As a culture, we are attracted to power—we love powerful cars, powerfully fast technology, powerful leaders, powerful speeches, powerful equipment, powerful lenses...you get the gist, right? We also like a powerful body. In fact, not only do we like it, we need it as well, especially as we age.
Before you jump to the conclusion that training for power is only for athletes or younger folks, consider this quote from Mike Boyle’s Advances in Functional Training book: “Training older clients for power is not only a good idea, it's essential. Joe Signorile said, at the NSCA 2003 clinic, that ‘between the ages of 65 and 89, explosive lower-limb extensor power has been reported to decline at 3.5 percent per year compared to a 1 to 2 percent per year decrease in strength.’” Boyle goes on to mention how we are losing power almost twice as fast as strength, as we age, which is a huge issue given that power is one of the major performance variables associated with independence, fall prevention and rehabilitation following an injury. "We need to set aside our primary focus on safety in our older clients, and start to figure out how we train all of our clients for power," writes Boyle.
Olympic lifts are one of the main ways to train power. To perform Olympic lifts safely and correctly, one must practice the movement and master the technique without load to imprint the correct neurological pathways before adding resistance. Unfortunately, this isn’t usually how it’s done, dramatically increasing the risk of injury. Olympic lifts take practice and time to perfect the movement. Yes, they are great for developing power but they are very technical and must be practiced and coached. Even then, a well-trained eye is wise to correct and ensure movement is progressing safely.
I have designed some exercises that can challenge your power, but are easier to perform than Olympic styles. I love using the TRX Rip Trainer, the Ultimate Sandbags and the TRX Suspension Trainer, which are appropriate for all ages and can be progressed or regressed to accommodate any level. These are some of my favorite exercises for power development, especially through the hips/glutes, that also challenge the entire body. Remember, with all explosive movements, the hips and glutes—not the knees, ankles or back—should absorb the majority of impact. A great indication of understanding proper mechanics is being able to land barefoot with ease and a sense of lightness.
TRX Power Squat Explosions
Adjust the straps to fully shortened, and then over-shorten them enough to where you can sit, facing the anchor point, with arms extended, shoulders set and stable, and posture in a plank position. Position feet shoulder-width apart with the knees flexed. Using the straps to assist in a pulling motion while pushing off of the floor, explode up as high as you can. Continue to pull your body up with the TRX Suspension Trainer. At the peak of your height, straddle the legs and land softly, using your hips to absorb the impact. You can vary the leg variations—tuck your knees, extend your legs (point toes to hit triple extension), flex one leg or extend other.
TRX Rip Samurai Strike With Shuffle
Place the safety strap of the Rip Trainer on your left wrist. Your left hand (base hand) will be facing down and your right hand (power hand) will be facing up. Face away from the anchor and extend the Rip Trainer with the right hand, while keeping the left hand toward the chest. Slightly rotate the hips and step the left foot forward and pivot the right foot (on ball of the foot) toward the end of the Rip Trainer. Simultaneously bring the right hand toward the anchor, pivot both feet to face sideways and shuffle back toward the anchor. Shuffle away from the anchor, pivot and strike with the right hand as your left hand pulls in toward the chest. Try to focus on hip rotation, pressing into the pivot from the ground up as you keep the glutes engaged. Continue this pattern for time, working to your threshold. Control the strike and don’t allow the resistance strap to pull the Rip Trainer out of control or toward the anchor. Repeat the same pattern on the opposite side.
TRX Hip Press with USB Press
Adjust the TRX Suspension Trainer to mid-calf. Lie on your back, facing the anchor point, with your heels in the foot cradle. Bend your knees to 90 degrees, directly over the hip. Hold the USB Power Bag by the outside handles and press it directly over the chest while pressing the shoulder girdle toward the ground. With feet flexed, drive the heels into the foot cradle and press the hips toward the ceiling with a quick, powerful movement to reach full extension. Slowly lower back toward the ground, focusing on the eccentric work. Once you tap the floor, explode back to full extension. Repeat to fatigue without compromising movement quality.
USB Shoulder Lateral Lunge With Push Off
Clean the USB Power Bag to your right shoulder by hinging at the hips, grabbing underneath the bag and “jumping” the bag off the floor and onto the shoulder. Step to the right into a lunge position, hinging at the hips and keeping your feet facing forward. Keep the trail leg strong and don’t bend the knee. Keep your torso braced—you should feel and look like a plank. Once in lunge position, push off of the right leg and hang in the air for a beat, and then drop right back into a lunge, thereby challenging the eccentric movement pattern. Continue until the quality of your movement diminishes. Repeat same pattern to left side.
USB Shoulder-to-shoulder Thruster
Clean the USB Power Bag to your right shoulder (see above). Position your feet in an off set stance, with the right foot forward and the left foot in line with the right heel; stay on the ball of the left foot. With your hands around the Power Bag, drop the hips into a deep squat and then strongly drive to extension while pressing the bag over the head and down to the opposite shoulder. Continuing powerful pattern to fatigue; repeat on the other side.
USB Tall Kneeling Hip Hinge
Hold the USB Power Bag with neutral handles in front-loaded position. Get down on your knees and flex the toes, pressing them into ground; contract the hips to increase stabilization. Slowly flex/hinge the hips toward the heels and then drive up to full hip extension. Slowly lower, counting to at least five, before powering back up to extension.
USB Bear Hug Squat
This exercise uses the USB Strength Bag. (Note: You don't want to use a small or lighter bag because you won’t get the counterbalance that this exercise provides.) Clean the USB, accelerate through the hips and catch the bag, wrapping your arms around the USB (don’t hold it from beneath). Actively try to pull the bag apart, firing the postural back muscles. Be careful not to engage the traps or round the shoulders. This is great for building endurance throughout those postural muscles. Stand with feet a bit wider than hip-distance apart. Press the knees out, keeping your weight in the heels, as you lower down and back while maintaining an erect spine. Continue pulling the shoulders down and back and drive back to stand through the heels and mid-foot. You can add a jump at the top or play with the rhythm of the movement. For example, you can lower slowly, hold at the bottom and explode up.
TRX Rip 90* Jump Press
Place the safety strap of the Rip Trainer around your left wrist. With both palms facing down and hands in the mid-zone, stand facing away from the anchor with feet shoulder-width apart. Press the Rip Trainer away from the chest. Bring the Rip Trainer back to the chest while jumping up and rotating your whole body to face sideways to the anchor. Jump up again and rotate back to the starting position, pressing the Rip Trainer away from the chest. Work with timed intervals and repeat on the opposite side.
It is important to note that every individual’s fitness level is different and we recommend using the ACE IFT Model to provide customized fitness programs and progressions to your clients.