For most athletes, power is more important than strength, yet outside of those who have their strength and conditioning work programmed and supervised by a professional, it’s rarely trained for. Walk around almost any gym and you’ll see plenty of people working on their strength, but far fewer working on their power.

It should be the other way around.

In this article we’re going to look at the difference between strength and power. We’ll outline the physical and practical differences, then explain how best to optimise your training to achieve both. As always, all suggestions will be evidence based.


Time to read: 5 minutes

Beginner

Key Points:

  • The differences between strength and power
  • The importance of speed in power training
  • Optimising your power training for best results
  • How KYMIRA clothing can help to combat the risks of power training
  • Summary

"Walk around almost any gym and you’ll see plenty of people working on their strength, but far fewer working on their power.

It should be the other way around.”.



Strength and power - the differences

As the title suggests, strength and power are different attributes and are trained for in different ways. Of course, they’re linked, and power has a fundamental strength base, but you can be strong but not powerful. It’s the application of force at speed that makes the difference.

While strength is related to power, their definitions are quite different [1]…

Strength is maximal force production – your ability to move a load from point A to point B. This could be a heavy squat, deadlift, bench press etc that doesn’t need to be done quickly but requires a lot of force to overcome the resistance of the weight.

Power is a brief muscle action at high movement velocity. Something like a throw, a jump, a sprint, or weightlifting movements (clean and jerk/snatch - different to general weight training). It must be done with a high force output in an explosive, short nature. You can’t jump in slow motion for example.

Training for these also looks different.

Speed is key across the board

The interesting thing is that speed of movement appears to be key for developing different physical abilities. Research shows that if you want to develop power, you must move weight at high speeds.

Power training therefore will focus on fast execution of lower weight movements – some researchers suggest weights between 30% and 80% of the one rep maximum are appropriate, but the movements must be ballistic in nature (fast, deliberate and done with huge force velocity). By mixing weights and movements speeds athletes will develop a rounded strength and power ability [2]. This means you will lift weights at different ends of your capabilities – some days will be light weight training, others heavier.

The reverse is true with strength training – when studied, subjects using super-slow repetitions to build strength saw a much greater increase in their strength numbers than people using ‘normal’ rep speeds. In research from 2001, super-slow training resulted in about a 50% greater increase in strength for both men and women than regular speed training [3].

Whilst these results probably aren’t normal, they show potential for the use of speed manipulation in the weights room.

Meta-analysis of power training suggests that training for power should be a short term and temporary approach and not designed to be a stand-alone approach to exercise [4]. There are several reasons why this is good advice, but the main two are power training without an underlying strength base is always going to be limited, so you need to focus a lot of effort on that. Additionally, high velocity movements carry a higher injury risk so need to be held in reserve until power is needed.

If you want to maintain a level of power training in your everyday gym work, a sensible way to go is plyometric training. The lack of additional weight reduces the impact slightly, but the results show that the explosive nature of the training still delivers strong improvements in power development across athletes.

Optimising power training for best results

The traditional thinking around training is that it should be divided into phases, with a defined outcome goal for each cycle, i.e., improve power/strength/cardio capacity etc – this is known as periodisation [5]. There’s no reason why power training should be any different, and coaches need to be aware of this.

The way to optimise power training therefore is to build it on to the back of an extended period of strength training. Following this approach means that the groundwork strength training has already been done – the muscles, bones and connective tissues have adapted to the training, so they’re strong as resilient when it comes to doing the power work.

An appropriate time to switch to more power-specific work is 4-6 weeks out, which is enough time to make significant improvements in power, without dramatically increasing the risk of injury. Beginning the power phase with lighter weight (30% of max weight), increasing 5-10% per week will see you make big power improvements without compromising other abilities or increasing injury risk.

Power training consists of high set numbers (5+ per exercise), with low rep ranges (3-6). All reps should be performed at high speed, nice and explosively. Don’t exceed 6 reps in power training because the aim is to maximise power output, not to create fatigue. If you perform too many reps in a set, the quality drops considerably.

Harnessing KYMIRA's infrared power

The nature of power training is such that movements are quick and explosive, which places additional demands on the muscles and connective tissues. Whilst the movements themselves aren’t inherently dangerous, the speed at which they are executed and the range of motion the joints travel through puts the connective tissues under additional stress.

One way to combat the risks is to wear KYMIRA clothing before and during training. The stimulation of nitric oxide production thanks to infrared is a vasodilator – this means it improves blood flow to the tissues [6], increasing their elasticity and reducing injury risk. Combine this with an effective warm up and your power training risk is no greater than standard weight training.

Optimising power training

To summarise, here’s what the evidence suggests when it comes to developing power in the safest and most effective way…

  • Power should be built on a base of strength – build strength first
  • Lift lighter weights at high speeds – explosive movements are key
  • Keep power training to 4–6 week blocks – periodise properly
  • Work with high set numbers (5+) with low reps (3-6)
  • Movement quality and force production is key – don’t look for outright fatigue
  • Wear infrared fabrics to reduce injury risk

Use these information points as your guidelines for power training and you’ll make a lot of very safe and effective progress.


April 11, 2022 — Steve Hoyles

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