by Sang H. Kim | Ultimate Fitness Through Martial Arts
Power is a combination of strength and explosiveness. It is created by releasing maximum muscular force at maximum speed. To increase power, you must increase both speed and strength. By exerting strength with speed, you take advantage of both the force generated by the muscles and the momentum created through the speed.
Power can be described in three ways:
- Explosive power - Explosive power is the ability to exert maximum force in one or a series of dynamic acts. Example: Breaking a board with a punch.
- Static power - Static power is the maximum force a person can exert for a short period. Example: Bench press.
- Dynamic Power - Dynamic power is the ability to exert muscular force repeatedly or continuously over time. Example: Heavy bag workout.
WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
Power is derived from muscular ability. The human body contains over 400 muscles that can be broken in two classes: smooth and striated. Smooth muscles are those that perform the involuntary functions of the body like circulation and digestion. Striated muscles are those that can be voluntarily contracted, such as the muscle groups in the arms and legs. These muscles are the source of power.
Slow and fast twitch muscle fibers
Striated muscles are made up of two types of fibers: slow twitch and fast twitch. Slow twitch fibers are designed for activity that must be sustained over a long time like distance running. They have a high capacity for aerobic energy production and can remain active for a long time while producing relatively small amounts of lactic acid. This is important because lactic acid build-up in the muscle tissue causes the muscle to fatigue and eventually renders it unable to continue working. Low levels of lactic acid mean more capacity for work. People who have a high percentage of slow twitch fibers excel at endurance activities.
Conversely, people with a high percentage of fast twitch fibers excel in explosive strength activities. Fast twitch fibers have a great capacity for anaerobic energy production, which allows them to produce intense power and speed of contraction. This intensive work also causes them to accumulate large amounts of lactic acid and fatigue quickly. (For a definition of aerobic and anaerobic, see "Chapter 9: Endurance")
Based on this, the answer to developing power seems obvious - increase the percentage of fast twitch muscle fibers in your body. Unfortunately, this is not possible. The ratio of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers is determined early in life and cannot be markedly changed. Studies have shown that distance runners have high percentages of slow twitch fibers and sprinters have high percentages of fast twitch fibers. Yet it has been concluded that the activity in which they participate is not responsible for this phenomenon. Instead, it is believed that distance runners take up endurance sports because they naturally excel in this area. In the same respect, others are naturally fast and gravitate toward the speed and power oriented sports in which they excel.
Although you cannot change the ratio of muscle fibers, you can improve what you have. In the average person, slow and fast twitch muscle fibers are generally intermingled, with a higher percentage of fast twitch fibers present. Through training, you can improve the metabolic efficiency of either type of muscle fiber. By training for explosive strength you stress the fast twitch muscle fibers repeatedly, causing them to become stimulated and teaching them to work more efficiently.
Strength Training Videos for Martial Arts
Besides understanding the types of muscles you have, you must have an understanding of how your muscles work. There are two basic ways that force is generated and controlled. The contraction of a muscle is determined by the types of muscle fibers recruited and the firing rate of the neurons within the muscle.
First, let's look at how your body decides which types of muscle fibers to use. The voluntary contraction of a muscle begins with the recruitment of the smallest units of slow twitch muscles. These motor units (muscle fiber groups) have the lowest response threshold, create the least amount of tension and are the most resistant to fatigue. As muscle tension increases, more motor units are recruited from the larger fast twitch fibers. As tension continues to rise, fewer motor units need to be activated because the large fast twitch units contain more plentiful and more powerful muscle fibers. But because these large fibers are the ones that generate peak tension in the muscle, they fatigue quickly and require more recovery time.
As a practical illustration, compare the difference in muscle fatigue you feel when walking and when sprinting. If you walk one mile or sprint one mile, you are using the same basic muscle groups over the same distance. But few people can sprint even half the distance they can walk before their legs simply refuse to go any farther. Walking requires less tension in the muscles and therefore relies on the low threshold, low tension motor units. Sprinting, on the other hand, requires maximum muscle tension for every stride. The muscle fibers' ability to produce maximum tension repeatedly over long periods of time is poor and the legs tire quickly.
Besides the amount and type of muscle fibers recruited, muscle tension and speed of contraction is determined by the rate at which the skeletomotor neurons stimulate the muscle fibers. The more frequently the neurons fire, the more tension that is produced in the muscle. At peak tension, the neuron fires so rapidly that the muscle fiber is unable to relax from one stimulation to the next. The result is the generation of maximum force.
HOW TO IMPROVE
Power consists of both speed and strength. Since speed is very important to martial artists, we will focus on improving strength in this section and cover speed in more depth in the next chapter.
Isometric or Isotonic
Strength can be increased by repeatedly stressing the target muscle groups over time. There are three common ways of creating the required stress: isotonic, isometric and isokinetic exercise. Isokinetic exercise requires specific exercise machines, so this section will examine the more practical methods of isometric and isotonic exercise. Normal muscle movement is isotonic. One muscle lengthens while the other contracts in complementary pairs. A good example of isotonic movement is weight training. As you lift the weight and then return it to its original position, your muscles lengthen and contract alternately through the full range of motion.
To understand isometric exercise, imagine you try to lift the same weight and it does not move. No matter how hard you work it remains in the same place. The muscular response you experience when applying force against an immovable object such as this is an isometric contraction. One muscle lengthens and the opposing muscle is prevented from contracting because the stationary weight prevents the muscles from moving through their full range of motion. Building tension in the muscle while preventing it from shortening was once thought to bring dramatic gains in strength. Studies of isometric exercise have since proven it to be an effective, but not miraculous, way of improving strength gradually.
