Maximising Muscle Power

Muscle power is the product of torque and movement velocity.

Power = Force x Velocity

Power output for athletes can range from 50-60 watts (light jogging) to 7000 watts in the Olympic Clean power lift. Explosive muscle power is a determinant of performance in activities requiring one movement sequence to produce high velocity. For example, jumping, striking and throwing. Sports which require agility (short bursts of power to change direction) will also require high levels of muscle power.

For a muscle to contract with force, it must receive nerve impulses to activate the muscle fibres. Each neuron and muscle fibre constitutes one motor unit. The number of these and their firing rate is the main intrinsic determinant of muscular force. When you begin training and see initial gains, this is because of the neuromuscular activation increasing. It is the first thing to progress. Of course muscle length, group and contraction velocity will also influence the force your muscle is able to produce.

Power- Weight Ratio

No matter what your natural build is, you can maximise the muscular potential you have been given to work in your favour. Unfortunately, some of us will have to work harder than others but you know what they say, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. Hard work training weak muscles will also beat a lazy, naturally muscular person.

There are many sports which require a competitor to make a certain weight while maintaining as much physical power as possible in order to beat their opponent. There are also many sports where success is not only determined by how much power we can generate, but also how much extra weight we are carrying (for example, cycling/ sprinting).

The power-weight ratio = power/body weight.

Therefore, to improve this ratio you must become lighter while maintaining/increasing muscle force. The phrase ‘lean and mean’ is what this article is all about!

If you want some additional light reading on this subject, refer to muscle size vs muscle strength.

Diet

Do not approach your diet by thinking, I must become lighter and so I will deprive myself of food. The focus should not be on fat loss but on maintaining/increasing muscle mass. If you eat less calories than you burn, muscle hypertrophy is never going to happen! Without sufficient nutrients your workouts will be disappointing and do little in the way of increasing muscle power.

Eating a lean diet to promote optimum body composition will increase muscle mass alongside a training regime. As you increase your muscle mass, you will increase the rate of your metabolism because muscle requires more energy to maintain than fat. This will help you lose the pounds that you need to!

Meals should be small and regular (5-6 per day). A diet to promote muscle power should be high in protein and relatively low in carbohydrates, but do not get rid of them all together! Avoid simple carbs and junk food and opt for complex carbs instead.

Ideal foods for maximising muscle power are fish, turkey, sweet potato, quinoa, eggs, spinach (if it’s good enough for popeye ;), it's good enough for me) and don’t forget water! It is essential for optimum absorption, optimum training and optimum body composition adaptations!

The best supplement for explosive muscle power is creatine. It should be taken in phases: loading and maintaining (4-week cycle) followed by at least a 3-week break from it.

Training

Training at a high intensity (close to maximal strength) is optimal if you want to increase muscle power. Training should be focused on performing explosive activities using plyometric training and resistance training.

If you want to become a lean, mean machine, here are a few recommendations to get you started.

Plyometric Exercises:

Box Jump

Jump onto a box. Pretty basic huh? The height of the box is completely up to you and you can increase this as you progress. Just make sure it is stable. Jump onto and off of the box to complete one rep. Ensure that you do not do a preparation jump. Jump from a standing position as this will promote explosive power. Those with powerful legs can jump their own height and higher from standing!

 

Depth Jump

Instead of jumping onto the box, start on top of it and jump off. When your feet hit the ground, jump vertically as high as you possibly can. The idea is to hit limit the time between your feet landing and you pushing off to jump, while still producing enough muscle power to force a high vertical jump.

Power Jump

Begin in a static squat position. Jump as high as possible and tuck your legs into your chest. Land back in a squat position. Once you have become really good at these, you can progress to one leg power jumps!

Shoulder Tap Push-up

Perform an ordinary push-up. Between each rep, lift one hand off the floor and tap the shoulder of the arm supporting your body. Make sure that you reach the shoulder each time as quickly as possible. You can also very this exercise, by performing it up and down an agility ladder. Walking your hands through each step from left to right and back again. In order to do this, once your left hand has touched your right shoulder place it on the floor directly underneath you (next to your right hand) then touch your right hand to your left shoulder and place it out to your right to form an ordinary press up position. Obviously you will need to move your legs too ;).

Diagonal Chop

Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart. Keep both legs slightly flexed through the whole exercise. Use a medicine ball or free weight. Take the weight in both hands and raise it above your right shoulder then ‘swing’ it down past your left hip. Control the weight but complete this exercise as fast as possible. Then switch sides.

Resistance Training:

Power sets should be performed in the 3-5 rep range. The weight you begin with should be what you can just manage 3 reps of. Once you can perform 5 reps of your power set, increase the load of resistance. You should do 2-4 sets for major muscle groups and 2 for minor muscle groups. Resistance band bench press, resistance sprints and cable pulls are particularly great for enhancing muscle power. Surprisingly, heavy compound lifts can also be useful in moderation (squats for high power jumps etc).

 

References:

Lichtwark GA, Wilson AM, Effects of Series Elasticity and Activation Conditions on Muscle Power Output and Efficiency, The Journal of Experimental Biology, 2005, 208, 2845-53.

Newton RU, Kraemer WJ, Developing Explosive Muscle Power: Implications for a Mixed Training Methods Training Strategy, National Strength and Conditioning Association, 1994.

Markovic G, Jukic I, Milanovic D, Metikos D, Effects of Sprint and Plyometric Training on Muscle Function and Athletic Performance, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2007, 21(2): 543-9.

About the Author

Job Role Sports Nutritionist and Social Media Coordinator Qualifications Bsc Sport and Exercise Science Steph has a competitive athletic background which spans 19 years. As a child she performed with the English Youth Ballet and had performed on the West End stage by the age of 10. Her enthusiasm for sport and fitness continued to grow as she did, encouraging her to learn more about nutrition and training. She began using her knowledge and personal experience to help others when she began coaching at the age of 16. From here, she went on to study Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Essex during which time she also received the Most Promising Newcomer Award from her University to mark her outstanding contribution to sport. During her first year of study she was introduced to partner stunt acrobatics and artistic gymnastics. After one year of dedicating herself to a lifestyle revolving around her sport, she was training with the best team in the UK who are currently ranked fifth in the world. Steph has worked in both the private and public sector coaching children and adults from grassroot to elite level as well as providing them with cutting edge advice on how to reach their goals. Steph has received awards for her choreography and has competed nationally and internationally meaning that she can back up her scientific knowledge with a wealth of experience. As our resident Sports Nutritionist, Steph is here to provide the most current and evidence based fitness, health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals.
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