Following on from our previous blog on strength and conditioning, today we’ll look at another important aspect, power production. All good strength and conditioning programs should include elements of power development throughout the year.
When we think of athletes that stand out in their sport, the majority of these athletes have an incredible ability to produce power effectively. Take LeBron James, Usain Bolt, and Serena Williams as prime examples. They all compete in very different sports but all have the common attribute of being extremely powerful.
So what does it take to be powerful or to improve an athletes power expression?
There are a few key points we need to consider:
- Stable athletes – athletes need to be stable in all movements that are both static and dynamic.
- Strong athletes – athletes need to have a high strength level compared to their body mass.
- Ability to produce force – athletes need to develop their ability to rapidly produce force across all planes of movement.
Ultimately powerful movements are normally short in duration and high in energy expenditure for a novice athlete. This can include jumping, throwing, wrestling or tackling. The more experienced athletes will have the ability to produce powerful movements more often with less energy expenditure as they train their bodies daily for this skill.
Lets now explore the key points of producing power in more depth and how to train these attributes as athletes.
A stable athlete is a hard term to define, but in my experience, it is an athlete who can systematically control their body during movement in multiple planes and through a range of velocities.
Some skills that a stable athlete has developed during their training are:
- Ankle / Knee / Hip control
- Joint positioning
- Force reduction
- Jumping / Landing
- Core control
It is beyond the scope of this Ebook to provide in-depth education on how best to develop each of these skills, however we will link you below to videos of athletes performing exercises of some of the above skills:
A strong athlete is unique in their ability to produce force in planes and through ranges applicable to movement. This does not mean sitting on a piece of equipment at the gym and lifting as much weight as possible through short ranges. But rather it is the concept of being strong on one leg, two legs, through the torso, in the upper body, moving forwards/ backwards/ sideways.
Take an Australian rules footballer for example, they need to exhibit strength in the air, above their head, during a contest, below their knees, whilst tackling, whilst being tackled and many more times during a game.
Only once we become a stable and strong athlete during these movements can we express power effectively.
Produce force rapidly:
As sports only get faster and players have less time to make decisions, our ability to produce rapid and forceful movements must increase. In most field and court-based sports, players with a heightened game sense and an impressive ability to read the game can move themselves into positions better than those who react to a stimulus.
Players who can display short bursts of powerful movement are generally more adept with regards to athletic prowess in their sport. The ability to produce powerful movements in a short amount of time can differentiate players and often determine the outcome of a sporting contest.
So what do I mean by producing force rapidly?
Take a basketball player for example. They are required to move up and down the court multiple times per game both on offense and defense. Every so often a short duration powerful movement is required such as a block, dunk, jump shot or dive.
These movements require fast reaction times and the ability to produce as much force as possible in the shortest time possible. Blocking an opponents shot requires the player to anticipate when the ball will be released and at the right time developing enough power to jump high enough to block the shot.
This rapid force production must occur in all planes of movement and through multiple ranges of motion, e.g.:
- Vertical (jump)
- Horizontal (Dive)
- Lateral (Side step)
- Rotational (Baseball swing)
- Lower body (Kick)
- Upper body (Throw)
How to develop force in an athlete:
Every day I see hundreds of athletes training within our facilities, out at schools or with their sports teams and all have the same goal in mind…to become more powerful within their desired athletic abilities.
Whilst there is a good understanding through professional performance coaches throughout Australia in how to develop a more powerful athlete, often these coaches will come unstuck with transferring gym/weight room power into their athletes sporting context.
I see the weights room as a supplementary tool to developing power in athletes, as a way of improving stability, developing relative strength levels and allowing athletes to produce force rapidly. However the true test of power expression in an athlete must be determined through movement.
Below I outline my methods of developing power through a continuum of athlete development. No matter the age or experience of an athlete, we must first ensure that the stability phase of the cycle is ticked off before progressing through. This creates the foundations for future power expression.
As outlined previously, the stability phase is designed to create an athlete who can systematically control their body during movement in multiple planes and through a range of velocities.
