Power development is one of the most important aspect of physical fitness as we age, and also one the most underappreciated. We are taught to focus on cardio, cardio, cardio as we get older (not that we shouldn’t strive to increase our cardiovascular fitness) without any thought of muscle strength or power.
So what good does cardio do us if we’re not able to get up and down off of a chair without assistance? Even if we’re in the best cardiovascular shape we can be in at any age, what does that truly mean if aren’t able to perform in our lives in a vital way? Well, in short, not much. And here’s why…
When most of us think of power development exercise, our mind’s might automatically go to Olympic Lifting. In a typical Olympic Lifting routine, you’ll see exercises like the power clean, clean and jerk, and snatch, all of which are wonderful power development exercises. They also require very high technical skill and lots and lots of practice to truly master the movements (notice I said MASTER the movements…that’s where true effectiveness comes into play). At the same time they’re a bit intimidating to the average person. And since many people think this is the only way to create power, they avoid it like the plague.
But power development is probably one of the most, if not the most, important physical aspect we should focus on as we age. In fact, the average strength decline between those under the age of 40 and over the age of 40 is between 16.6% and 40.9%. And the weaker you get, the less mobile you become. And the less mobile you become, the more assistance you need to get around. So, needless to say, developing your strength and power as you age is a significant proposition.
So, even though many people think that the only way to effectively develop power is by utilizing the Olympic lifts, there is an exercise that anybody can use to increase power at any age with a significant decrease is the risk:reward ratio.
The kettlebell swing is a wonderful exercise for many reasons. First, it doesn’t require a bunch of heavy plates and barbells, it only requires a single kettlebell which can be purchased for less than $50 (for the average person). Second, although the technical skill for performing the movement is still high, the likely hood of injury if you perform the swing incorrectly is significantly lower than say a power clean. And finally, you can easily implement this exercise into any workout routine without over-stimulating your nervous system to an extreme extent.
The important thing to remember with a kettlebell swing is the angle of the knees and hips throughout the movement. Many people want to perform the swing as a squat (maximal knee bend and maximal hip bend). This is fine if that’s how you’d like to perform the movement. You have to understand, though, that swinging with a squat pattern will increase the pressure put on your lower back due to the angle forces.
To insure that you’re keeping as much pressure away from your lower back as possible, focus on doing the swing as a hinge (minimal knee bend and maximal hip bend). The hinge is simply a deadlift. When you deadlift, you move in your hips in a way that forms a “V” with your hips at the bottom of the movement, where as a squat will for an “L” at the bottom of the movement.
Keep this little tidbit in mind when you start to implement swings into your routine. Don’t be afraid to up the weight or the reps as you get comfortable.