Power Training - Athletic Bodybuilding
POWER TRAINING - ATHLETIC PHYSIQUE
"Power Training" is a concept I came up with after several years of training in various gyms. After trying out all manner of approaches with workouts and of course nutrition, I started seeing definite trends develop that were leading to more efficient results. Most of the time these were basic, standard approaches like old school strength programs consisting of bench, squat and deadlift, and different variations of these exercises. These are the fundamental movements, although I would personally substitute 'overhead press' instead of bench press as a more functional movement. In fact, the overhead press, and the tons of different workable variations (I'll get to shortly) have become the staple of my personal workouts.
To understand the PT (Power Training) idea, one thing the reader must be aware of is that this is not a definite, periodized program. This just means that its not necessarily a written and just-press-go program. Instead it is a philosophy, a set of guidelines to encourage the trainee to develop their own customized program over time. Finding your perfect routine is something that simply takes time, and it cannot be given to you by someone else, unless you happen to have the fortune of working with a world-class trainer who can intuitively diagnose and prescribe a highly specified routine.
We spoke before of trends, and three key concepts in particular I think we should address that make for the foundation of the PT philosophy.
1) Mental toughness and the desire to constantly make improvements, daily, even if those improvements are relatively small. For example it is great to see the scale drop by three pounds, but it is not quite as glamorous to be able to successfully do just one more push up than you could yesterday. However, over time these small changes amount to massive results.
2) Strength in the gym should almost always be the priority. Here we speak of strength in a unique way. Strength by its very nature requires joint stability and "core strength" to be properly used. Strength is not just being able to lift the heaviest weight possible, it is the ability to provide adequate force without sacrificing stability. This is what we call "proper form" in the gym. Proper form itself is simply aligning the joint structures optimally to distribute the load over the strongest joints, namely the hips. This leads to more power production, smoother movement, more force application and perhaps most importantly injury prevention.
3) Most people lean towards the improvement of only a small sliver of muscle fibers. We call these "fast twitch" and "slow twitch" fibers. Power Training emphasizes the use of all of these fibers, especially the "super fast twitch" power fibers that are only activated when maximum explosiveness is used (with proper form), such as a box jump, sprint or power clean. By utilizing all fiber types we maximize the hormone cascade responsible for muscle growth and fat loss at the same time.
If this all seems too "sciency" and difficult to understand, let me sum it up succinctly:
Power Training has the goal of becoming the fastest, leanest, most mobile, and most POWERFUL version of yourself, while keeping you completely injury free.
Does this sound too good to be true? We have been plagued by a lack of directly applicable knowledge in the fitness industry. Fads emerge left and right. Very few people focus on things like mobility, joint security, proper posture and developing skills like proper belly breathing or how to brace during a movement. For this reason, the typical gym is absolutely riddled with injured and disproportionate people, many of whom are so frustrated with their lack of overall progress that they have degraded into the "I'm just here to do something" mentality.
What this has culminated into is a society that generally fears getting hurt in the gym, discourages strength training and is in general in a defensive posture towards their goals.
Power Training is an empowering mentality because it frees us from the prison mindset that we have accepted. This mindset is that the body gets old and falls apart and this is just the way it is. While science has already proven this wrong beyond a shadow of a doubt, it still permeates our minds.
The truth is that you can heal and strengthen your body at any age and in any circumstance. It just takes a new type of thinking. It comes from a position that we are POWERFUL beings, far more powerful than we have been led to believe. In fact, the stories I've seen have hinted that there may be nothing that we aren't capable of if we can truly believe it, and shed the inferior and outdated programs that have been in our subconscious for so long.
Power Training has a double meaning. Not only do we refer to powerful human movement, with intention, but also MENTAL POWER. Developing the body is so much easier and fun when we have the mental strength to shed bad habits, replace them and speak positively about ourselves and our world constantly. And there is great news because it just so happens there are about 3,400,503,444,434 different books and articles currently in publication about how to strengthen the mind through mental workouts.
How Does a Power Training Program Work?
I'm going to give the readers some very practical advice that can be immediately implemented into your current workout plan. This is aimed at people that already have some gym experience and are just looking to expand, tweak and upgrade their current plan.
The principle we use is called "autoregulated training". This is a fancy way of saying that how you feel dictates how you train that day. Let's say you are deadlifting one day for strength. You feel sort of tired and there's a little ache in your lower back, but the plan was to lift heavy. By autoregulating we can transmute our daily training goal, in this case, perhaps it is a better idea to use lower weight and focus exclusively on form and bar speed. In this case, you are making an 'investment' in your training by thinking long term, listening to your body and improving your mechanics, which may not leave you sore the next day, may not increase your strength that day, but you will have worked on an aspect that will help you be stronger on days you feel invincible. We all have on and off days, it doesn't mean that you simply work out "less hard" than normal, it means that you make adjustments in real-time, scrapping certain exercises that don't "feel right" and replacing them with better suited exercises.