With this in mind my first step would be to assess an athletes ability to control their body whilst in a static (non-moving) position. Can they balance on one leg, brace in a plank or lift one leg whilst lying on their stomach.
This assessment would generate an understanding of an athletes basic stability mechanisms and provide context to future assessments that are more dynamic in nature.
The tasks that an athlete would be assessed on would follow a similar path to this:
- Static stability (plank)
- Uni-lateral stability (one limb at a time)
- Dynamic stability (lunging forward)
- Postural stability (shoulder girdle)
- Dynamic posture (Squat with an implement overhead)
- Force absorption (jumping and landing)
- Movement patterns
- Change of direction
After this assessment as a coach I would have a greater insight as to how the athlete moves and controls their body.
With a stability profile of the athlete I am coaching in mind now I create a plan on how to improve on weaknesses, develop their strengths and get the best out of the athlete.
Utilising your own results from above you should have a good idea of where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Were you good during the static tests but not as competent during the dynamic tests? Were dynamic stability tests good but force absorption not yet competent? Could you run well in a straight line but not as competent when it comes to decelerating and changing direction?
Once you have analysed your strengths and weaknesses its time to develop upon them.
Lets refer back to the exercises presented on page 16 in the ‘stable athletes’ section. All of these exercises are designed to improve on your stability mechanisms and provide you with the tools to move effectively. Not one exercise is the magic pill, but rather a range of exercises programmed at the right time will provide athletes with ability to improve.
Strength Development Phase:
Please refer to a theStrengthpreparation module for more information on developing strength for athletic purposes.
Power Development Phase:
With the two previous development phases ticked off (stability and strength development), an athlete has completed the necessary pre-requisites for power development training. This is not to say that we will no longer work on stability and strength in our training sessions, they are both non-negotiable items that are developed year round through different means.
Preparing an athlete for power development training introduces the athlete to a range of athletic capabilities including:
- Producing / reducing force
- Jumping / landing
- Hopping / bounding
These athletic capabilities can be developed through the use of plyometrics, medicine balls, resistance bands, strength equipment, Olympic lifting and more specific sports focused power exercises. Lets touch on all of those below:
Plyometrics (plyo’s) are some of the most exciting and stimulating exercises to perform as an athlete, yet carry a very high risk if not utilised correctly. Plyo’s involve rapid force absorption and force production through the limbs with short contact or loading times on the ground. Think of jumping, bounding and hopping as the bedrock of plyometric development.
When developing an athlete through the use of plyo’s, we use the following as a guide:
Low load plyometrics are very similar to the loads we experience during sport. This includes jumping for a mark, sprinting, going for a lay-up or diving for an opponent.
We can replicate these loads in training through the use of skipping, un-loaded vertical jumping and repetitive jumps.
Watch the link below of some of these plyometrics
As we move up the pyramid to the more advanced and higher load plyometrics, we begin to see a pattern in their application.
The required force increases whilst time spent creating this force decreases. We as athletes are required to produce more force (vertical, horizontal or lateral) with much less time to do so.
We can stimulate the body to do this by performing plyo’s on one leg, limit the amount of available joints or incorporate horizontal or lateral movements. These higher load plyo’s are only useful if the low load exercises have been mastered and the athlete has followed a process to get there.
Watch the link below of some of these plyometrics
Plyometrics become redundant when the main aim of the exercise is no longer the focal point. This can be seen with athletes attempting to jump on to boxes which require more mobility than force production, or when an athlete does not respect the rules of short ground contact times when performing a drop jump variation.
It’s important to keep in mind that plyo’s have a very specific use and anything too far from this model can result in injury and limited transfer.
Medicine balls (MB’s) are a great tool for improving power expression in all athletes through multiple planes of motion. They can be used for throwing, catching, loading and stabilising during power exercises.