One drawback of isometric exercise is that the muscle is strengthened only in the exact position of the isometric contraction. If you push against the floor with your elbow bent at a ninety degree angle, your arm muscles are strengthened in that position, but you have to repeat the push at eighty degrees, seventy degrees and every other position between. Doing simple push-ups, an isotonic exercise, can be much more efficient because you work the entire range of motion, and strengthen the corresponding muscles, in a single action.
The key to effective and consistent strength gains is to apply the proper amount of stress in the correct way at the proper frequency. Let's take a closer look at the three key components:
Proper amount of stress:
Too much stress can easily cause time-loss injuries, injuries that require you to take time off from your exercise program to recover. Taking time off means you have to start over where you left off, or more likely, at a lower level than when you were injured. To prevent overuse and stress injuries, work at your own pace. Don't try to get in shape quickly by doing 200 sit-ups on your first day. Start with a comfortable number of each exercise.
To determine a good number of repetitions, work through as many repetitions as you can until you feel minor discomfort in your muscles. Do a few more repetitions and stop there. Stay with this number until you can complete it without difficulty and then add a few more repetitions. The last ten to twenty percent of the repetitions should always be fairly difficult to complete.
Example: If you can do thirty sit-ups comfortably, set thirty-five as your starting point. After a few sessions, thirty five will become comfortable and you can add more repetitions. As you get into higher repetitions, you may begin to advance more slowly than you did at first. This is normal. Stay at your current number of repetitions as long as you need to.
A gradual increase in work load will allow to reap maximum benefits with minimal injuries.
Correct way of exercising:
Execute exercises exactly as you learn them. Cheating on an exercise to squeeze out a few extra repetitions will do more harm than good in the long run. Failing to flex your arms fully during push-ups may allow you to do ten more than usual, but it will have less effect on your arm strength than push-ups done correctly. If you can only do five push-ups correctly, then do just five. If you really stick to the correct form and are consistent, five will turn into ten and ten into twenty and so on. Each exercise is designed to work specific muscles and produce specific benefits. Make an effort to understand what these benefits are and stick to the correct way of performing each movement.
For best results, do strengthening exercises two to three times a week. Strength training causes minor tears in your muscle fibers that need about forty-eight hours to heal fully. During this recovery period your muscles become stronger and thicker creating the increases in size and strength that you are training so hard to achieve. If you interrupt the recovery period, you hinder the efforts of your body to produce the results you want.
DESIGNING YOUR WORKOUT
In designing your workout, whether for strength training or other progressive exercise, there are seven basic guidelines to follow:
1. Warm-up - Always spend at least fifteen minutes engaging in an aerobic activity that will stimulate the large muscle groups of your body. Good examples are jogging, biking (road or stationary), and jumping rope. The goal of your warm-up activity is to break a light sweat and prepare your body for more strenuous work.
2. Load - The load is the amount of weight your body must bear during the exercise. It can be increased by using weights or by altering the position of your body during the exercises. In weight training, a load of sixty to eighty percent of your maximum liftable weight is enough to produce gains in strength.
3. Sets - Sets are groups of exercises with a brief rest between. If you are going to do one hundred push-ups during your workout, break them into four sets of twenty-five each. By resting between sets, you can increase the intensity of each set of exercises.
4. Repetitions - A repetition is the completion of a single exercise. When deciding how many repetitions to include for each exercise, use the guidelines described in the "Proper amount of stress" section.
5. Progression - Progression means increasing the amount of the load as well as the number of sets and repetitions to produce an increased challenge and steady gains in strength. Your workout should always offer you a challenge.
6. Breath control - Breath control is a familiar practice for martial artists and should be easily transferred to your conditioning exercises. As in the martial arts, never hold your breath when you are physically exerting yourself. Holding your breath during a strenuous exercise decreases the oxygen supply to your brain which can cause you to pass out. This is a serious danger when working with weights or other heavy equipment.
7. Consistency - Consistency is the hallmark of champions.
To summarize, when designing your workouts, plan the number of sets and repetitions as well as the proper load for you. Warm-up thoroughly and breath during every repetition. Be consistent and challenge yourself every day. Finally, when organizing the order of the exercises in your workout follow these three guidelines:
- Work from large muscle groups to smaller muscle groups.
- Perform exercises in a similar order every time.
- Arrange exercises so that each successive exercise only minimally affects the muscles that were just used.
Before you begin the exercises listed in this section, take note of the following general cautions regarding strength training. Specific cautions follow individual exercises where applicable.
Strength training should cause some discomfort in your muscles both during and after exercise. If you have any pain in your joints during strengthening exercises, stop immediately. Joint pain during weight bearing exercises is an indication that your muscles are not strong enough to carry the current load. When your muscles cannot bear the weight of an activity, they transfer the overload to the tendons and ligaments of the corresponding joints. Tendons and ligaments are not designed for this type of work and can be strained or torn easily. To ease joint pain during exercise, try decreasing the weight of the load or increasing the angle of the joint.
Example: If you have pain during squats, increase the angle of the joint by bending your knees only ninety degrees rather than doing a full squat. If you have shoulder pain during push ups, do them while standing and pressing against a wall. By reducing the gravitational pull exerted on your body during prone push-ups, you can lessen the weight load on your shoulder joint.
- Always use a spotter or partner when working with free weights, weight machines or strengthening devices.
- When doing leg strengthening exercises, use caution in bending the knees past ninety degrees (as in squats and lunges) because the potential for knee injury increases significantly when the joint must simultaneously flex and bear weight.
- Lift weight properly. If you cannot lift your target weight for at least eight repetitions without cheating, move to a smaller weight.
- Remember that your strength decreases in a few weeks when you do not exercise. If you take off more than a few weeks, do not try to start where you left off.