Power
What It Is and How To Get It
By: Kelly Baggett
People usually associate power with the thought of some 300 lb Paul Bunyan looking cat struggling underneath a bar bending load of iron - Or a strongman on ESPN picking up a car on and hauling it across a parking lot - all the while looking like he's going to burst in two. When the average person hears the word power this is what they typically think of.
Actually though, power is just as dependent upon speed as it is force. It is synonymous with speed-strength or explosive strength, the holy grail amongst those who desire athletic greatness. A sprinter displays a lot of power with each foot-strike into the ground as he accelerates down the track. A baseball pitcher displays power when he throws a pitch. A jumper displays a lot of power when he jumps. The list goes on and on. In fact, because sports movements rely on a combination of force as well as speed, they inherently require more power and the athletes engaging in them often display more power then the guy who lifts a huge load of iron.
Now what's so important about all of this? Well if you're interested in explosiveness an increase in your ability to produce power will give it to you!
Lets it down and determine exactly what contributes to power. Power is equal to force multiplied by distance divided by time.
Power = Force x Distance/Time
That's too difficult lets simplify it even more.
Since the terms force and strength are often used interchangeably and distance divided by time is the same thing as speed, power can more simply be defined as strength multiplied by speed. Therefore,
Strength x Speed = POWER
If you draw a line from left to right and write "speed" on one side and "strength" on the other side, power would lie just about smack dab in the middle. Since strength and speed are components of power, increasing one while neglecting the other limits total power development. Unfortunately, many players focus too much on one side or the other while neglecting the other side. Because strength and speed have a multiplicative impact on power, athletes can make greater gains if they develop both components, and faster gains if they figure out which one is the greatest weakness for them and train accordingly.
For example, if a strength score for an athlete was 2, and the athlete's speed score was also 2, his power rating would be:
2(speed) x 2(strength) = 4 (power)
Doubling the athletes speed without altering strength would also double his power:
4(speed) x 2(strength) = 8(power)
If the same athlete made a 50 percent gain in both speed and strength his power rating would be:
3(speed) x 3(strength) = 9 (power)
So it should be obvious an increase in power will result if you either increase speed, strength, or both. An optimal balance is the key because having or training for too much of one (speed or strength) will tend to cause the other one to decline, which you obviously don't want.
Basically there are 3 ways to address power development. You can:
1. Focus on the "speed" side of the line. Examples are: plyometric exercises, loadless (bodyweight) exercises, medicine ball tosses, and weight training using 40% of your max or less performed with great acceleration.
2. Focus on exercises that inherently require both speed and strength. (a mix of speed and strength)These include common exercises like the squat and bench press using loads of around 50-65% of max weight performed with great acceleration, or exercises like the Olympic lifts which inherently require quick execution to perform correctly with loads around 80% of your max. These also can correctly be called "power exercises".
3. Focus on the "strength" side of the line. This could take the form of 2 approaches. They are:
A: Using 80-90% of your max in a given exercise for multiple sets of low repetitions.
B: Using 60-80% of your max for higher reps in an effort to induce muscle growth.
Now with so many options to choose from which approach should you follow? It's really quite simple. The optimal approach requires addressing your weak point, whether it is speed or strength (1 or 3 depending on your weakness) and focusing on your weak area while mixing in optimal amounts of exercises in the #2 middle "power" category that inherently require optimal amounts of both speed and strength.
The goal is to boost power which lies in the middle in between speed and strength. But to do that can require different approaches for different people.
So if you were "speed" deficient your program would best focus on speed training, bodyweight type plyometric exercises, and low load accelerative weight training from group #1 to focus on your speed deficiency; along with performing explosive lifts with 50-70% of your max (group #2 power exercises), while performing enough heavy strength training to maintain your strength.
This would allow you to boost the "speed" side of the speed x strength = power equation while keeping the other side constant or even increasing it, which would result in a dramatic increase in power.
If you were "strength" deficient your program would have you focusing on strength training exercises (group #3), while mixing in optimal amounts of middle ground power exercises from group #2.
This would allow you to boost your strength deficiency and boost the strength side of the speed x strength = power equation, while keeping the other side constant or even increasing it, which would also result in a dramatic increase in power.
The result in either case is that you now have greater amounts of power and thus more explosiveness, speed, jumping ability, throwing ability, or whatever aspect of explosiveness you need.
This is how 2 different athletes with the same sporting goals can improve, or arrive at the same point through different training means. Now is that an earful or what?
For now I will leave you with that to ponder. In future articles I'll delve into this deeper explaining how to assess your deficiencies and how to set up an optimal schedule depending on where you should focus your efforts.
References
1) Hatfield, F.C. (Ed.)(1998). Fitness: The Complete Guide. Santa Barbara, CA: International Sports Sciences Association.
2) Mel C. Siff, Yuri V. Verkhoshansky, "Supertraining" 1999.
3) Zatsiorsky, V. "Science and Practice of Strength Training" 1995