I had a really interesting discussion over Twitter the other night with some esteemed physios S&C coaches and exercise physiologists about muscle power. It all started off by @tomgoom posting a question; he asked people what their top academic paper on developing muscle power was. Well…all hell broke lose. Ha ha. Seriously, what resulted was a conversation between scores of accomplished people contributing their opinion, research and recommendations – and what I thought was a really productive conversation.
The importance of definitions
In the courses that I run, I emphasise the importance of definitions and specificity. This means, before you even start to plan your intervention/training/rehab with someone, be absolutely clear what it is that you’re attempting to achieve. It might sound daft, or simple, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t pay enough attention to this. Don’t pay this enough attention and you run the risk of not achieving your goals. Strength training with a theraband is a great example! Pretty much, most people won’t get stronger using resistance bands; perhaps they will to a point in the initial stages but the gains will soon plateau and no more strength will be developed. The topic of definition cropped-up that evening.
What is muscle power?
The formula for power is work divided by time In sports performance, muscle power is often categorised as fast, short-duration propulsion of sub-maximal loads, such as jumping and throwing activities. In the literature, power is also referred to as explosive strength and, or, rate of force development. My co-authors and I have spent hundreds of hours trying to better understand these things (see here if you’re interested in the research papers). To develop muscle power we need a clear understanding of the application and then tailor the intervention accordingly. For example, muscle power is determined by a range of factors, such as recruitment of fast twitch motor units, synchrony of firing of these units and speed of cross-bridge cycling within the muscle fibres. Also, stiffness has a role to play – stiff tendons and associated structures means that muscle force is applied to bone more quickly, so stiffness is good when performing from a standing start. However, if your sport involves counter-movement jumping for example triple jump or basketball, more stretchy tissues with better recoil abilities might serve you better. Complicated huh?
It doesn’t have to be complicated
Go back to basics and understand what it is that you want to achieve. Don’t worry, plyometrics are still good power development exercises, but if you better understand the performance demands of the skill or sport, then maybe you can tailor your training to achieve even better outcomes.