In a world where “3 sets of 10” is the battle cry of many a misinformed weightlifter, strength and power training come as breath of fresh air. Granted, all forms of weight lifting are all too often labeled as “strength training”, but true strength training aims at improving the attribute that is strength, measured by force production. By adding a component of time in the form of speed, strength can be pushed further into the realm of power. In these arenas, volume comes down to multiple sets of 6 repetitions or less. This means bigger weight than if a lifter was sticking to the “3 sets of 10” mantra, and those numbers can only get bigger as a person's muscles become capable of producing more and more force.
Most people in the gym train either hypertrophy or endurance (or neither, as they don't train with enough weight or enough volume to trigger a response towards either end). This means they are building muscle and burning calories, which are both what most people want, but even these have their upper limits. All training programs should be changed every so often so that your body can constantly be challenged to overcome obstacles and adapt. Strength and power training are as good an alternative as any.
Strength can be the difference between opening the pickle jar and asking for help. Via hypertrophy training, a muscle's size increases and therefore so does its potential to produce greater force, but only through training specifically for strength can this potential be full tapped into. Not only can this potential be realized, but the mental and emotional pick-me-up garnered by adding another plate to the bar or moving the next dumbbell up the rack is unmatched by few other things. This further translates to breaking plateaus that can result in more size gains (and increased metabolism) from your hypertrophy workouts!
Power training is by its very nature functional training, as it requires many limbs moving forcefully as a unit to complete an exercise. The quick force produced by the hips and trunk translates to total body fitness as calories are burned in numbers beyond what the average hypertrophy or endurance program can accomplish, and the added oxygen debt leaves your body starving for nutrients and burning even more calories for hours after the workout is completed. Have toning and weight loss goals in mind? Blast through them with this explosive training!
There is a lot of ego in working out, and that can't be avoided. We workout to improve our health and fitness by improving our bodies, and once we start seeing those gains, we get addicted. Nowhere is this ever more evident than in strength and power training in the form of triples, doubles, and singles. Those are just fancy nicknames for sets consisting of three, two, and one rep, respectively. Sometimes, we just have to know what our maximum is. We have to stare at our own personal thresholds and push them further, kick them over, and simply leave them in our dust. The age old question of “how much do you bench?” is the cause of more chest pounding—and more injuries—than any other statement in the gym.
Unless you are training for competition, sets of three and less repetitions should be few and far between. If you can help it, let these sets go the way of the dodo, but if you can't, be sure to always use spotters for your own safety. It's great to find your maximum, but it's scary and very dangerous to discover you overshot that mark by even a few pounds.
Competitive power lifts include the bench press, back squat, and deadlift. These exercises do not have to be limited to just strength training, as they fit nicely into any hypertrophy or endurance program. Olympic power lifts such as the snatch and the clean should always be performed explosively, even if they are performed as part of a lower intensity program. The benefits of mastering these exercises include overall fitness and improvements in other exercises.
Strength and power training are simply just a change in volume, incorporating 2-6 sets of 6 reps or less. This volume can be a fantastic change of pace to any workout that also translates to gains that cannot be accomplished by other training intensities. However, as with any training protocol, it is important to be safe, smart, and avoid unnecessary risks (if you really want to know your One Rep max, there are conversion charts for that). Also, as there are other training styles out there, this should be limited to no more than 12 weeks. Happy lifting!