All of us need “enough” power to sufficiently perform the tasks we need or want to perform. To carry out these tasks some of us need to physically express more power than others. Athletes are prime examples of those who must often perform movements in a very powerful manner. This article focuses on power and how it relates to those who need to express high levels of power.
What activities would be classified as “high powered”? Classic examples include sprinting, jumping, Olympic lifting, and throwing.
A greater ability to generate maximum power typically results in improved athletic performance.1 Given this fact, training to improve power production should translate into improved markers of athletic performance.
The goal of power training is typically to increase the amount of force produced over the shortest possible time. Power output improves when the trainee is able to perform more work over the same amount of time or the same amount of work over a shorter period of time.2
power = force x velocity = work/time
Common Modes of Power Training
Traditional Strength Training
Improving maximum strength, which tends to be the goal of traditional strength training, has been shown to improve power performance.3 This makes sense, given that traditional strength training results in improved force development (the ability to lift more weight). Fundamentally, an individual cannot attain a high level of power output without being relatively strong.1
In most instances traditional strength training tends to be more than sufficient in allowing non-athletes or casual athletes the level of power output needed to accomplish their goals. As a strength trainer becomes more advanced, he/she may wish to concentrate on performing strength movements quicker to maintain or improve power output.
Ballistic Resistance Exercise
A potential issue with traditional free-weight strength training is that even if a lift is performed quickly, the bar decelerates toward the end of the motion. This inherent deceleration is why experts tend to recommend ballistic movements to improve power.1 Ballistic exercises such as bench press throws and jump squats allow for continued acceleration throughout the movement as well as greater velocity, force, power, and muscle activation 1.
It is also important to take note that ballistic lifts tend to be more sport specific than traditional weight-training counterparts. For instance, a jump squat is more similar to a basketball dunk than a squat.
Olympic lifts such as the snatch, clean and jerk, and variations such as the power clean allow for high velocity and force outputs. There is a relationship between the power output during Olympic lifts and sprinting/jump performance.1 This relationship may allow for the transfer of training effects between Olympic lifts and sprint time and jump performance. This transference has been demonstrated in previously untrained men who significantly improved both sprint time and jumping ability.5
Another benefit of Olympic lifting is that the athlete can train with heavy weight. This allows the athlete to quickly move heavy loads, which may be beneficial to American football linemen and wrestlers.
Plyometrics consist of exercises such as the depth jump. When incorporated into a training program they can be effective at improving power in sport. I will eventually touch on plyometrics in another article.
Optimal Loading of Exercises
“Optimal” load would be the load associated with maximum power production for that specific movement.1 The following is a list of exercises and the percentage of weight associated with maximum power production for that lift. These are not set in stone and can vary, depending on training status, but may be useful to guide training.
- Jump squat: 0% 1 RM of the squat
- Bench Press Throw: 30-45% of Bench Press 1 RM
- Clean/Snatch: 70-80% of 1 RM
To determine the appropriate resistance, a one-repetition max (1RM) would need to be determined and then a percentage taken. For example, if you are able to bench press 100 lbs for a max effort and 30% was the optimal load of the bench press throw, then you would want to train with 30 lbs to maximize power production.1 It would be inappropriate to take the 1 RM of the actual bench press throw exercise due to the ballistic nature of the exercise and risk of injury.
General Training Parameters2
Loading- Light loads are recommended for power-training; these equate to 0-60% 1RM for lower body exercises, 30-60% 1-RM for upper body exercise and 70-80% 1RM for Olympic lifts.
Volume- 1-3 sets per exercise utilizing 1-6 repetitions. Repetition speed should be fast.
Rest Periods- 2-3 minutes between sets
Frequency- Typically periodized and structured into a strength-training program. Power training may be performed 2-5 days a week.
This is a sample of a power-training program that highlights the benefits jump squats can have on experienced resistance trainers.5
The participants trained twice a week for 10 weeks utilizing the jump squat. The weight used was ~30% of the participant’s 1 RM of the squat. Participants performed 3-6 sets of 6-10 repetitions, with a 3 minute rest interval between sets.
The training resulted in significant improvements in vertical jump and peak power during cycling. Those assigned to the jump squat group outperformed a traditional strength-training (back squats) and plyometric group (depth jumps) in the vertical jump.
How to use this Information
Power can be improved through traditional strength training, but those requiring a greater ability to produce power may be served by specific power training. Ballistic exercises, Olympic lifts/variations, and plyometrics are common ways to improve power production. There are many training variables that can be manipulated, depending on the individual’s goals. Power training can complement and overlap both strength training and hypertrophy training styles.
I consider plyometrics and ballistic resistance training to be advanced techniques. These movements tend to require assessment and instruction from an exercise professional.