If you’ve ever taken a physics class, certain formulas, like force equals mass times acceleration, might be ingrained in your memory. It turns out these formulas are useful way beyond high school. Their principles can also be helpful to keep in mind when working towards fitness goals, for instance. Case in point: Power equals speed times strength. And how do you build this fitness ingredient that’s connected with bone health and reduced injury risk? With power exercises.
What is power in fitness?
How much weight you can lift, and how many distinct reps of a move you can do per minute, are two of the most common measurements in fitness (in this case, strength training). Your stride length, how many steps you take per minute, and how long it takes you to to run a mile, are similar units of measurement in running. But all of these units break down into the buckets of either speed or strength. When you combine the two, you get your power measurement.
“Power is the ability to do the same operation explosively, which means rapidly,” Vince Sant, lead trainer and co-founder of V Shred, previously told Well+Good about power in fitness. “It’s best visualized by how much energy you can compress into a minuscule amount of time while performing a fitness move.”
The amount of force you exert as you lift a set of dumbbells above your head, explode off of the ground in a jump, or move from stride to stride while sprinting? That’s power.
“Power allows runners to generate more force into the ground with each stride, which allows you to cover more distance in less time,” Nell Rojas, a professional runner sponsored by Nike and a running coach, once explained to Well+Good about the role of power in running.
How is power different from strength?
“Power is often confused with strength,” says Sant. And while strength is a big component of power, it’s not the whole story. Instead, strength is the amount of resistance you can stand up to, while power is how quickly you can manage that resistance.
To get an idea of how the two differ, “observe how much resistance you’re performing a move under—whether bodyweight or free weights,” says Sant. Then, clock “the amount of reps you can do in a given amount of time per set.” While calculating absolute power is tricky without lab equipment, if you’re able to do more reps (with proper form) in the same amount of time, your power is improving.
Why you should train power
Power will come in handy both in your workouts and in your everyday life.
“Most workouts and sports demand power output, be it jumps, sprints, or burpees,” Gerren Liles, a fitness trainer and instructor with Lululemon Studio, previously told Well+Good about power training. “Training for power not only translates to better sports performance, but it can carry over to mundane daily experiences that demand high effort, like running for a bus or hopping over an object.”
Power is also associated with healthy bones and muscle development, both of which can prevent injury. Meanwhile, training for power in running can improve your stride mechanics, among other things, helping to keep you out of the physical therapist’s office.
How to train power safely and effectively
Exercises with an “explosive” or plyometric element are one of the best ways to build power. “Plyometrics will enhance explosive recruitment of muscle fibers [and] train the stiffness and elastic recoil of tendons and ligaments,” Niles says.
The caveat is that you’ll want to build power slowly—don’t just try to speed up your strength training sets. “If you’ve never experimented with adding power to your fitness routine, don’t start by performing explosive lifts on your maximum weight,” says Sant. “Instead, try incorporating plyometrics into your bodyweight HIIT workouts.”
But before you go plyo-happy, make sure you’ve mastered the bodyweight and Earth-bound versions of the move with good form and core engagement. “After you’ve been able to increase reps and sets in the right form of a particular movement, then you can graduate into power variations of the movements and grow from there,” Sant says.
Lastly, power exercises usually require all-out effort. This isn’t something you should try to do every day. Instead, incorporate some of these moves into your training regimen only once or twice a week, and balance them with strength, cardio, and rest.
Power exercises you can start doing now
Some of Sant’s favorite moves are explosive push-ups, jump squats, squat thrusters, and long jumps. Rojas recommends pogo jumps, depth jumps, and bounds (or, exaggerated skipping) for runners looking to build power.
If you want a whole power-oriented workout, this new 20-minute routine for Well+Good’s Trainer of the Month Club from trainer Sara DeBerry incorporates a number of these recommended moves, while focusing on doing some of the reps as quickly as possible. Classic power exercises like weighted squats with knee drives, push presses, and squat jumps are on the menu.
“We’re hitting full-body, max effort, finding our power today, showing up and showing out,” DeBerry says. Are you game?