Power is the ability to apply strength quickly, and it’s a hot term in the strength and conditioning community. Everybody wants power. Strength is important, but if you can’t apply strength quickly then you won’t excel at your sport. For example, having a huge max bench press is cool, but an NFL lineman has to be able to push around another 300-pound human being on a moment’s notice, and sustain the fight for about five seconds. For this, he needs power as well as strength. Perhaps that’s why the NFL combine uses a test of maximum reps of bench press at 225 pounds instead of a one rep max (1RM) test.
So if power is your goal, how do you train for it? A group of researchers recently studied this question as it relates to push press and jump squats. They wanted to find out the percentage of 1RM that maximizes power output during training. They recruited seventeen men, most in their twenties, who trained regularly. Each man was measured for 1RM in push press and back squat. Then each man was asked to perform a series of push press and jump squats. He started at ten percent of 1RM and worked all the way up to ninety percent, performing a double each time. Researchers measured the power output of the lifts using a force plate that the men stood on while lifting.
The researchers found that push presses done at 65% 1RM produced the most average power. Jump squats showed a different result. They produced the most average power when loaded with about forty percent of 1RM back squat. This is quite a difference, but not surprising given the inherent difference between the exercises. A loaded squat is almost a full body exercise, which allows you to use a large load and move the load a large distance. The push press is a more isolated exercise, moving a smaller load for a smaller distance. Therefore, it’s reasonable that push press can be trained with a higher percentage of 1RM and still sustain high power output.
So what does this mean for your training? If you’re out to develop power in these exercises, consider programming some work at the loads specified above. Try performing the exercise for as many reps as possible in fifteen seconds. Then rest 45 seconds and do it again. Do this for five working sets. In five minutes you’ll be done with the exercise, and you can easily track your progress each week by how many reps you complete. Simple and effective.
1. Jason Lake, et al. “Power and impulse applied during push press exercise,” Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. POST ACCEPTANCE, 26 February 2014. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000438