, and Schwinn Stages certified trainer. "It's explosive, max effort," she explains. Take an example: Running at a steady pace for an hour is a test of endurance, and it doesn't require you to work at your maximum effort. On the other hand, if you're doing as many thrusters as possible in a minute at a heavy weight, that's building power, since you're working at or close to 100 percent effort.

"In physical activity, power is basically elevating or maximizing simple movements," explains Howard. "[For example,] taking a squat and making it a jump squat or box jump. [Power is] a way to exert as much as you can — max effort — for a little bit of time."

Heads up: You might assume power is the same thing as another common workout term that starts with the letter p: plyometrics. That's not quite the case, says Howard. Plyometrics are explosive exercises that involve producing the maximum amount of force in the shortest amount of time, as Chris Ryan, C.S.C.S., a certified personal trainer with MIRROR and a Lululemon ambassador, previously told Shape. Some common examples of plyometric exercises are squat jumps, lunge jumps, skaters, or clapping push-ups. Plyometrics are a type of power training, but not all power training has to involve plyometrics. For example, cycling as fast as you can up a hill is also a form of power training, as is doing high knees as fast as possible for 30 seconds.

The Benefits of Adding Power to Your Workouts

By adding power to your workouts, you're improving your ability to work at 100 percent of your max capacity. Think of the times you've had to sprint after your dog that escaped from the leash, or when you've needed to muster your strength to push a fridge back into place after cleaning behind it. In those instances, you're calling on your ability to generate power — and having done power training ensures you'll catch up to your pup that much faster or push that fridge by yourself without calling in someone to help.

Developing power also means increasing your stamina — that is, the amount of time a muscle can generate energy at or near your max output, as Shape previously reported. So if you have to run after your dog, having the stamina to do so for 50 yards involves more power than only chasing him for 20 yards.

Finally, increasing your power goes hand-in-hand with improving your breath control, says Howard. "Your breath control can absolutely give you power," she confirms. "For example, inhaling for a power lift means taking a big belly breath, expanding your diaphragm, and engaging your core." Then, she continues, your exhale comes as you exert power during the movement. "Your breath also helps with recovery, by bringing your heart rate down faster," she adds. And having this conscious control over your breath is major: Breathwork has been associated with benefits such as positive temperament, mindfulness, stress relief, and more, as Shape previously reported.

How to Increase Power Through Training

It's no surprise that in order to increase your power, you're going to have to train hard — specifically, by pushing yourself to your max on a regular basis. Howard suggests a 2:1 or 3:1 work-to-rest ratio (for example, working at max effort for 20 seconds and recovering for 10 seconds, as you would during a Tabata workout).

You can choose to complete specific exercises or workouts for power based on your goals. If you're aiming for more power in running, for example, try sprinting at your top pace for 20 seconds before taking a short recovery. To build power in a particular muscle group, try doing an AMRAP, which stands for "as many reps as possible" within a certain time frame (think: as many squats as you can do in a minute). Finally, you can test to find your one-rep max (aka the most weight you can lift for a single rep), then train at higher and higher percentages of your one-rep max and for more reps. This training plan will give you the structure to increase your power progressively and minimize your risk of injury in case you're tempted to go too hard or too fast.

If you're not sure how to begin adding power to your workouts, start small, advises Howard. "Go back to the basics with bodyweight squats and isolation exercises," she advises. "Don't worry about dynamic movements yet, because your body and breath patterns aren’t ready. Once you feel confident in balance and alignment, then you can start building power — but you have to start at the basics." 

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