If you look at a car, the amount of horsepower it produces is it’s power output. Look at a Ferrari and the power output is really high compared to a Ford Fiesta for instance. But what happens if you put the Ferrari’s engine into the Fiesta? Sure, the power output would increase, but it still wouldn’t be as high as the Ferrari’s. Why not? Because, the Ferrari was built and designed to withstand that power, the wheels are thicker, the axle is stronger, the chassis is lighter and the aerodynamic shape allows that power to be put into use on the road without the car taking off. Now I’m no mechanic as you can probably tell from that description, but if I had a Fiesta and I wanted to make it the most powerful fiesta I could, I wouldn’t just go putting the biggest possible engine in it, I would make sure that the car could handle all that power and bring everything else up to scratch too.
The same is true of training. When it comes to the human body, power output is our ability to generate some sort of power that gets transferred into the external environment. Picking up a bar requires power output, Power output = Force x Distance / Time. That is effectively what we test when we do CrossFit, how much power can you generate and can you transfer that power into the skills you are completing. So if you are strong but slow, or fast, but weak then there are obvious limiting factors to your power output – there are also a few less obvious ones too.
However, much like the example with the car, there are many factors which affect power output;
Think of this as the engine, in order to create movement the body needs energy, this is true for just day to day living, not only in training. But really, if we are looking to move at high speeds for relatively long periods of time (or across broad time and modal domains) our energy systems are the driving movement that support that movement. Your muscles, your brain, your organs etc all require more and more energy the more power you produce, the faster you move the more energy required.
Movement quality is important as it dictates positioning and posture, both of which will affect power output. Basically think of your body’s ability to hit the positions required to complete the task at hand. I’ll use a power clean as an example. If you have two people identical people doing 10 Reps of 60kg power cleans, but one has better movement quality their power output is higher, as the efficiency with how they complete each rep would add up over the reps and the time taken to complete all 12 reps would be quicker. Think of a person with a poor front rack position, they may need to receive the bar in a deeper position to allow time for their elbows to come through and catch the bar, they then have to stand up that further distance to complete the rep. Same force, further distance, shorter time.
SKILL and TECHNIQUE
This is obviously linked to movement quality but is more in terms of application of movement quality. So you can hit all the right positions, great, but can you efficiently cycle between reps and move smoothly? This is the body’s ability to transfer all the power generated into the skill required. Going back to the power cleans a an example again; two identical people, this time with the same movement qualities undertake the 10 reps at 60kg. One person keeps the bar close, stays on his heels through the pull and receives the bar in a snappy catch, he pops the bar off, goes back into hookgrip and follows the bar down to his hips and then the floor in one smooth motion, touch and go for 10 reps. The other person lets the bar travel away from them and loop and crash on them in the catch the drop the bar from the front rack as they are unable to re-grip the bar, set up and go again. Same force, same distance, shorter time.
If you think about the car again, well the autonomic function would be the driver. The car has the ability to produce the power, but unless that power can be put to practical use by the driver then it’s wasted. So the autonomic function is coordinating all the movements and small adaptations we make every rep, it’s telling us to breath and constantly giving us feedback on the environment around us. It produces adrenaline and noradrenaline which vastly increase the amount of power your body is capable of generating. Fight or Flight! We put our two identical through the same test again, but this time one does it in a freezing cold, dark room, with no music and a few people giving them dirty looks. We put the other in a bouncing gym with lots of people cheering them on, their favorite song in the background and a time in their head to beat. Who comes out on top? This is different for person to person, but either way the environment and our reaction to that affect power output.
Overall it comes down to ENERGY IN to ENERGY OUT – The energy required to complete the movement will come from our energy systems, but the amount of energy we expend when completing the movement will come down to our movement and skill transfer. If I told you you couldn’t get any stronger than you are right now, what would you do? I would try and make my movement the best I possibly could to maximise the potential that my strength has given me.
So when we look at increasing power output, it’s not always as simple as get stronger so you can lift more, or build an engine so you can go for longer. 100% these things will have a positive effect, but there are so many other ways to help improve CrossFit performance. Fix the whole car up piece by piece, don’t just chuck a bigger engine in it and leave everything else untouched.