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What is Power and have You got some?

This blog has been on my to do list for a long time but

having just got back from the UKSCA Conference I have
been inspired to finally write it!
So if you havent read up much on the APA training
philosophy heres a little background. We are all about
developing complete athleticism which includes
Suppleness, Skill, Speed, Strength and Stamina.
Today I want to go into a bit more detail about the
Strength and Speed side of things because together
these qualities lead to Powerful athletes. Powerful
athletes are hot property in professional sport- these guys
can make the difference between winning and losing. I
often read articles which refer to Explosiveness (related
to Rate of Force Development (RFD) and Power) as being
a desirable quality to develop in the gym with athletes.
But at the same time I feel there is a lack of
understanding as to what these qualities are and how to
develop them. This blog will clear it up! But before we
talk about Power we need to talk about Force because
your vertical jump, sprint speed, agility and explosiveness
are all directly related to your ability to produce force.
What is Force?
Force is a push or pull that can cause an object with mass
to accelerate. We produce force from signals developed in
the brain and delivered from nerves to control muscular
contractions. These signals control the magnitude and
the rate of muscular contraction to act on our skeleton to
produce movement. To illustrate this point lets use an
example. We have a ping pong ball and a 200 lbs stone.
To lift each will require a completely different strategy.
Lifting the ping pong ball is easy and does not require
much force. Our past experiences tell us the approximate
weight of the ping pong ball and we send an appropriate
signal to various muscles to pick-up the ping pong ball.
Lifting the stone will require the integration of more
muscular force from the legs, arms, core and back. The
key point to appreciate is our nervous system controls our
muscles. In turn our muscles contract to produce a force
that can cause an object with mass to accelerate. Note,
even if there is no movement, muscular contractions are
still producing forces.

Why is it important?
Newtons second law F=ma
In order to accelerate an object (assuming its mass stays
constant) then we need to apply force.
Now obviously we know that weight training in the gym is
the best way for our body to develop a greater ability to
produce force but there is a point of diminishing returns
as otherwise if this werent true the strongest athletes
would be always be the fastest athletes. We would simply
have a group of athletes get under a squat bar, and
whoever squatted the most, would also be able to jump
the highest. But there is more to jumping than just
strength alone.

So this is where Power comes in.

What is Power?
In order to understand Power we need to understand
Force-Time Curves
Below we have a force and time curve. Memorize this
graph, because it is one of the most important graphs for
an athlete to understand. Notice force is plotted on the y
axis and the time is plotted on the x axis. The Dashed
Line is the force required to move a given object. Forces
below this amount will not cause the object to move.
Lets say the object is a barbell weighing 100kg and we
want to deadlift this weight. Note a deadlift is taking a
stationary weight from the ground and lifting it to a
standing position. When we examine the force time curve
we can identify unique strength qualities.
Ive already covered a full explanation of the curve in a
previous Blog but its worth going over it again.

Starting Strength refers to the ability to produce force

rapidly at the beginning of a muscular contraction prior to
external movement. In our example, the weight will not
move until sufficient force has been developed. This takes
time and it reflects a very important quality. It is always
produced under conditions of isometric muscle action.
This fact alone has important consequences for strength
training, because it dispels the opinion that the once-
popular method of isometric training should be
completely abandoned in modern training.
Athletes with a quick first step from a stationary position
possess this ability. People often describe this quality as
an explosive start. To train this quality the weight must be
stationary and the athlete develops force to overcome its
resting position. This quality is very different than
acceleration strength. This quality is associated with
getting yourself or an object moving which is at rest, so
this is extremely important in sports like sprinting and
American football/rugby who initiate the scrum from a
stationary position.
Its also extremely closely linked to deceleration strength,
where you have to bring yourself to a complete stop and
then immediately redirect the force for another sprint
(often in a different direction).
For ease of discussion we can say there are two types of
strength which are associated with high rates of force
development during the actual movement of the bar:
Acceleration Strength- describes the ability to quickly
achieve maximal external muscle force once dynamic
movement has been initiated. Some athletes have
tremendous abilities to develop force once moving, but
have trouble developing power at the start.
Explosive Strength characterizes the ability to produce
maximal force in a minimal time and is associated with
peak Rates of Force Development. These are the forces
we are observing when the bar is in motion. It is most
commonly displayed in the fastest athletic movements
when the contraction of the working muscles in the
fundamental phases of the exercise is preceded by
mechanical stretching (such as any plyometric, throwing,
kicking, striking or rebounding action in many sports).
For me the exercises (such as Olympic weight lifting) that
develop acceleration strength will also be the same ones
we use to develop explosive strength, which we will
describe shortly.
All of these qualities are associated with speed of
movement and power but differ based on the load used.
We might refer to exercises which work on the
acceleration part of the Force-Time curve as strength-
speed and exercises which work on the explosive part of
the Force-Time curve as speed-strength- although I
commonly see the strength speed exercises referred to as
explosive strength. For speed-strength there is very little
load applied to the body, 0 40% of an athletes maximal
strength. In strength speed the load represents 40 60%
of ones maximal strength respectively. All of these
qualities are important and elicit very different training
effects. Current best practices emphasize a full spectrum
approach, where an athlete is exposed to all ranges in a
sequenced periodized approach. Research also reveals
the method of loading to produce the best training effect
and power output is exercises specific.
Olympic weightlifting is very popular as a tool to promote
these qualities. Why is this so? Because Elite level
Olympic weightlifters are capable of snatching over
150kg and can clean and jerk over 200kg. It is impossible
to perform Olympic weightlifting movements at a slow
speed. So you get a great combination of strength and
speed. You get the same amount of power generated as
with a plyometric bodyweight jump, but you also get
strong at the same time!
The most powerful of all movements is the Olympic
weightlifting action of the second pull of a Clean, peaking
at 55.8 Watts/kilogram (Garhammer, J. J. Strength and
Cond.Res. 7(2): 76-89. 1993)- more on this later!!
In all these instances, the switch from stretching to active
contraction uses the elastic energy of the stretch to
increase the power of the subsequent contraction.

