April 10, 2014 posted by

10 Thoughts on Power, Hormones, and Counter-Intuitive Training

10 Thoughts on Power, Hormones, and Counter-Intuitive Training

While weight lifted and calories burned make sexy headlines about training, the singular most important aspect is how you influence your body’s hormone production. Power training focuses on neither of the former, but has a huge influence on the latter, meaning that everyone, no matter their goals, should focus on it to some degree.

Performance-enhancing hormones respond to stresses placed on the body. Since the goal of power training is to force adaptive stress at its most extreme, it’s both the quickest and easiest way to accomplish this. The ubiquitous flip side is two fold. Too much acute stress can lead to injury, and too much chronic stress leads to central nervous system breakdown. Here are a few rules of power training that will keep things (relatively) safe and effective.

  1. Don’t get pumped. As I stated here, getting pumped it vital for most styles of training to be effective. For pure power, however, it reduces your ability to recruit the highest threshold muscle cell motor units, dulls your ability to assess the danger of a single hard movement, and reduces your ability to recovery from the stress by destroying capillaries. While it’s very hard not to push towards a pumped state in a workout, resist all temptation to do that when you’re training power.
  2. Focus 100% on every single rep. Power training is a mind game. It requires great focus. You can half-ass your way through endurance workouts, as there is always a bit of “one foot in front of the other” drudgery to deal with. Power is the opposite. One wrong move can result in injury and every move you do without focus is wasted. It is, truly, the only training where ever rep matters.
  3. Don’t look at your heart rate monitor or even think about calories burned. I can’t stress this enough. Power training forces deep adaptations to your central nervous system. This won’t appear on a screen as calories burned. If you use that as gauge, you’re going to do things that hurt your workout and/or your recovery from the workout.
  4. Don’t worry about sweat. Power training requires 100% efforts followed by long rests. You won’t be bathed in sweat. In a cool environment you might not sweat at all. The goal of the workouts is neuromuscular. You want to be recovered, with your mind sharp so you can focus, at the beginning of every single movement.
  5. Rest enough! Not just between exercises but between workouts. While you won’t be pumped, sweating, and all blurry-eyed like you can get doing power-endurance work, you need more rest than you’re probably used to. All of the above feelings are tampering your absolute workout load. For example, you can run 30 yards faster than 100 and much faster than a mile. Etc. It takes longer to recovery from a 100% effort over 100 yards than it does for a mile because you’re exhausting fast-twitch muscle fibers, which take much longer to repair than slow-twitch fibers.
  6. Don’t always adhere to your schedule. While the schedule may be king for some styles of training, it’s not for power. If you warm-up and don’t feel like your mind or body is ready for 100% efforts, cool-down and wait another day. Overtraining can happen quickly during power cycles, and it’s insidious. Central nervous system overtraining takes a long time to recovery from. Always remain wary.
  7. Wrap your head around down time. A power cycle is a good time to get stuff done in your life. Not only do you have more downtime between workouts, you don’t feel as tired as when you finishing every workout feeling like Gumby in a pool of sweat.
  8. Don’t overeat. While stimulating strong hormonal responses does raise your metabolism, you still probably aren’t burning the calories that you’re used to and it’s easy to gain weight when power training. As I said, here, I like to diet during power because I’m not as hungry as usual. Conversely, some athletes like to gain a little weight because body weight forces more stress (thus enhances power training more naturally than adding weight to your body). While not a bad strategy, you should be aware it will happen in case you don’t adhere to it.
  9. Drink frickloads of water. Because you aren’t sweating you’re not going to be as thirsty as normal. You still need to drink water. A lot of it. Dehydrated muscles and connective tissues are at a much higher risk of injury. Since the point of your training is to apply as much force as you can handle to these areas, you need to be hydrated always.
  10. Be ready. While everyone—even endurance athletes—will benefit from some power training you should build a solid fitness base before focusing on it. Most preparatory training programs have some aspect of power (for example, everything in Beachbody’s catalog, from Tai Cheng to P90X3). The more advanced you are, the more you generally get (X2 is very power oriented, part of why it’s harder than many of our programs for people to come to terms with). You need to build up, or you’ll be at a high risk of getting hurt. As a standard rule about whether or not you are ready, use high intensity interval training (HIIT) as a base. If you never trained HIIT, skip focusing on power until your fitness base is stronger.

