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What is Power Training? – Biomechanics for Fitness Professionals

How Do You Measure Power Output and Implement for Power Training?Power output has long been a highly debated issue in both the sport performance and exercise training communities.

Increasing or improving power output and power training has led to the development of numerous measurement protocols by coaches, exercise trainers, specialists as well as biomechanists and exercise physiologists to estimate energy expenditure during work or exercise as well as the rate of power output.

These estimation protocols also have led to the development of numerous training programs to increase power output based on inexact data not supported by legitimate training science.

Vague and imprecise terms still exist in an attempt to educate both the sport and exercise industry as to the scientific explanation of exactly what power is irrespective of the 100 plus years of scientific research identifying the nuances of what this term means.

The problem is further compounded by various organizations continuing to utilize colloquial and informal definitions to explain “power.”  This vocabulary is often unsuited to explain what the real meaning of power is particularly how power is actually identified and developed along with categorizing the various stages and types of power.

The popular vocabulary, as well as the training protocols utilized to educate those training with the intention to increase “power” production,  is based on misinterpretation or misunderstanding of the multiple variants of power (P max, mean/median values of power, average power output, instantaneous power, rate of force development or RFD, impulse-momentum principle, etc.).

This confusion ensues based on disagreements documented in the training science journals between research results stating how the various types of power are increased in conjunction with the associated training protocols.

The full ramifications of the concept of power are often lost in Western strength training because the term “speed-strength,”  directly translated from the Russian texts on strength training, is used as its colloquial equivalent. Programs are encountered on how to “increase power” which is entirely nebulous in the context of human movement, because the concept of power may appear in several different forms in biomechanics, namely ‘mean power,’ peak power (at some specific instant) and power at any given instant.

Just as it is not very meaningful to develop maximum strength (force) or high mean force in every situation or stage of the movement, so it can be equally inappropriate to train an athlete (or any person) to simply develop “power”, irrespective of context.

One of the central features of all motor skill is the ability to produce maximum power in the most efficient manner possible.  In fact, all effective strength utilization and training mean, “optimal timing the magnitude of force, power, and rate of force development (RFD) throughout any movement.”

Power and Biomechanics Defined

Every human movement performed, whether done slowly or extremely fast, involves a power output of some magnitude. All sports (as well as all movements) involve acceleration (change in velocity per unit of time) of the body or a particular implement being manipulated.

Because of the individual differences in the ability to exert force at different speeds, the ability to measure this output, and scores from various testing or training protocols may have limited value in predicting power output performance especially in activities that involve movements at high speeds.

These limited means of measuring power have led to an interest in power as a measurement of the ability to exert force at high speeds.  Colloquial terms used loosely to define power such as “force, energy, strength, and might” are indicative of the misunderstanding and limited knowledge of what power is, how it relates to the categories of strength along with how these strength categories affect the types of power output.

The recent rush of interest in vague estimates of peak power in many short, dynamic human movements has ignored the large bodies of research on the definition of mechanical power, the principle of specificity, and the domains of muscular strength/neuromuscular performance that challenge the importance of this colloquial meaning. This misplaced emphasis, incorrect use of terminology, and lack of attention to previous strength and conditioning research have contributed to inconsistent results and misrepresented findings.

To support the idea that power output is only the ability to exert force at high speeds, Knudson states because forces only do mechanical work when movement is present, mechanical power flow is present in most human movements. It is therefore nearly useless to refer to ‘‘power events’’ or ‘‘power athletes’’ because all movements (refer to Learning Module One on Kinesiology), except for stabilized postures created by isometric muscle actions, involve muscular power flow.

There is no one-to-one correspondence between maximizing the mechanical power output of the body and certain sports movements, so the colloquial use of the term power as a unique neuromuscular performance characteristic is not consistent with the true definition of power.  This statement is contradictory to how power is interpreted since the generalized definition involves a “power” movement done very fast or explosively hence the field of “power training.”

This misinterpretation has also been documented in the text Strength and Power in Sports, stating a common misuse of the term power is to use this term when one really means force: power = work is done (fxd) per unit time.  This misinterpretation pertains to the maximum force produced by the muscle either in a single effort or repeated contractions of the muscle.

In this case, the reader needs to think in terms of power which combines the two parameters of force and velocity (f * v); the higher and more rapid force generation (i.e. the rate of force production), the greater the power output.  McGinnis also states that power can be thought of as how quickly or slowly work is done.

What is Power?

What is Power? Simply stated, power is the rate of performing or doing work.

Notice this definition considers the rate of doing work indicating a time element when any work is being performed (rate meaning degree, amount, proportion, percentage, speed, or velocity).  Power can be defined as the amount of work produced per unit time or the product of force and velocity.  Accordingly, an additional definition of power is the rate of mechanical work performed or the time rate of doing (mechanical) work.

Mechanical work is defined as the scalar product (how much work performed independent of its direction) of the net force applied to an entity/object with the resulting displacement (sum of each applied force multiplied by the corresponding distance moved in the direction of that force).

Mechanical Power, then, is simply the rate of doing mechanical work or work done per unit of time.  Also included in this explanation is metabolic power, i.e. the rate of metabolic work done per unit of time.  Metabolic work is how energy substrates (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) are broken down (metabolism) to create energy for doing work (hence the definition of energy being the capacity to do or perform work).

Numerous papers have been published addressing ‘‘power’’ in human movement. In a space of 10 years (1998–2008) SportDiscus and Google Scholar indexed over 500 and 21,000 citations  for a search on ‘‘muscular and power.’’

With these numerous citations stating what power is (particularly muscular power as an independent subject by itself) the concept of power must be simplified as to what this term means from 1) a basic scientific definition/explanation/interpretation and 2) how power is categorized, defined, created, utilized, and displayed in terms of human performance.

Since the term power is considered the timed rate of doing mechanical work, one must know how the scientific community defines power and what work is.  Utilizing this scientific information can then be utilized with an applied science approach to identify and explain the basic concepts of work and power as well as increase coach’s, trainer’s, and the general public’s knowledge and ability to develop an appropriate training program based on the type of power needed.

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