By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)

At first glance, the title sounds contradictory, as any coach, athlete or experienced gym goer might know, power and endurance are not exactly synonymous with each other. In certain sports, most notably swimming which inspired this article, but also cycling, wrestling, gymnastics, speed skating, and rowing having power and endurance both, are necessary to be capable and competitive within those sports.

Now, when referring to “power endurance” we are still referring to activities that are inherently anaerobic, meaning that the overall duration of the task lasts no more than five minutes. However, within those 30 seconds to 5 minutes of anaerobic glycolysis, power-based activities such as swimming the butterfly or breast stroke, rowing, wrestling and others can deplete energy reserves (ATP) rather quickly, making those few minutes seem much longer and leaving athletes completely exhausted. Anerobic glycolysis generates ATP without oxygen for high intensity activities lasting between 30 seconds up to 5 minutes, depending on the conditioning of the athlete and activity. These activities are more focused on developing overall muscular strength and endurance in general.

Typical “power” activities such as powerlifting, Olympic lifting, focus on lifting high amounts of weight in only 1-5 repetitions, which takes about 5-30 seconds maximum. These activities draw energy primarily from the ATP-Creatine Phosphate energy system which is designed to generate a large amount of energy reserves for use in short, intense bursts of activity (5-30 seconds). These activities focus more on a “one rep max” type of performance in which the athlete has only one repetition to lift their max possible weight, hence the need for a short but intense burst of energy.

Bring it back to power endurance, this means being able to sustain a power-based activity for a moderate period of time, 30 seconds – 5 minutes, within the constraints of anaerobic glycolysis. It is important to remember that it isn’t a one rep max performance and thus, the overall load can and should be significantly reduced. Swimming strokes such as the butterfly are power based strokes that require a large amount of force throughout the entire length of the pull within a very short amount of time. Since the resistance in this case is water, the overall load that the force is being applied to is relatively low, allowing the swimmer to translate that power into speed. In swimming however, this movement must be repeated numerous times as relative to the length of the competitive event (50m, 100m, 200m, etc) that can last anywhere from 20-30 seconds up to several minutes. Thus, power endurance is the athlete’s ability to sustain the power output over this period of distance/time with minimal loss of performance, allowing the athlete to maintain speed with less fatigue.

Training power endurance then comes down to performing power-based exercises and movements with a lower resistance and a higher number of repetitions. This is along the same lines of training anaerobic capacity which helps you maintain high intensity output for longer durations while helping make recovery periods shorter and more efficient. To train power endurance, follow these tips…

  • Before power can be trained, ensure that basic endurance and strength are trained. It is important that you already have a base level of fitness conditioning established before training power.
  • Always train technique before power, but you can practice both together. Ensuring proper technique is paramount to ensure that you reduce your risk of injury. Starting with lighter weight/resistance to develop proper technique is where to start, practicing the power movement here as well helps build motor skills and muscle memory.
  • Power is expressed through the concentric phase of muscle contraction, you can modify exercises such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, rows, pushups, pullups, and others so that the concentric phase is shortened, and the eccentric phase is lengthened.
    • For example, if your squat rhythm is two beats down, two beats up, change it to three beats down, one beat up.
  • If you’re an athlete training for a particular sport, it’s good to train through movements that are similar to that of your sport. With swimmers, this would focus more on upper body pulling motions whereas cyclists would focus more on lower body pushing motions.
  • Compound movements that utilize many muscle groups are key. Train exercises that engage multiple muscle groups together, this is important for developing coordination, endurance, and stamina.
  • A lot of exercises already help train power, but just need an extra push. Be creative with your workouts and don’t be afraid to try some new things.
  • Train the concentric phase for power and the eccentric phase for endurance. While the concentric phase expresses power, the eccentric phase expresses endurance. Training the eccentric phase to build endurance after a concentric power movement helps condition your body to replenish ATP while still under load and help you maintain form for longer.

Training power endurance is not easy and even the most well-conditioned athletes are constantly working to improve themselves in this regard. Sporting events that require power endurance often have a reputation for being particularly challenging and aren’t the most popular for athletes to compete in. However, those athletes who do compete in them tend to be more conditioned and successful in their competition, if not for their physical shape more that for their mental resilience to take on such challenge.

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