Bodybuilding has always been a very precise, motion-based sport. You’re used to incrementally increasing your weights, and your lifting movement is always calculated and controlled. Experienced bodybuilders know how much force to exert in a bench press when pushing the bar upwards, and when to stop the bar from reaching their chest.
These types of exercises are how you can grow your muscles and go through hypertrophy. However, can power training also make you grow? By power training, we mean training in a power range, which is also known as explosive training.
While you can absolutely train for power in a heavy range, the type of powerlifting we’re going to talk about focuses on lighter lifting weights in an explosive motion at about 40%-60% of your 1rm. Advanced powerlifters could opt to add bands to their weights in order to force themselves to “explode” more in order to overcome the resistance of that band.
How to Power Train
First things first, what do we really mean by lighter weights such as 40%-60% of your 1rm? Say that you can bench press 270 lbs as your 1rm. If you’re doing power training, you’d want to bench press about 135 lbs 5×5 (five sets of five) explosively.
If you want a bigger challenge, you could add bands into your lifting in order to work harder for that explosiveness. All of this is directly opposite to the traditional bodybuilding routine in which you’re lifting slowly and methodically.
Why Should You Power Train?
You might be thinking that you shouldn’t be doing a training routine that’s directly opposite to what you’ve been doing as a bodybuilder for years. We’ll tell you to think again, because that’s exactly what you should be doing in order to grow.
If you’ve never trained like that before, then this is the exact type of training that you’ll need to do to grow since it’s something your body hasn’t adapted to yet. So when you shock your nervous system, you’ll be prompting your body to grow muscle tissue.
In addition to that, research has found that training explosively for power increases IGF-1 in the muscle, increasing protein synthesis. As an example, think of sprinters–they’re training for power all the time and they’re extremely muscular. And we also know that power athletes who are explosive demonstrate hypertrophy.
A lot of people reading this article want to get stronger, not just bigger. When you’re lifting weights, you undoubtedly feel great! However, you’ve probably faced what we call “sticking points” where you’re unable to lift the weight further.
Sticking points in a lift can be countered by what’s called the rate of force development. If we can develop force at a much more rapid pace, we can easily blow through that sticking point. A lot of times we actually hit that sticking point because we’re moving too slowly to develop the force needed to get through that point. By training for power, you could do a couple of extra reps per set, helping you grow more in the long term.
The Theory Behind Power Training
There’s a very interesting analogy that can help you understand how powerlifting can help you grow. In physics, there’s a concept known as impulse, and impulse is the combination of force and time. In other words, you could create a large impulse by exhibiting a small amount of force over a long period of time. You could also create a large impulse by exhibiting a large amount of force over a short period of time. However the outcome is much different.
If you are in your car and you slowly press the gas pedal while behind another car, your car will slowly push the car in front of it, and once you press the brakes, the other car would’ve moved from where it was, with little to no damage to it. So you’ve exhibited very little force, yet it moved the car over a long period of time.
In another situation, in which you stepped on the gas pedal and rammed the opposite car at a higher speed, the other car might move the same amount of distance. However, its rear bumper would probably be badly dented.
Even though both impulses were the same, one was created by a small amount of force over a long period of time and the other one was created by a large amount of force over a short period of time.
This same idea can apply to weightlifting! If you’re training for power and are lifting 60% of your 1rm, you can take the bar and go slowly, eventually stopping the bar on your chest. In this case, you applied a small amount of force over a long period of time, causing little to no damage to your muscle.
If you let the same amount of weight down fast (not uncontrolled), and as the bar comes down swiftly, you stop it from coming down to your chest, that causes you to apply a lot more upward force. Even though it’s the same impulse, it caused two extremely different stimuli on the muscle.
A huge amount of force all at once can cause a lot of damage in the muscle, and that can make the muscle grow in a new way since it hadn’t been exposed to that kind of stimuli before. That’s why power training can be important for growth.
What Your Schedule Should Look Like
During heavy training, or training for hypertrophy, you usually focus on high repetitions with short rest-period lengths. Power training is different, and it’s also the easiest to recover from. Since training frequency is important for bodybuilders, that may sound like a dream come true.
If all you do is lift heavy some days and lift for hypertrophy in others, then all you’re doing is limiting your training frequency. We recommend a schedule like lifting heavy on Monday, power training on Wednesday, and a hypertrophy training session on Friday.
So instead of training your muscle groups twice, you do them three times. Power training is a great way to increase your training frequency since it doesn’t have a high recovery period and it also stimulates growth.
Focus on programming your body to adapt to power days. When doing a hypertrophy day, maybe two days later you do a power day. Then, when you do your heavy day two days after that, your rate of force development is primed and peaked, ready to explode for when you have those heavy days. You may even notice that weights feel a little bit lighter since your force development is up.
Following that, when you train for power, you want to do select compound movements. You have to keep in mind that this isn’t an isolation day. You focus on compound movements such as bench press, squats, and deadlifts, working at 40% to 60% of your 1rm.
We recommend periodizing your power training out to a number of weeks:
- On week 1 start at 40% of your 1rm, do 5×5 (5 sets of 5).
- Week 2 up to 50% of 1rm, 4×5.
- Week 3 do 60% of your 1rm, no more than 5 sets of 3.
At first, your rest period between sets will be a little bit longer, anywhere from 90 seconds to 2 minutes. If you’re conditioned to powerlifting, then 90 seconds is fine. However, if you’re just starting out you might need up to 3 minutes of rest.
We hope this article helped you understand how power training can actually stimulate your growth! We’ll see you in the next article.