Principles of Power
“Power hitter,” “power forward,” “power play,” “power alley.” These terms and others like them are often used by athletes, coaches, sportscasters and fans when discussing athletic performance. Just as often, people who refer to power in sports can’t tell you exactly what it is or how to develop more of it.
“Strength is important, but power is the key to successful performance,” says Gene Coleman, Ed.D, Chairman, Fitness and Performance at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. “ Even if you’re strong, you must also be able to apply strength quickly.”
Strength is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to produce force. Power, on the other hand, is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to exert maximum force in the shortest period of time. It is the combination of both strength and speed of movement.
Javair Gillett, CSCS, Founder and President of B.A.S.E.S., an athletic development program for young athletes, and strength coach for the Detroit Tigers, expresses it this way: “Strength is the ability to move a resistance or load. Power is the ability to move that same resistance or load very quickly. So strength is just the precursor to improved power. It is absolutely necessary if you want to improve your power.”
Perhaps a more practical way of describing power is explosiveness. Tiger Woods has an explosive swing off the tee. Average golfers have a swing speed of 50-90 miles per hour. Most professional golfers have a clubhead (swing) velocity in excess of 115 miles per hour. Tiger’s is about 130 mph. His strength plus speed combine to produce power.
In other sports, a powerful running back is one who explodes through a hole—he has strong core and lower body muscles, and he can make those muscles move rapidly to eat up yards and blast through or past defenders. World-class boxers may be strong, but unless they can get off a punch or series of punches in fractions of seconds, they aren’t necessarily powerful. Power is either a prerequisite or an advantage in almost every sport. Cross-country and distance running may be the only exceptions.
You can be strong without being powerful (because you can’t get that strength into motion quickly), but you can’t be powerful without having underlying strength of muscles and muscle groups.
Origins of Power
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), “Power increases when the muscle produces the same amount of work in a shorter time (running faster, for example) or more work in the same time (for a boxer, getting off more punches per second).”
“The center of all power and strength in the human body originates in the core of the body,” says Ethan Reeve, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Wake Forest University. “An athlete is only as strong as his or her weakest link. Athletes who are weak or inflexible in their core will have little chance of maximizing their athletic potential."
“Core is a popular buzzword,” says Mark Verstegen, Founder and President of Athletes” Performance and Core Performance. “Most people think it refers only to your abdominals, and countless books and articles have been written on how to produce six-pack abs. But your core, from a strictly physical standpoint, is much more than just your abs. The core refers to the midsection of the body, from hips to shoulders, and it is the basis for all movement.”
Exercises to Increase Power
To increase power, the ACSM recommends multiple-joint exercises, such as squats. Movement during a squat occurs at the hip, knee and ankle joints, and involves the glutes, quads, hamstrings and calf muscles, among others.
Athletes almost always use several muscles and joints in their sports, and their training should almost always incorporate those muscle groups and joints.
Among the movements involved in improving core power are hip extension, hip flexion, abdominal flexion, back extension, torso rotation, lateral extension and flexion, hip adduction and hip abduction.
“Plyometric training develops functional sport-specific power to help you run faster, jump higher, swing quicker and throw harder,” explains Dr. Coleman. It bridges the gap between strength and speed. Plyometric exercises use explosive actions that mimic the movement patterns required in game situations.”
Here are 10 examples of exercises to increase power, including some plyometric activities:
- Push Up Plyometric Lateral Medicine Ball (for explosive power in the chest and arms)
- Crossover Drill - Continuous (for power and range in the torso)
- Medicine Ball Overhead Pass – Kneeling (for stability and total body power)
- Squat Jump – Non Countermovement (for power in the hips)
- Rotational Jumps – 90 Degree (for vertical and rotational power)
- Stair Runs – 2 Steps (for speed and power)
- Box Hop – Linear (for improved power on take-off and control on landing)
- Lunge – Forward Dumbbell (for leg power)
- Mini Band Linear Bound (for explosive lower body power)
- Arm Action – Standing Long to Short (for increased power and speed generated by arms while running)
Jim Brown, Ph.D. has written 14 books on health, medicine, and sports. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, New York Post, Sports Illustrated for Women and Better Homes & Gardens. He also writes for the Duke School of Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine, Cleveland Clinic and Steadman-Hawkins Research Foundation.
- American College of Sports Medicine
- Boyd Epley, author, The Path to Athletic Power—The Model Conditioning Program for Championship Performance
- Ethan Reeve, Department of Athletics, Wake Forest University
- Gene Coleman, Strength Coach, Houston Astros
- Javair Gillett, President, B.A.S.E.S, Strength Coach, Detroit Tigers,
- Mark Verstegen, Founder of Athletes' Performance and Core Performance
- Paul Roetert and Todd Ellenbecker, authors, Complete Conditioning for Tennis