Why we must teach our athletes to be more powerful?
The ability to express high power outputs is essential in many sports. Let’s face the facts, many actions in sport are time limited. If you miss the cut you are tackled, if you can’t give your opponent a “don’t argue” Dustin Martin style you are tackled, if you can’t accelerate away explosively in the first 5m you are tackled or caught, if you can’t jump high enough you miss the blocked shot in Volleyball or miss the rebound in basketball. You get the message. Sure, we all have genetic limitations and different body dimensions that can restrict our ability to do some of these tasks. But in life, like in performance enhancement, you need to focus on the factors you can control and change. Body dimensions and genetics are out of our control, but developing maximal strength and power outputs in athletes are clearly within our control.
I want to introduce you to a basic biomechanical concept that will help explain the concept of power. Power essentially is “Force x Velocity”. So, if you can apply high levels of force rapidly and express high contraction velocities you will express a higher power output. Many people fail to realise that strength development is essential to developing a high power output. In most periodised plans written by strength and conditioning staff a strength block typically precedes a power block. Where a block is typically a 4-week period of a training called a mesocycle.
If all you do is box jumps or skipping or any plyometric activity all you are doing is developing your capacity to express contractions with a higher velocity and a relatively low force. So, you are developing a component of power in velocity, but neglecting the ability to generate high forces through heavy strength training. Therefore, maximal muscular strength must be developed in order to enable athletes to generate force, then you need to teach them how to express this force rapidly.
So, the order that many people should consider doing in any strength and conditioning plan to express a higher level of power is to firstly improve your maximal strength. Strength development improves your force generating capacity and should continually be worked on. Once you have established a decent strength base you then learn to express high force in a very short period of time. This is reflected by your rate of force development. In biomechanical terms this is called “impulse” = the change in force / the change in time. So your impulse will increase if you can apply force rapidly with a shorter period of time. You do this, you change direction more quickly, you jump higher and you sprint faster. This is true performance enhancement and the goal of many strength and conditioning programs.
So, let’s keep this simple. If you are a weaker athlete, so if you can’t squat close to 2 x your body weight it is far more beneficial for you to focus on developing your maximal strength first. Sure you can do a few plyometrics to help your velocity aspect of power generation. However, you must focus primarily on getting stronger. There is no need to get fancy until you develop the basics and fundamentals first. This also applies to the youth who typically need to enhance their strength development around their training and competition and should focus on jumping and landing mechanics as well as strength enhancement first, before doing too many plyometrics and box jumps. Get strong, then learn how to use it properly. This will give you significantly better results, especially in the young and weak population. Additionally it is far less likely to get you injured ;).
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1) Haff, G. & Nimphius S. Training principles for power. National Strength and Conditioning Association. Volume 34:6. 2012
2) Cormie, P., Mc Guigan, MR., Newton, R. Developing maximal neuromuscular power. Part 1 - Biological basis of maximal power production. Sports Med. 41:1. 2011.