Picture this scenario. You are new to weightlifting, and you decide to take the leap and invest in a personal trainer.
You want to learn from the best, tapping into the expertise of an elite competitor and someone who knows the secrets to build muscle mass quickly. You are sure that with the help of an expert, you will be a competitive lifter in no time.
Then you meet your trainer for the first time, and she starts with one simple question: “Are we training for strength or power?”
The “or” leaves you scratching your head. “Aren’t strength and power the same thing?” you wonder aloud. “Can’t I train for both?”
“No and yes,” are her answers.
Power vs Strength: How Do They Differ?
Just because these two words are often used interchangeably does not indicate that they are the exact same thing. Putting it another way, if you always thought of power and strength as “identical twins,” change your mindset to think of them as cousins instead.
We think of strength as our body’s ability to overcome some form of resistance. While the same can hold true of power, which is also about overcoming resistance, the difference lies in how fast the load moves. So, the power in weightlifting is about not only lifting something heavy but also lifting it quickly.
Because of this distinction, training methods can differ when you are looking to increase only strength or only power.
We will breakdown the benefits of increasing both strength and power, what each one means to overall health, and tips for exercises that will work for you in these two important areas.
What Is Strength, and Why Is It Important?
Strength has for centuries been equated to status; societies praise and reward physical strength, though that can take on many different forms. While strength can help an individual excel in lifting (or running, cycling, or virtually any other physical activity you can name), the motivation to increase strength is often about something deeper than status or awards.
Physical strength and mental being are tied closely together, and for many people, the quest for strength results in better well-being overall.
Strength is about producing force from a muscle group; it is what is needed to deadlift or bench press weight. When we train our bodies for strength, we will quickly begin to see many positive changes.
Five Benefits of Strength Training
Improved Quality of Life
Strength training will enhance an individual’s quality of life by simply making your everyday life easier. Whether it means you are in better shape to get up and down the stairs in your home, have more stamina to keep up with your active children or have better balance and coordination overall, the benefits will be felt during the simplest tasks you undertake each day.
Additionally, you may find that strength training promotes a better night’s rest. The importance of quality sleep cannot be overstated when it comes to our overall quality of life.
Better Physical Health
If you compare the results of annual physicals before and after strength training, you are bound to see improvements in the “after” physical exam.
Strength training can increase bone density, which decreases your risk for osteoporosis, and it also helps individuals stave off everything from diabetes to heart disease. A stronger body is better equipped to fight illness and injury.
Enhanced Confidence and Improved Mental Health
By strengthening your body’s physical condition, you will no doubt see an impact on your mental well-being, too. A stronger body increases confidence, and the endorphins associated with exercise are a natural mood lifter.
By training your muscles to become stronger, you will simultaneously train your mind to feel better.
Anti-Aging Efforts for Muscle Mass
Muscle mass decreases as we age, which is an inevitability. However, what we can control is just how much muscle mass we lose. Regular strength training is the best preventative measure in terms of keeping muscle mass.
A Jump Start for Metabolism
Muscles are simply more effective at burning calories than fat, so the more muscle you are using to burn calories, the more you are doing to boost your own metabolism. Strength training will make you feel more energetic, alert, and active.
If you struggle with feeling sluggish or unable to stay motivated, strength training could be the key to getting you up and active again.
What Exercises Should I Focus on in Strength Training?
If you want to incorporate strength training into your routine, consider these tips to get started:
Heavier Weights with Low Reps
Strength training involves the use of heavier weights and fewer reps. If you do too many reps, you may end up building the muscle but not increasing strength. This is where a certified trainer can help advise you on the correct reps for your fitness and lifting goals.
More Weight Means More Rest
The heavier weights will require that you take longer rests between reps, probably in the range of three to five minutes after the lifts.
Focus on Groups of Muscles
In strength training, the idea is to focus on compound movements, where more than one group of muscles is engaged at the same time. A squat lift is a great example of this kind of compound movement.
What Is Power and Why Is It Important?
Power is about measuring the time associated with your strength. In other words, power is maximized when we exert force as quickly as possible or in the shortest amount of time.
A good way to recall this understanding of power is to think in terms of cars and horsepower. Car fanatics are quick to quote the impressive horsepower on a particular model, and this is a way of describing the rate at which an engine works.
It’s safe to say that even those who know little about cars understand that a Bugatti’s horsepower outshines that of a Buick. Horsepower makes things go fast, simply speaking. And training for power makes a lifter use her strength at a faster rate.
Five Benefits of Power Training
Greater Endurance for Cardio Activities
When you start power training, one of the first things you may notice is how much jumping and hopping is involved. This might feel unusual at first, especially if you’re perplexed about how this will help you in lifting.
But your cardiovascular endurance plays a huge role in every kind of physical activity you undertake, whether it is swimming, cycling, lifting, or even just bowling with family and friends.
Increase Movement Efficiency
Power training will teach your body to keep up with speed by pumping blood faster, and then it will also teach your body how to recover quickly after exertion. The result of this is an increase in your movement efficiency. In other words, your body will learn how to do more with less.
Power training conditions your body to work to use the least amount of energy needed to exert force. Continuing with our car analogy, think of power training as something that turns you into the fastest and most fuel-efficient vehicle around.
Improvement in Reaction Times
Another huge benefit of power training is your body’s ability to react quickly. That ability is not only important on a playing field or in a gym. Our ability to react is what can help us prevent serious injuries as we age. The power training you are participating in today may be a lifesaver for you down the road, at an age where falls can be life-changing or even deadly.
Enhanced Coordination and Balance
Another power training benefit related to the aging process is enhanced coordination and balance. Power training exercises work in this area. With better balance, we can participate in more physical fitness activities, but we also prevent the problems resulting from the loss of balance as we age.
Run Faster and Jump Higher
The skills payoff is big with power training, and one of the ways we notice it most is our ability to run faster and jump higher. Whether your bragging rights are put on full display in the gym, around the neighborhood, or at the annual family beach games, you will inevitably see these benefits once you stick with power training for a period of time.
What Exercises Should I Focus on in Power Training?
If you want to start power training, focus on these three types of exercise.
Plyometric is just a fancy word for jump training, and it has taken the fitness world by storm in recent years. Jump squats and burpees are fantastic, fully-body plyometric exercises.
Ballistic movements are those in which you release the weight with force. One of the most popular ways a ballistic movement is incorporated into power training is an overhead medicine ball throw.
Dynamic Effort Exercises
Unlike the strength training mantra of heavier weight and fewer reps, a dynamic effort involves just the opposite: lighter weights as you max out reps as quickly as possible (but without sacrificing proper form).
Whether you choose to focus on strength training or power training, or a combination of both, you should always discuss new fitness routines with your physician first. The guidance of a certified trainer will also ensure your training is coupled with the best nutrition, rest, and recovery plan to achieve your goals.