Rate of Force Development

As indicated above, all the most powerful movements in
sport are associated with rapid production of force.
Rate of Force Development is the term which refers to
how rapidly force is produced. It includes the period prior
to external movement and throughout the movement.
Mathematically, it is given by the maximum value of the
slope of the force-time curve (where this slope is called
the Rate of Force Development, RFD). It is very important
to distinguish maximal strength from rate of force
development. Maximum strength is force produced
irrespective of time, whereas rate of force development is
a quality that refers to how rapidly force is produced. In
sport we are much more concerned with rate of force
What constitutes a high RFD?
Based on the physiological properties of our skeletal
muscles it takes roughly 500msec to reach maximal
voluntary contraction. This is very important because in
an explosive sport movement we do not have this
amount of time to produce force. We have
approximately .08 to .2 second to produce force. We call
this window of time the explosive response period.
Simply described, explosiveness is the ability to create
force quickly. This is the type of explosiveness a
powerlifter would need to do a squat, or a bench press or
a Deadlift. This type of explosiveness is associated more
with starting strength and acceleration strength where
the movement speed of the bar is low and muscle
contractions are slow.
But in classical physics, power is defined as force times
velocity, or rate of work performed. To have true power
we must create movement quickly.
Therefore, we are most concerned with activities where
the peak force is achieved in the explosive response
period in under 200 ms. For me a simple description of
Power might be:
A measure of the rate of doing work within the explosive
response period associated with fast movement.
Examples of Power in Sport
Time is a key component. Thats why Power level is
greater when a relatively light shot is put then when a
heavy barbell is lifted explosively
Power output in 7.25kg shot: 5,075 W
Power output in 150kg Snatch: 3,163 W (33 W/kg)
Power output in CMJ 2,997 W and 3,109 W in SJ
Power output Bench press 300 W (4 W/kg), Squat and
Deadlift 1100W (12 W/kg)
Peak force in 7.25kg shot: 513 N
Peak force in Squat and Deadlift 1,400 N
Peak force in 150kg Snatch: 2,000 N
Peak force in CMJ: 2,000 N
Though the exerted force is less in shot put the power is
greater because of much higher speed of movement.
However, remember that the second pull of the snatch
and clean (which is part of the full lift) produces power of
up to 55.8 W/kg!!!!!

Whats the difference between Power and RFD?

Explosive movements are associated with high levels of
power and/or RFD. It is possible for a movement to be
explosive without being externally fast- as in the case of a
slowly moving barbell in a maximum attempt, for
In its simplest form the way I look at it is, tasks where you
generate maximum power always result in a movement
happening very fast. So powerful movements have to be
performed FAS
Activities requiring you to generate maximum rate of
force development may or may not result in a movement
happening very fast. It is task dependent.
Movements performed slow (but with high RFD) can still
be considered explosive. Usually, however those
athletes who are capable of producing the highest RFD
are the same ones who are most powerful.

Fast movements are always explosive, but

explosive movements are not always fast