MB’s train a theory of which we term the ‘summation of forces’, put simply this is training the correct order in which limbs and muscles have to move to create maximum force. If these limbs and muscles no not move in the correct order, the result of whatever movement we’re trying to perform will be poor. E.g. a baseball player swinging a bat before he plants his lead foot.
I often use MB’s in athletes programs to introduce the repetitive nature of power expression with throws similar to those experienced in their sport. The aim of all MB exercises is to incorporate correct throwing mechanics, encourage full body movement and produce power effectively.
Watch the link below of some of our MB exercises in action
MB’s can be very effective in overloading some of our plyo’s that we have seen above.
E.g. A squat jump can be overloaded by holding a medicine ball in both hands and finishing the squat jump with a throw into the air.
Check out this variation below:
Resistance bands come in many lengths and with varying degrees of resistance. They can stretch a lot and usually provide a constant amount of resistance. These bands come at a low cost and are an important piece of equipment in an athletes arsenal.
I use these resistance bands daily to incorporate rotational power exercises. Rotational exercises with bands are similar to MB throws, however they provide more overload and can be used in the absence of a wall.
The ability for an athlete to express power in a rotational motion (think of the old method for chopping wood or swinging a baseball bat) is paramount in all ball sports. This can be seen in throwing, hitting or passing and is an often under-trained ability.
Resistance bands are also useful for overloading certain speed and plyometric drills. The number of instances where are resistance band has come in handy during team training sessions or when an athlete is outside is astonishing.
Watch the link below of how we use resistance bands
As mentioned previously in this module, a strong stable athlete is likely to express more force than a weak unstable athlete. To improve our power expression through strength equipment, we can utilise barbells and dumbbells.
Exercises like squat jumps and box jumps can be overloaded and progressed by adding either barbells or dumbbells. I must urge extreme caution when using this type of training. Only highly trained individuals who have a long history of plyometric and strength training should attempt these exercises.
The option of also performing general strength circuits with a de-loaded bar can improve power output.
Exercises such as squats or bench press can become more power focused when the athlete lifts at around 50-60% of their max. The focus during these lifts should be on a powerful concentric phase. (Concentric phase is usually the hard part of the lift e.g. the upward phase of the bench press or squat.)
Again it is imperative that the athlete has progressed through conventional strength training before attempting these lifts.
Possibly one of the most exciting but highly technical methods to producing more power within an athlete. Olympic lifting, similar to what we see at the Olympic games, forces an athlete to overcome the resistance on the bar and finish with the bar in a position higher than where it started.
There are many derivatives, or components, of Olympic lifting that we use as coaches to help an athlete learn the art of Olympic lifting. Without going in to too much detail on these lifts, the general concept of Olympic lifting is to load the triple flexion/triple extension motion.
Triple flexion occurs when an athlete loads through their ankle / knee / hip complex. Think of it as the athlete ‘compressing’ their legs or the motion you would do prior to jumping (the dip part of the jump). Triple extension occurs when an athlete extends their ankle / knee / hip complex completely. This is the point found usually when we leave the ground during the jump. Our legs are at their straightest point with the toes pointing towards the ground.
So why do we do Olympic lifting to promote triple flexion / extension?
- Triple flexion / extension are similar movements that we find in:
- We can overload the movements with velocity and weight
- Lifting the bar up on to the shoulders will force the body to decelerate the bar and effectively load selected joints
- Athletes are forced to learn technique before weight as the bar will not move well with poor technique.
To help you in the implementation of Olympic lifting in your program, we’ve added a video on medicine ball derivatives designed to help you in the learning process.
Video – MB Olympic lifting
With Olympic lifting now completed we’ve touched upon:
- The pre-requisites to power training
- How to assess an athlete’s readiness for power training
- Stability phase
- Strength development phase
- Power expression phase
- Medicine balls
- Resistance bands
- Strength equipment
- Olympic lifting
Using the above as a guide to your own power development can be challenging, also work through a process of ensuring you have ticked all the boxes and are progressing on a step by step process.
Jumping ahead to higher-level exercises is putting yourself at risk of injury and longer-term developmental problems.