How much weight should you use for power training?

You have heard conflicting information about power training? Low loads and explosive or high loads and maximal efforts? So, how much weight should you use for power training?

This article and video discusses

How much weight should you use for your power training?

In order to understand how much weight you should use for power training, let’s start to look at, what power is.

I have outlined in previous articles, that the physical formula of power is

  • power = force * distance / time
  • power = force * velocity (because distance / time = velocity)

Please check out the image below, which makes the derivation clear

Power and Power Training

From this formula, you can see, that as opposed to strength training which mainly focuses on the force development and overcoming resistance, power training focuses on overcoming resistance, but also at overcoming resistance as fast as possible, because there is also velocity in the equation.

In very simple words, you want to maximize velocity and this is best achieved by using a range of weights.

How do you know how much weight you should use for your power training?

To determine the weight you should use for your power training you can use percentages of your 1 RM (1 repetition maximum, the weight you can lift for one repetition) or velocity zones. I will use and explain both measures in the following examples.

There are different ways to determine your 1 RM, you can do a 1 RM test, you can use multiple RM’s and predict your 1 RM from the multiple RM or you can use velocity measures to predict the 1 RM if you have the ability to measure the velocity.

To determine the velocity zones you need to have a device, that can measure the velocity of the movement.

What are different types of power training?

For the different types of power training, I use some classification, where I distinguish between different power training efforts.

  • The plyometric effort, which usually involves the stretch-shortening cycles, so that can either be a short stretch shortening cycle or a long stretch-shortening cycle.
  • The ballistic effort – where the weight or the object goes into a free flight.
  • The dynamic effort, which is usually done with accommodating resistance, like added bands or chains to minimize the deceleration in the braking phase. The reason for that is that in most exercises, the deceleration or braking phase stops to occur, with intensities above 80 – 85% of your 1RM, which means that if you are training at percentages below 80 – 85% of your 1RM there is always a deceleration phase, which is not a good thing if you want to develop power by maximizing velocities. Consequently, if you have to brake/decelerate, you won’t be able to maximize velocity.

How much weight should you use for the different power training efforts?

Plyometric effort

For the plyometric effort, you work with percentages of 0 – 20% of your 1RM, which means if we take the example of a Back Squat and you can Back Squat 100 kg, you work either with your body weight or 20 kg additional load. The movement velocity, if you measure it in meters per second, is usually above 2.5 meters per second. With these velocity numbers, you need to be a bit careful and don’t take my word for it, as I have taken these numbers from elite athletes. If you want to use velocity zones, you definitely need to consider, whether you train advanced athletes or beginner athletes, as well as the type of exercises; the lower body and upper body display different movement velocities.

Check out the table, displaying the velocities at different exercises (Back Squat, Front Squat, Bench Press and Bench Pull)

velocity load profile velocity based training

velocity-load profile of the Back Squat, Front Squat, Bench Press and Bench Pull

Ballistic effort

For the ballistic effort, you work with intensities of 20 – 50% 1RM, if we use the Back Squat example of a 100 kg from above, this means you use 20 – 50 kg additional load and train ballistically (loaded jumps). The movement velocity is between 2.5 meters per second to 0.9 meters per second.

Dynamic effort

For the dynamic effort, we use intensities of 50 – 70% 1RM, again, coming back to the back squat, 50kilos to 70kilos plus bands, for example. And movement velocities tend to be between 0.9 – 0.5 meters per second.

Power training zones velocity based training

The power training zones outlined offer a pretty large spectrum, consequently, the question stands out in which power training zones and with which resulting load should you train?

Which load should you use for your power training?

The answer to that question is pretty simple, not easy, simple, it depends what your training goal is.

If you want to improve your power at higher velocities and lower resistance, you need to choose loads at the lower end of the spectrum; between 0 and 20% 1RM.

What are examples of higher movement velocities and lower resistances?

Think about a smash in badminton, the badminton racket weighs 100 grams or less.

If you want to improve power against higher resistances and resulting lower velocities, you need to choose loads at the higher end of the spectrum; between 50 and 70% 1RM.

What are examples of higher resistances and lower movement velocities?

Examples are pushing a bobsled or shot put.

What are appropriate power training exercises?

Now that you know the different power training efforts and power training zones, the next step is to add the appropriate power training exercises, because, for the different efforts, not all exercises are created equal.

What does that mean?

I have outlined above, that regular exercises have a breaking phase at lower intensities. This means if you would do a Back Squat with 40% 1RM, even if you do it as explosive as you could, a large portion of the lift will go into decelerating the bar. Therefore you either need to train ballistically or train with accommodating resistance.

Consequently, for each power training effort, you need to choose a certain type of exercise.

What are those power training exercises?

Let’s go through them step by step.

For the plyometric effort, you choose exercises like unloaded jumps with your body weight, that can be countermovement jumps, hurdle jumps, box jumps, drop jumps, or any type of jumping (double-legged take-off and landing), hopping (single-legged take-off and landing on the same leg) and bounding (single-legged take-off and landing on opposite leg) for the lower body. And very light implements, like light medicine balls (1 kg) for the upper body.

For the ballistic effort, you choose loaded jumps, options to load the jumps are dumbells, barbells or weighted vests. For the upper body, you choose heavier implements, like heavier medicine balls (> 3 kg), the smith machine for loaded throws, as well as cables and resistance bands.

For the dynamic effort, you chose the regular big lifts (squats, presses, pulls) and add bands or chains. You can also implement the Olympic lifts and variations of the Olympic lifts. If you work with intensities of 50 – 70% 1RM make sure you shorten the range of the lift in order to minimize the braking and deceleration and use the variations from the hang or the blocks.

Why is that?

Imagine you perform a Power Clean with 50% 1RM and you pull it and maximize velocity, the weight would probably fly above your head. To avoid that, you work with the shorter range, so that you can apply maximum velocity and maximum acceleration without having a break in or decelerate.

different types of Power Training, different Power Training methods

Concluding how much weight should you use for power training?

Power is the product of force and velocity, which means, as opposed to strength training, you do not only want to maximize the weight on the bar, you also want to maximize the velocity.

Power training can be categorized in different efforts, a plyometric effort, a ballistic effort and a dynamic effort and power training intensities are ranging from 0% 1RM to 70% 1RM.

In order to train each power training effort effectively, you need to choose the appropriate power training exercises for each training zone.

Each training intensity has a certain movement velocity expressed in meters per second and this movement velocity can be used to monitor the training quality.

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