Of course one of the goals is to achieve that feeling of being "in the zone" as often as possible, and we do this with a proper nutrition plan. With a junk diet, no amount of work in the gym will suffice, and it is much harder to motivate yourself when your energy levels aren't optimal.
On the same token, on some days you will feel nearly unstoppable, and these are the days that you capitalize on your gains. No, this does not mean that you workout for three hours and destroy yourself. In fact, that mentality will only cause regression over time. Instead, it means attacking the important components of your workout when they feel great. Here's an example:
You're doing back squats with a barbell, and you planned on doing 3 sets of 10 reps with X amount of weight. After warming up and doing your first set, you know that it was way too easy. In fact you feel like you could have done 20 reps. The problems with most "programs" is that you would have to stick to the scheme, and you will actually be under-training. The smart lifter will recognize this window of optimum nervous system activation called "the zone" and will add weight for the next two sets, still hitting the required number of reps but getting more out of it.
CIRCUITS AND CLUSTER SETS GALORE
My personal preference is circuit training but not in the conventional sense. Many times we will use 3-5 exercises with specific reps for each exercise. Usually these are full body movement such as squats, lunges, overhead press, rowing movements, deadlifts, olympic lifts, plyometrics or even something fun and new like atlas stones, sledehammer work, kettlebells or yolk carries.
Here's an example of a circuit aimed at hitting ALL muscle fibers throughout the set. I'll go through the workout and then discuss why we did it this way. We'll use the weights I'd use for an average 200 lb male client with some conditioning (not a beginner):
CIRCUIT A (3 rounds, increasing weight as needed, 2 minutes rest between rounds)
Power cleans 165# x 3
Push Press 135# x 6
Kettlebell Swings 53# x 10
Barbell Rows 135# x 12-15
That would be the first and most likely main circuit we'd perform after the warm up. Notice how the reps go up from exercise to exercise. The reason we do this is all about fiber type recruitment. Recall that there are fast twitch and slow twitch fibers throughout our muscles, and depending on how you've trained in the past, certain fibers will be more developed than others. Here we utilize "force spectrum ramping" to hit ALL muscle fibers in one circuit.
The power cleans are an olympic lift and thus are to be done with 100% explosiveness. The bar is moved from the ground to the shoulders with maximum hip extension. Only 3 reps are performed here because maximum effort and acceleration cannot be sustained much higher than 3 reps unless the weight is too low. So this exercise won't drive the heart rate through the roof, but it sets us up for the second exercise.
The push press is simply a shoulder press while standing, with a little hip cheat to get more weight and reps. As the shoulders fatigue, the hip drive continues the set. Here we do six reps because we are shifting muscle fibers. Now we are getting the strength / power fibers located in the 5-6 rep range. The only thing we are looking at is bar speed. If the bar speed is significantly lower by the last rep, the weight was too high. If it was explosive throughout the set, we can try adding weight to find the sweet spot.
We then go into ten heavy kettlebell swings which are just a hip extension movement. Again we are using large muscle groups, but we are now into the endurance fibers at 8-12 reps. For some this may sound strange, that 8 reps is "endurance", but this is so in the strength world. The reps are still done as explosively as possible and we can add / remove weight based off performance.
Barbell rows are going to target high endurance fibers in the back, spine and even hips, as we now move into 15 rep range. Notice how the circuit says "10-15" reps. This is because since this is the last exercise, we are going to gauge the reps based off performance. If 10 is easy, go for 15, or even 20. Then, increase the weight the next set accordingly.
All said and done, this type of workout will hit every muscle fiber which results in optimal testosterone / growth hormone secretion as well as other factors. Coupled with a proper post workout nutrition plan, fat loss and strength / muscle gain will be the end result.
HOW TO DO IT YOURSELF
Some of those above exercises may be new to you. Since the point of Power Training is to encourage customization to the individual, here's the "do it yourself" version.
Pick 3 exercises that use multiple muscle groups, no isolation movements like curls or crunches. Squats, deadlifts, ball throws, sledgehammer work, anything using multiple muscle groups.
Choose one to perform with explosiveness, one for general strength, and one for endurance.
The circuit will look like this:
1) explosive exercise 3-6 reps
2) strength exercise 6-10 reps
3) endurance exercise 12-15 reps
The key thing to remember is we are looking at performance, not rep goals or "muscle burn". Where there is a time and a place for that type of workout, here we are focusing on explosiveness and good form.
You can also throw this type of workout into your current program once or twice per week as a sort of "mix up" day. These circuits are a great way to reduce stagnation that comes from doing the same thing all the time.
For another video giving the initial guidelines for Power Training check out my youtube video here:
I hope this at least gives the briefest outline of a philosophy aimed to make you the strongest, leanest and most energetic YOU.
Ben Hetzel A.C.S.M.
Herbalife Independent Distributor
Strength and Conditioning Specialist