I tell my athlete’s that all roads lead to power. Human movement is a result of power being produced in a particular pattern of movement.
F x Distance/Time (Velocity) = Power. Examples of absolute power would be a vertical jump, broad jump, 100 meter sprint, Shot put, Home Run hit, etc. If I ask someone to define the difference between strength and power most will say that power is just faster. That is not completely true. There is a point where too fast reduces power output. Designing programs for strength is much easier as it is easier to measure the output. If I add weight to the bar and lift the new weight the overload is greater and easy to measure. Maximum power is different for each athlete as some produce more power at slower speeds and some at higher speeds. You have to be able to figure out where athletes are getting optimum overloads in power to properly overload the athlete. This is much more difficult to figure out than strength.
I think you really have to start with an understanding of what strength is and then you can start to see the difference between power and strength. If you look at the equation above, the physics are clear. Force is the first part of the equation. What is force in human movement? You have to first understand that strength is your ability to generate a force. If you pushed against an unmovable object like a wall and there was a force plate to measure how hard you are pushing this would be an example of force production. The stronger you are the harder you can push and the bigger the F in your equation. The second part of the equation is Distance divided by time. Distance divided by time equals velocity. So staying with the wall example if you are pushing against the wall and it starts to move away from your hands then power starts to be produced as the wall begins to move. There is an optimum movement speed where power would be the highest in this example. Maximum power is a point where force is highest with the greatest speed. It is a sweet spot in a movement and many factors will dictate maximum power. Every athlete is different dependent on what muscle fiber types they possess, biomechanical advantages etc. If the force is too high and the velocity too slow the power will drop, and if the velocity is too high and the force to low the power will diminish. Some athletes are better at short bursts of force and power and speed and some are better at longer efforts and lower outputs. Different sports require different outputs to win. This is also position specific within a sport.
A visual example of power that may be helpful would be dropping a 5 lb. weight plate. If I took a 5 pound weight plate and pressed it against your chest as hard as possible it may hurt, but would not do too much harm. However if I dropped it off a 20 story office building and it hit you in the chest it may kill you. You can see how power is increased as velocity is increased. As I drop the weight from a further distance away the velocity increases and the power upon impact increases. A swing of a bat, or turnover of a pedal, throwing of a pitch are all utilizing power, just in different movement patterns.
So movements of the body for sport are dictated by both force and velocity. You will see different types of bodies representing different needs for power in different sports. Some athletes are more muscled and bigger and some smaller. It is my job as a coach to determine what assets the athlete currently possesses. Then to determine the power needs of their sport to perform at the highest level and figure out where there are gaps that can be addressed in program design and training. This design must support a strategy to support a specific requirement for power needed to be competitive. Programs must be designed for improvements in power to match the needs of the sport. Too many programs only focus on one part of the equation above. You must ask where your athlete is scrubbing off power. Is it mobility, stability, force, rate of force development, mental focus, body weight, biomechanics etc.?
How do you design a supportive program for a particular sport? You can look at the difference between a marathoner and a 100 meter sprinter as an example of different bodies built for different performance needs. The sprinter has a body built for absolute power over a short distance. Big powerful hips to propel the body through space at the fastest speed possible. Huge absolute power needs. This body needs to produce much greater force and velocity in order to cover the distance the sport requires in a very short time. The marathon runner has to maintain the highest average speed over a much longer distance and time. So the marathoner’s body is built to produce the highest sustainable average power over a long distance and time period. The physique is much leaner and built for sustaining power. These are two ends of the power curve. If I put together a series of races each one progressively longer, the 100 meter runner would win in the short races, but eventually the marathoner would pull away. This inflection point is where the advantage of absolute power production diminishes and the advantage switches to the marathoner. Absolute power needed to win diminishes and maximum sustainable power starts to take over. Typically athletes will “find” their sport based on their natural ability to generate power that lends itself to doing well in a particular sport. It is then the job of the strength coach to maximize the athlete’s genetic potential through training. You would also find big differences within the population of athletes. Some 100 meter runners are good at the 100, but better at the 200. Some marathoners are good at a marathon, but better at the 5000 meters.
As a coach I have to develop an athlete’s body to best match the needs of the sport relative to the power requirement of their particular sport and what they have been given by their parents.
In a Formula 1 race the pit crew is utilizing telemetry to determine how to improve power by adjustments to tires, aerodynamics, track conditions etc. They are in real time making adjustments to optimize power production of the car. The driver and the crew work together to optimize performance and power.
A program designed to improve an athlete’s ability to produce more power in a particular movement has similarity to making adjustments from the telemetry of a race car. Your athlete may need better rate of force development, more power in the hips, trunk stability etc. The difference is that adjustments are made over longer periods of time.
However, if you do not understand the physics then you cannot really understand how to design a program to most effectively support the athlete’s needs.
So frame your program design for developing more power to support the particular sport. That means you have to look at all the components of the equation for power. In some sports it will require not just higher absolute power outputs, but also how can you improve the efficiency of producing power in your athletes. In all strategies you must first determine a starting point and then determine a destination. The program design is the road map on how to match power to a particular sport. Remember all roads must eventually lead to power.
Truth in Fitness,
Jacques DeVore, CSCS