Power is the ultimate combination of the two most fundamental human factors of survival: speed and strength. We can hear your brain now: So what? What will being more powerful do for me? Will it help me look better in the mirror?

Here’s your answer: The advantage of power training is that if you improve your rate of force development, you inevitably improve neural recruitment, which means you’ll activate muscle fibers more efficiently and effectively. In the long run, this means that when you do pure strength or hypertrophy-type training, you’ll activate more fibers and increase muscular size. Increasing power is also great for busting through training plateaus, a problem that every trainee is bound to face eventually.

The 100% Effort Principle

You’ve heard this before, but it’s never been as true as it is in this instance: To be as powerful as possible, you must work as hard as you can. People often talk about how hard they work when they exercise, but hard work is not measured by how much you sweat, but rather by how much work you perform in a given amount of time.

Working hard can be difficult to measure. In power training, you should never reach failure in a set; if you do, it means the weight is too heavy. At the same time, you shouldn’t be able to do more than 10 reps, as this means you weren’t moving the weight fast enough. The key is making sure each and every rep is performed at maximum speed, which is dictated by available energy and depends in part on how long you rest between sets. Rest duration has long been debated—and a general rule of thumb is to rest 2-5 minutes between sets when training for power—but here’s the best way to determine how long to rest:

In monitoring your form on a given set, ask yourself, At what rep does my technique begin to deteriorate? Typically this can be measured by the “10% drop-off rule,” which states that when power output has dropped off by 10% or more (usually evidenced by a noticeable drop in technique) your set is done. Take a break, and measure the length of that break. If you return to exercise and your power is not maximal (i.e., your form is not perfect), then you’re not ready and you need more rest.

If you’ve rested more then five minutes and cannot perform maximally on the ensuing sets, then you’ve reached a level of neurological fatigue that eliminates any further development in power and your workout (at least the power portion of it) is effectively finished for the day. Remember, if you can’t produce force rapidly, then you’re out of the power zone. This is why all power training needs to be done at the beginning of the workout, when energy availability is at its highest so as to maximize speed. When the power-training portion of your workout is finished, you can then move onto strength and hypertrophy training.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that the body won’t feel the same after power training as it does following hypertrophy training. Most likely when you finish your power training movements, you won’t feel the same pump that you do after training to failure and completely exhausting your muscles. This is the main reason people have trouble developing power—because they’re going after the same hypertrophy or strength feel rather then focusing in on developing power. The goal in power training is not to recruit more fibers for total muscular exhaustion, but rather to recruit fibers faster, which typically won’t result in an intense pump. Don’t worry, the hypertrophy training you do in the same workout will take care of this.

Check out our other Power Principles:
Strength, Speed, Time and Plyometrics

For the high-inensity program to tie it all in, check out The Power Principles Program >>