I’ll posts some examples of power training routines later this month.


  • Jonathan D. Gippe Awesome summation of the paradigm shift which many of us need – reduce measurement of output (heart rate & perspiration) and increase awareness of input (focus, calories & water)! Thanks, Steve!
    42 mins · Unlike · 1

  • Michael Karpenko great posts!!
    3 hrs · Unlike · 1
    Steve Edwards Thanks, Mike! Means a lot coming from you.
    1 hr · Like
    Michael Karpenko Many thx Steve! Its great to see you write about counter intuitive training and rest periods!! Big Difference between working out and TRAINING! You are a STUD!

  • Hey Steve,
    Long-time follower (first time commenter), so I’d like to start off by apologizing if this comment is a little too long. First, it’s nice to see some of Beachbody’s programs starting to dive deeper into the world of sports performance. I always like to use the NASM OPT model as an example, simply because it’s such an easy model for people to grasp. For years, many of Beachbody’s programs focused on the first two to three levels of Stabilization, Muscular Endurance, and to a lesser degree Hypertrophy. With the arrival of P90X Beachbody enthusiasts were introduced to Plyometrics (albeit with more of a metabolic effect in mind). With P90X2 and the help of P3 complexes using the principal of post activation potentiation were introduced (covering theoretically max strength and power), which I love to see Beachbody is heading in this direction (incorporating even more research into their workout programs). However, two things are still missing from the catalog in my honest opinion. First, max strength development doesn’t really exist in any of the programs in a significant way yet, which is incredibly important for the principal of PAP to actually work in (at least in any of the studies I have actually read). Now obviously very few people will be doing 500 lb deadlifts in their home, but there are some interesting thoughts on improving maximal strength without the need for extreme loads (look to the Kettlebell community for a lot of interesting ideas). The second item is a lack of focus on training hip extension. Yes we see it in a lot of the plyo work, etc., but we don’t see it on the strength curve. Again we’re not going to be doing maximal deadlifts here, but perhaps Single-Leg Deadlifts holding a weight on the contralateral side would be an excellent addition to the upcoming programs. There are a lot of great exercises out there targeting glute development for performance and injury prevention (Bret Contreras has done some really interesting work in this area). I think it would be an excellent idea to incorporate this into upcoming Beachbody programs and hopefully you guys get a little creative with it (the way Beachbody always has). There is no doubt that it appears a large percentage of the Beachbody community is buying into real performance enhancement and not just into looking better, but also moving better. Anyways I’d love to hear your thoughts and I apologize once again for such a long comment.

  • Micheal, I just saw you post. The new comment section is acting oddly so sorry for the slow reply. Well, power, um, yeah. I’m not sure we’ll go there for a few reasons. You noticed the evolution, and how X2 kind of sets you up to attack pure power training, but then we back off again. This is because we’re still targeting a mainstream audience. We had hoped with success with X2 would show an appetite for more specific styles of training, and we really wanted to move towards a model where we built on the foundation with programs to target various specificities but it didn’t really pan out that way. Not that it never will, I hope is will, but as of right now we don’t see an audience for a more athletic model of training.

    We don’t see the need for the risk it requires for a more mainstream audience. In a one on one setting you can minimize risks, but it’s very hard to do remotely. Athletes are willing to take on risk because performance is paramount. Folks just looking to get into shape, not as much.

    My current hope is that advances in technology–say with an interactive web site and streaming video–will allow us to teach power training in a safer setting, as well as do more with niche training models, like specific training for various types of athletes. I would say it’s more like my dream, because that’s the field I came from and love to work more on that end of things. For now, however, we’re looking at broader spectrum stuff, getting fit, healthy, and keeping injuries to the absolutely minimum. Except here. My blog’s role is the push the envelope a little bit.

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