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How to Train for Strength and Power

Unless you are dedicated to building large, bulging muscles, it is possible to get strong without adding too much size. Here are 3 ways to train your muscles to be functionally strong without Hulking out of your favorite clothes.  

By
Brock Armstrong,
Photo of a woman doing box jumps

If you are focussed on functional strength and not just building vanity muscles (not that there is anything wrong with that), the size of a muscle isn’t all that you should focus on. If trained correctly, a smaller muscle can actually exert more force than a larger muscle. A smaller muscle also requires less energy, oxygen, and nutrients to maintain and can even be healthier than a more massive, less functional muscle that generates less force despite its bulky and constantly hungry muscle fibres.

With that in mind, what I propose is that instead of simply putting on as much muscle as possible, we instead focus on making every single muscle fibre powerful and explosive. There are three main ways that we can focus our efforts on building speed and power at the same time. Let’s look at each one:

Speed Strength Sets

Speed strength sets are fast and powerful sets of exercises like cleans, overhead presses, squats, and deadlifts. Performing these exercises as explosively as possible maximizes movement economy, motor-unit recruitment, and lactate threshold—all of which contribute to strengthening those small but useful muscles.

When you do speed strength sets, keep the weight you are lifting on the heavy side while also making it safe to perform the movement as quickly as possible. It's a fine balance so I advise you to start by erring on the "too light" side and then adding weight as you get comfortable with the exercise.

Complex Training

A complex usually has 4-10 exercises, completed for 5-20 reps in a row without taking a rest between them. By doing this, you combine traditional strength exercises with explosive movements which results in a greater rate of force development, which results in increased overall power.

An example of a barbell complex would be five repetitions of a deadlift, directly into a bent over row, straight into a front squat, followed immediately by an overhead press, and finishing with a set of good mornings. Again, when you do this as a complex, you move all the way through each exercise and into the next without setting down the barbell.

Plyometrics

A plyometric exercise is any activity where a muscle is stretched rapidly followed immediately by a rapid shortening of that same muscle. When doing plyometric training, your focus should be on moving your body through its full range of motion, as fast as you can, as many times as you can—before your form and alignment start to falter.

Some examples of this would be bounding, depth jumps, box jumps, and clapping push-ups. These movements, when done often, train your muscles to powerfully release the natural elastic energy that is stored in your tendons.

These three types of workouts can be performed several times per week, with at least 48 hours between hard sessions. Remember, fitness is built by maintaining a good balance between stress and rest (or workout and recovery) not by constantly reducing yourself into an exhausted pile of sore muscles and empty tubs of protein powder.

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Woman doing box jumps image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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