Strength/Power: our pre-comp phase

Cross fit weightlifter preparing for training. Shallow depth of

In the next phase of training, we change the focus of the program from out and out strength and move to a strength/power focus. However, we don’t do this without maintaining an element an element of the strength component, as we do not want to lose any of the capacity we just established in the previous 4 weeks. How do we increase power? By moving load fast – the very definition of power.

The Strength/Power Phase (S/P Phase)

Whilst strength is the fundamental athletic quality, it is the expression of muscular power that wins matches.’ Dr David Joyce (Greater Western Sydney (AFL) Strength & Condition Coach).

Now you might say ‘I don’t need to win matches, I want to get lean’. True, we might not be training for the last Saturday in September/first week in October, but the expression of muscular power, just like strength, requires not only metabolic demand but significant neural demand on the body in a greater capacity that can be achieved from your regular aerobic or high-repetition sessions.

With that in mind, recent research is suggesting a shift in the paradigm in respect of attaining muscle growth and fat reduction. Namely, there is a shift of focus from high volume workouts with a low/moderate load and minimal rest to incorporate a different way of thinking; particularly, low rep workouts, high intensity workouts and high or low velocity workouts with larger rest periods can achieve a similar hypertrophic (muscle building) effect.

Neither method is king, with both trains of thought possessing pros and cons. From our perspective however, we are to embark on a phase with a significantly larger aspect of conditioning and speed work in combination with lifting weights. This approach involves lower reps at higher intensities, providing for more favourable returns in terms of recovery, lowers the injury risk and provides a greater ‘bang for your buck’ for the duration of the training phase.

Another motive for this type of training amongst the general population is that when we transfer heavy loads quickly, it increases the body’s efficacy in its movement patterns, which ultimately accentuates the body’s athletic ability and provides more aesthetically pleasing results (which is a pleasing consequence). Also, as far as we are concerned, it is also a damn side more enjoyable and fun than the repetitive ‘3×10’ method many are accustomed to.

This phase is another cog in our conjugated sequencing model of periodisation and as such, we are now starting to get more specific in our approach to training. Now that we have built our aerobic, anaerobic and strength capacities, we now shift to implementing these elements functionally by employing what are power movements. Power movements include Olympic lifting, plyometrics and little (or no) eccentric movements (braking movements) at the end ranges of movement. This allows for a shift in the force – velocity relationship to the right of the curve.strength power

To be a good athlete or to perform to the best of your ability, you have to implement a mix of methods to your training regime; you have to utilise examples of strength work (heavy load, slow moving), strength-speed work (moderate load, moderate velocity) and high velocity work (low load high velocity). In all honesty, if strength work was the sole method employed, undoubtedly you will a see a benefit; however, those results will not be as effective as those obtained by employing those methods concurrently. As David Joyce stated, strength is fundamental but the expression of power is where athletes win matches; naturally, covering all the bases will provide best results.

What is involved in the Strength/Power phase

The upcoming Hammer program aims to achieve exactly that – it is the next phase of our model of mixed methods. In this phase, we are concentrating on our ability to produce vertical ground reaction forces (VGRF) by introducing to clients (those who are competent) a higher and heavier regime of Olympic lifting. However, this is not just applied to those competent in the complex lifts; we will adjust and provide alternatives to those more complex lifts in order to provide similar results.

full extension

The phase will focus on pushing loads through triple extension of the ankle, knee and hips, as well as introducing some plyometric work through bodyweight jumps and throws. Triple extension is a position where the body exerts the highest VGRF. VGRF is the application of force in the vertical plane or put simply, up and down movements. The reason why such application is essential is because it is one of the most translatable planes of movement, not only in sports but more relevantly to our training population, in everyday life. Whether you are jumping up for a catch in footy or running after your children at the playground, force generated in the vertical plane is ever-present and as such, training to improve our abilities in this aspect is a ‘no-brainer’. triple extension

Outside of the everyday benefits of this particular mode of training, improvements in this aspect will allow our clients/athletes to prepare for the next phase of training, our converted Athletic Development Program (ADP). The ADP not only maintains a focus on sprint work, change of direction and acceleration but, converse to the S/P phase, prioritizes horizontal ground reaction (HGR) forces. It stands to reason however that a focus on HGR force production requires a solid foundation in movement in the vertical plane; as such, the S/P phase is important in establishing that foundation, allowing for a greater opportunity to achieve positive results in the ADP.

Science time – How the Strength/Power phase works

How the S/P phase achieves these goals (increase in VGR force production) and muscular adaptations is through a mechanism called Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP). PAP is a phenomenon in which the force exerted by a muscle is increased due to its previous contraction. The PAP theory purports that the contractile history of a muscle influences the mechanical performance of subsequent muscle contractions.

As I like to do, I will break it down into the simplest terms possible – initially, you perform a movement which shocks the body – imagine body asking whoever will listen ‘What the f**k was that?’ Now, before getting any sensible answer, the body responds by stating to no one in particular ‘In case this pinhead does this again, let’s get our s**t together and be ready.’ The body responds by changing its physiology to achieve a greater force for the next time you perform the exercise (the equivalent of the body saying ‘Pfft – fool me once and all that. Here, have a bit more height on that jump.’) The implementation of this process is called contrast training and provides the very foundation of what we are doing in the S/P Phase.

Right, so what’s it actually look like?

There are numerous ways to implement the PAP mechanism that is critical to the S/P Phase. To cite but one example, we will perform a full clean from the floor at heavy load (let’s say roughly 80-85% of a participant’s 1 RM), contrasted with a rest for 2-3mins and then perform a static body weight jump. The PAP mechanism is activated and the client should achieve a higher force output due to the full clean done moments earlier. In attaining higher force production through the PAP mechanism then what would normally be achieved, any muscular adaptation is translated at the new, higher level, ultimately accelerating the client’s results.

Anyway, that’s the theory and science behind the S/P Phase. In sticking with our motto of ‘if you’re not testing, you’re guessing’, make sure you keep an eye on our testing results to see if the science stacks up and that what I’m rambling on about is justified.

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