THE FUNCTIONAL CAPACITY OF STRENGTH
Strength is often defined as the ability of the muscle to exert maximal force at a specified velocity. For resistance training, we can measure strength with a 1 repetition maximum (1-RM) lift at a slow speed. That’s the greatest amount of weight we can lift without injury for a single repetition. Many believe that if we make a muscle strong through resistance training then that muscle will be strong for all movements and speeds that we use it for. At only a very base level this holds true. However, as we start to rise for better performance in sports, recreation or in compound (multi-muscle) lifts like the squat we have to add exercises and workouts that build us for specific goals.
Strength and speed are two ends on a spectrum: Slow and Heavy versus Light and Fast. Athletic performance and personal bests range on that spectrum. Different kinds of performance, muscles and physiques are produced by focusing within the force-velocity curve. Pure 1-RM strength is required by only a few athletic endeavors (i.e. powerlifting). Sports and recreation require strength at faster velocities and the stamina to sustain sprints, climbs or high-intensity sets. One does not get stronger on all points of the curve without incorporating specific training into their workout.
POWER AND ITS BENEFITS
Power is an important element of strength. Lower body power is THE key attribute underlying superior performance in most sports: sprints, vertical leaps, breakaway speed and reactive agility. The health and fitness gains of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) are fueled by explosive strength moves and the body’s energy stores for sustaining powerful movements. Combining heavy and slow lifts with light resistance loads and explosive, full body jumps engages more muscle fiber and can multiply the work performed in exercise sessions. That equates with more calories burned from the exercise session and more muscle growth.
But power is not just for elite athletes, it is also a necessary component of everyday life. It’s standing up from a seated position, climbing stairs or quickly catching our balance and preventing a fall. For most recreational sports lower body power -- and the correct balance to apply it -- is what keeps us from taking falls and suffering set-backs. It’s a component of strength most needed when you least expect you have to use it. That’s why it’s something you want train on a regular basis, during your weekly gym visits.
Mechanically, power equals force x velocity. One can develop power by increasing strength or increasing movement velocity or both. On a spin bike, power is measured in Watts. If we gear down the resistance we can spin the pedals very fast, but without much power. It’s like riding on the flats in a very low gear: your legs are moving fast but you’re not covering much ground. And the corresponding work performed by your body is low. Likewise, if you put the bike in its lowest gear but can barely spin the pedals, power will be low. What makes the bike cover more distance, more quickly is when we can apply high revolutions at higher gears. It’s not much different from watching professional skaters. They may not be moving their legs very fast on the ice but they’re covering a lot of distance with just a few skating strides.
METHODS FOR DEVELOPING POWER
One popular form of lower body power training is plyometrics. A plyometric jump utilizes both fast muscle contractions and the elastic quality of muscle to generate higher velocities of movement. That’s why it is also referred to as “stretch-shortening cycle” movement.
The problem with plyometric or jump training is that without proper technique and a strong strength base (ie. The ability to perform a set of back squats at 150% - 200% of body weight), jarring landings and the repeated impact on joints can end up being counterproductive to reaching our training goals.
Jump Training is a great way to boost the metabolic effects of high intensity exercise because it uses large muscles at larger range of motion, which multiplies the calorie burn and cardio challenge of exercise. Unfortunately, improper jump training performed intensely, -- at time periods associated with the health benefits documented from anaerobic or HIIT power gains, (30 to 90 seconds per sprint or jump set) -- further increases the risk of injury. As we fatigue, form can break down and the chances of turning an ankle when landing or tripping on the edge of a box increase. But exercise that makes us sustain power (or builds anaerobic capacity) is “functional” as many sports and drills require us to accelerate through the final push, climb or set. We can vary the jump exercise to be less intense, but then it’s also less anaerobic. Aerobic jumping is fun and has a place in recreation but it is NOT the kind of exercise proven empirically to improve one’s anaerobic or power capacity, and the health benefits that go along with that. As a general rule aerobic cardio-vascular exercise does not improve Anaerobic Capacity but anaerobic activities improve both.
Seated on one’s backside, performing leg presses at light loads can reduce impact and fall risk. But it does not build muscle, lend itself to explosive strength production, or transfer well to multi-joint activities in a standing position. Ballistic weight loading conditions (jumping or throwing), where the resistance is accelerated throughout the movement, does result in greater velocity of movement, force output and higher intensities of muscle activity. Therefore, when sustained, upright explosive jumping burns more calories per time interval or jump set.
This is one place where exercise machines can provide the benefit of the exercise while incorporating extra measures of safety. One recent example is the Pneubounder exercise machine from Plyo Systems, LLC. The Pneubounder is a low-impact, plyometric or jump trainer that is engineered around the squat exercise movement. The Pneubounder allows the user to exercise in a functional, upright posture with light resistance loads and fast movements, using the major muscles of the core and lower body, especially the gluteals and quadriceps. The unique action of the Pneubounder provides ample opportunities for repetitions that train posture, core engagement and coordination of movement, at small or large range of motion, entirely up to the user’s own efforts. Stop jumping and the machine comes to an incremental stop, unlike sprinting on a treadmill that keeps running, even if the user doesn’t. And because it is a closed chain exercise, where the feet remain grounded on the platform during the exercise, there’s little chance of falling, tripping or landing wrong. That gives the user the confidence to keep up the tempo and push through exercise plateau’s, even when fatigue or leg burn sets in.
In these short video clips we’ll be looking at how to use the machine and for what purposes.
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