Power has an array of definitions. You may receive a different interpretation from every coach you encounter. Whether it is known as the product of force and velocity, work divided by time, or an impulse, we are all in search of the same outcome. If you ask me, power is how quickly an athlete is able to display her strength. If the number of definitions are not intimidating by themselves, the myriad of methods coaches use to bring out the “kangaroo” in today’s athlete is just as, if not more staggering. Now, all roads lead to Rome, and nothing is set in stone. Whichever route you choose to develop your athletes’ dynamic potential, there are guidelines that are timeless, tried, and true. It is my goal to bring a few of those guidelines to light and affirm today’s newer coaches that they are on the right track.
If power is a product of strength and speed, it is safe to say that the athlete in training must first be strong. Establish a base of strength before progressing into any sort of power development or dynamic effort. How is an individual supposed to display his strength quickly if he has no strength to begin with? I rest my case, lets move on. After you have spent adequate time getting your trainees strong, we can now progress into more strength-speed protocols. When using strength exercises to develop speed and power, the external load(s) should be such to allow the athlete to move at speeds similar to that of the competitive action or sport. In general, the greater the resistance in the athlete’s competitive action or sport, the greater the resistance should be in speed exercises. Real life example, Chinese weightlifters use loads between 70-80% when developing power. Now, do not let those percentages go to your head. First of all, the Chinese are incredibly strong, allowing them to display their strength quickly with heavier loads. Second, unless you are coaching a weightlifter, do not marry percentages, there are no weights on the court or field.
As the resistance increases, in turn, the velocity (speed) decreases. Which means the force spikes drastically, but the power output will diminish, no Bueno. What’s more, if the athlete is resisting a force greater than his maximal static strength, the velocity is at or near zero. Worst case, if the external load is increased more so, the corresponding velocity will actually be negative because the athlete will be performing an eccentric movement. If you are looking for an easy (and cheap) way to determine if your athlete is overcoming resistance with maximal intent and power, look for the plates to “rattle” at the top of each rep, no need for fancy tools or VBT, a set of eyes will do just fine.
Now, do not get me wrong, overcoming extremely heavy loads is not always “bad” when developing power. An NFL nose-guard most definitely needs to be exposed to heavier resistances because his job depends on it. In short, heavy resistance exercises will only help the speed of movements against considerable resistance. Obviously, not every athlete you will encounter is an NFL nose-guard, so it is safe to assume that the speed of non resisted movements is not going to be improved by exercising with relatively heavy weights.
To improve your population’s speed and power potential, your exercise selection should mimic the sporting activity as closely as possible to ensure positive transfer. The resistance should be similar as well, for too much resistance will all but guarantee an alteration in form and prevention of the athlete moving as explosively as we need her to.
The development of power is not as difficult as coaches portray, as in most cases, coaches are simply masturbating mentally, coveting what they see, and taking far too much pride in the complexity of their program. If you take nothing else away from this article, be sure to read and reread the following six “action items” and start applying them this week.
- With a beginner, good results will be achieved by doing pure strength training. They will reap the rewards of being able to exert more force into the ground, creating a powerful impulse.
- Conversely, increasing strength beyond what is needed for the technique, the relationship between strength and speed diminishes. As the athlete’s strength far exceeds what is needed for the technique of his sport of activity.
- If an athlete continues to build strength beyond what is needed, the time to apply it is too brief to display it quickly.
- Being too strong is asking for interference or changes in movement coordination because of the increased strength in certain muscle groups.
- Excessive resistance will alter the internal structure of the movement. Perhaps the movement looks very similar to the technique and even involves the same muscle groups, but the overload is considerably different than the load the athlete will encounter in the actual technique on the court or field. This will also change the pattern of the muscles used and will not translate to optimal power output or performance.
- Do not use the same resistance or load! This will create a “speed barrier” in which the athlete will learn only that speed. Wave percentages between 30-40% of their 1RM to ensure the athlete is exerting maximal speeds against varying resistances.
This is not a complete list or “how to” guide, nor is it intended to be, my goal is simply to shed light on the process of power development and for new as well as younger coaches to know that it is not as complicated as they might think. Jump, sprint, throw, overcome submaximal loads at maximal speed and voila, you have created power. Well done.