Power is a combination of strength and speed. The exercises you use to develop power can range from plyometric power exercises for your legs to medicine ball throws and modified strength-training lifts.
Turn Strength to Power
As Harvard fitness expert Michele Stanten explains, changing up your tempo can convert familiar strength-training exercises into power exercises. Instead of using a smooth, slow motion throughout the lift, make the concentric contraction — the part where you raise the weight against gravity — fast and powerful, but preserve the slow, steady pace on the eccentric contraction. That's the part of the exercise where you lower the weight back to the starting position.
Examples of strength exercises you can adapt into power exercises this way include squats, lunges, overhead presses, biceps curls, dips, overhead triceps extension, push-ups, bench presses — and many more.
The Next Step: Plyometrics
If the strength-turned-power workouts go well, you might be able to up the ante by doing plyometrics. The squat jump is an excellent illustration of how these explosive movements work. What goes up must come down, and after you complete a jump the inevitable next step is your muscles lengthening under load as you sink back down to your starting position.
What makes plyometrics so effective is that you don't pause at the bottom of the movement. Instead you immediately rebound back into the next jump, putting that energy stored in your lengthening muscles to immediate and explosive use.
However, there are a couple of catches. First, proper form is essential for avoiding injury with this sort of exercise. Second, this type of high-intensity, high-impact exercise puts a lot of stress on not just your muscles but your connective tissue too. So only attempt plyometrics if your body is already properly conditioned through an established strength/workout program, and if you've been cleared of any injuries or chronic conditions that might contradict a plyometrics workout.
As the American Council on Exercise notes, some people never work all the way up to truly explosive plyometrics exercises. But if you're free of contraindications, even less-intense plyometrics exercises can help build strength, power and agility. Track your plyometric workouts either by counting repetitions or by alternating timed work and recovery intervals.
Because of the intensity of these movements, sometimes your goal will be as low as three repetitions or 10 seconds of work — especially if you're doing advanced movements or, at the opposite extreme, are just starting out and need to ease into plyometrics gradually.
But the benefits of plyometrics training are real. In a systematic review published in a December 2016 issue of the Journal of Human Kinetics, the authors noted that even relatively short training periods of four to 16 weeks yielded improvements in jump height, sprint speed and agility for team sport players.
Always consult a medical professional before beginning a new, high-intensity exercise program.
Plyometric Power Exercise Examples
The following examples represent a range of plyometrics exercises, and they're still just the start of your many options for training power. Note that even though plyometrics are often called jumping exercises, they're not only power exercises for legs — you can also do plyo with your upper body.
Always warm up thoroughly before doing any plyometrics exercise.
1. Lateral Bounds
The farther your lateral jump, the more power this exercise requires — and develops.
- Stand with both feet together.
- Jump to the right and land on your right leg, hinging forward slightly from the hip as your right leg bends to absorb the impact. Let your left arm swing naturally forward as you jump and land, and allow your left foot to swing close to your right leg.
- Immediately spring off your right foot and jump to the left, landing on your left foot. This completes one repetition.
2. Squat Jumps
Squat jumps are the quintessential plyometrics exercise. If you're ready for extra intensity, they can also be translated into forward bounds, when you leap and land on both feet at once.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart; sink down into a squat. You should only do this exercise if you already have good squat form: Chest goes up and out, hips hinge back and knees stay over your toes.
- As you sink down into the squat, let your arms naturally swing back past your hips.
- Explode out of the squat into a vertical jump, letting your arms swing naturally forward and up for extra power.
- Sink back down into a squat as you land, then explode immediately back into another jump.
3. Medicine Ball Throws
For this exercise you'll need a medicine ball and a small trampoline set at an angle — along with a little trial and error to select the right trampoline angle and throwing distance.
- Stand at least 5 or 6 feet from the trampoline, holding the medicine ball in both hands.
- Press the medicine ball straight overhead, then swing it down and release it so that it hits the trampoline.
- Depending on the trampoline angle, throw either for the dead center of the trampoline or just below the center. Your goal is to have the ball bounce right back overhead where you threw it from.
- Catch the ball overhead and immediately turn that motion into another throw.
You can control the intensity of the exercise by adjusting the weight of the medicine ball.
4. Clapping Push-Ups
Clapping push-ups are a favorite training trick for mixed martial artists, boxers and other fighters who need to generate explosive power to the front of the body. Obviously, they carry the added risk of a face-plant if you're not fast enough.
- Assume a normal push-up position, balanced on your palms and the balls of your feet. There is no knees-down variation of this exercise.
- Squeeze your core muscles to keep your body straight as you bend your arms, sinking down into the push-up.
- As soon as you hit the bottom of the movement, press explosively up and away from the ground. Your hands should leave the ground.
- Clap your hands together under your chest, then bring your arms back to push-up position to catch yourself. Sinking back down to the starting position begins the next repetition.
Proper conditioning and attention to range of motion is especially important for this exercise. If you can't properly control the downward phase of the motion, you risk injuring your shoulders by forcing them too far into external rotation.
A World of Power Awaits
Although these are good power exercises examples, there's a whole world of power training you can explore once you have the requisite fitness, exercise form and conditioning to your muscles and connective tissue.
In particular, if you're training for a specific sport or athletic event, a qualified coach can help you choose power drills that mimic the movement patterns of your sport. For example, you might develop to doing single- or double-leg hops over cones, or practice explosive sprinting power by dashing forward against heavy-duty elastic resistance.
Plyometrics can also introduce an element of fun and play into your workouts. However, the advice to consult a medical or fitness professional before beginning a new exercise program goes double here; if you have any active injuries or chronic conditions, or are simply deconditioned, the professionals in your health team can help you evaluate what sort of power drills are safe for you, either now or as future fitness goals.