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We all know that making athletes more powerful and explosive is a good thing. Developing power will allow you to run faster, jump higher, throw harder, and be more agile. Power, however, is an ambiguous term and has many facets to it. In order to develop power you need to do much more than “plyometrics” or box jumps. In this post I want to break down how we train and develop power in our athletes and clients.
Power = Force x Velocity
To understand how to develop power, it helps to take a look at the force-velocity curve.
Basically, the heavier the weight you lift (force) the lower the velocity you can lift it at, and the lighter the weight the higher the velocity. On one end of the continuum you have a very heavy deadlift or squat (heavy and slow) and on the other end you have a sprint or vertical jump (light and fast).
Where most people fall short is they only train one or two parts of the continuum, which leaves gaps in their development and will ultimately hinder performance and health. It’s important to understand that when training to improve performance, you need to train at all points along this continuum. Here’s how.
This is the force side (far left) of the force-velocity curve – strength training. This should be the meat and potatoes of a sports performance program because it’s where most athletes will see the biggest impact on their performance. There are very few athletes that won’t benefit from getting stronger. The more force you can put into the ground the more potential you have to improve all aspects of athleticism.
If you can’t front squat 1.25x your bodyweight and deadlift 2x bodyweight, you need to spend time training at this end of the force-velocity curve.
This is where the Olympic lifts fit into the program. With hang cleans and dumbbell snatches, you’ll move fairly heavy loads (heavier than a medicine ball but lighter than a deadlift) relatively quickly. Because the load is lighter than maximal strength loads, the muscle will contract at higher speeds – developing the strength-speed portion of the power continuum.
If not contraindicated (wrist or shoulder issues, certain overhead athletes, etc) every high school athlete should be doing hang cleans and dumbbell snatches as part of their training program.
In order to develop speed-strength you’re going to move a light implement as fast as you can. Medicine ball throws are perfect for training this component of power. At 4-8lbs, medicine balls are much lighter than a 135lb hang clean, so the speed of contraction will be much faster – thus developing the speed-strength component of power.
Another benefit to medicine ball throws is the ability to train rotational power with them. Deadlifts and hang cleans teach the body to generate force but medicine ball throws allow us to transfer that force into a rotational pattern which has tremendous carryover to sports like baseball, hockey, golf, and lacrosse.
On the far right side of the continuum you have maximal speed. This is where there is no external load and the speed of contraction is at it’s highest. To train this component our athletes will jump, hop and sprint. During those movements you’re teaching your muscles to contract as fast as they can against only the force of your bodyweight.
As you can see, training power is more than just doing a “plyo program”. All of these components work together to produce power and when you neglect to train certain points along the continuum you are hindering athletic development. Most athletes do this by spending all of their time at the speed end of the continuum (running, jumping, “doing plyos”) and very little time developing the other qualities that encompass power. These athletes will see huge improvements in performance just by shifting their focus to the other side of the continuum.
In order to fully maximize your performance, you need to train all points along the the force-velocity curve. For a well-rounded sports performance program; strength train using compound lifts like front squats and deadlifts, perform the Olympic lifts, throw medicine balls, sprint and jump and you will maximize power development and athletic performance.