How to improve muscular power for military fitness

Muscular power, also known as anaerobic power, is the ability to produce force quickly. For example, if you push an object overhead slowly, you’re generating a low amount of power because velocity is low. If you push that same object quickly, you’re generating a higher amount of power. Power is related to both the amount of weight you are moving, as well as the speed that you move it. So if you lift a heavy object slowly, you could still be generating more power than if you lift a light object quickly.

Your ability to generate high levels of power is closely related to both your muscular strength and the size of your muscles. When planning a long-term workout schedule, the power phase is best done after working on muscular hypertrophy and muscular strength.

In the military, muscular power is an important component of physical fitness, especially when you’re performing fast tasks with heavy loads. For example, jumping to climb a wall in a full-fighting load requires muscular power to jump high enough to grab the top of the wall. Some evidence shows low muscular power is a risk factor for injury, so improving your strength might help reduce your risk. In addition, components of the Army Combat Fitness Test and Marine Corps Combat Fitness Test require power for the sprint components.

It’s important to design a workout program that you enjoy and will help you reach your muscular power goals. If you’re new to resistance training on your own, be sure to consult a strength and conditioning professional, USMC Force Fitness Instructor, or Army Master Fitness Trainer for guidance on developing and performing your routine.

Assess your strength

Before starting a program, assess your current level of strength (with a partner for safety) using the 1-repetition maximum or 1RM test. To best improve muscular power, you’ll need to lift a certain percentage of your 1RM, so it’ll be good to know what it is. From here, you can design a program that will properly build muscular power.

Follow the FITT principle

When you start training to improve muscular power, bodyweight plyometric exercises such as squat jumps will work well. Lower-body plyometric exercises are good for building leg power, but you’ll have to add in a power clean or other explosive lifts to build full-body power. When you’re designing your program, follow the FITT principle—consider the Frequency, Intensity, Time, and Type of your workouts.

Frequency is the number of sessions that you train in a week. A dedicated power phase has workouts 3–4 days a week.

Intensity is defined by the amount of weight used per repetition. Recommended intensities vary based on the type of training you’re doing. For exercises such as plyometric or upper-body throws, intensities can range from 0% (bodyweight) to 30% of your 1RM. For 1–2 repetition activities, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) recommends using 80–90% of your 1RM, and 75–85% for 3–5 repetition activities. There aren’t recommendations for higher repetitions because power activities are short bursts followed by longer rest periods.

Time of your sessions should range from 30–60 minutes, including proper work:rest ratios. For muscular power, your work:rest ratios are very high. NSCA recommends allowing 2–5 minutes of rest in between sets, using the longer duration for higher intensities.

Type of exercise should vary in both your strength and conditioning routines to improve gains and keep you engaged in your workouts. Power exercises include plyometrics, Olympic lifts (snatch and clean and jerk) and power lifts (squat, bench press, and deadlift). You can also apply power-style training to pretty much any regular exercise by applying the appropriate intensity, volume, and speed of the lift.

As you get stronger and your power output improves, progress your lifts by increasing the amount of weight you use. Getting stronger means your 1RM will increase, so the amount of weight needs to increase to keep the intensity the same. Change your training routine gradually, avoiding large increases in any single FITT component to decrease your risk of injury. Learn more about designing a long-term program and progressing to new goals with a block-periodized workout plan.


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References

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American College of Sports Medicine. (2009). Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 41(3), 687–708. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181915670

de la Motte, S. J., Lisman, P., Gribbin, T. C., Murphy, K., & Deuster, P. A. (2019). Systematic review of the association between physical fitness and musculoskeletal injury risk: Part 3—flexibility, power, speed, balance, and agility. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 33(6), 1723–1735. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000002382

Ratamess, N. A. (2017). Development of resistance training programs. In B. A. Alvar, K. Sell, & P. A. Deuster (Eds.), NSCA’s Essentials of Tactical Strength and Conditioning (pp. 172–176). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Sheppard, J. M., & Triplett, N. T. (2016). Program design for resistance training. In G. G. Haff & N. T. Triplett (Eds.), Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (4th ed., pp. 439–469). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.