How to Train for Muscle Power


Here at Men’s Fitness, our readers often contact us with questions related to workouts and athletic performance. Here, trainer Tommy Caldwell answers five of the most common questions we hear around training for explosive power—and what it means for you.

What’s the difference between power and strength?

“Strength is the ability to move a certain amount of weight, whereas power is the ability to move weight quickly,” says Caldwell. “To give a simple example: Performing a deadlift involves a strong base of strength, whereas a movement like the snatch requires explosive power.”

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What are the optimal exercises for building power? How many sets and reps?

“Power development requires heavy weight, high sets, and low reps,” Caldwell says. “It could be 4–5 sets of 3 reps, 5–6 sets of 1–2 reps, or up to 7–8 sets of a single rep. Prilepin’s Chart (based off of Russian research of Olympic lifting) is a good marker for those who don’t know how to control volume.”

What are the benefits of training for power?

“Aside from the fact that being optimally powerful makes you more badass, power is a crucial trait that allows athletes to jump high, hit hard, sprint fast, and makes them exciting to watch,” Caldwell says. “Training for power develops the fast-twitch muscle fibers and the nervous system so they can generate all those explosive movements that make top-end athletes worth the money they’re paid.”

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Is there a way to train for power, strength and size at the same time?

“If you’re a beginner or even a low-intermediate lifter, you can make gains in many areas at once through a process called periodization (the planned structure of your training regime used to dictate reaching certain goals at certain times),” Caldwell says. “However, if you’re a high-intermediate to advanced lifter looking to get more powerful, just focus on that alone or you risk underdeveloping in many areas instead of making real gains in one. There are a ton of different periodization methods, so you’ll want to research them all and decide which one is most congruent with your specific goals.”

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What are the biggest mistakes people make when training for power?

“The biggest mistake people make is adding too much volume and resting too little,” Caldwell says. “When you’re lifting 1–2 reps at a time with up to 3–4 minutes of rest between sets you don’t develop the same muscle soreness or fatigue that you may be used to—therefore, you might feel as though you aren’t working hard enough or that the training isn’t effective. Don’t get antsy and try to accelerate your results. Remember what your ultimate goal is and that power requires controlled volume, set rest, and being ‘fresh’ for every single pull.”

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