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Strength, Power and Explosive Strength



When we talk about strength, power and explosive strength many people, including coaches and trainers, get confused. Often explosive strength and power are used interchangeably. But they are not actually the same thing. They certainly influence each other, but they are separate qualities.

Clarification…

Strength

Strength is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to generate force independent of speed. The greater the level of overall force produced the greater the strength of that muscle or group of muscles. An example of strength is the ability to bench press a significant amount of weight. Regardless of the speed of movement, it is the amount of force produced by the muscles that determines the amount of weight one can bench press. The higher the weight the greater the strength of the muscles involved.

Power

Power is the quality of strength applied at speed to produce movement. Power can be measured by combining the level of force produced and the speed at which this force is applied to produce a given movement. For instance, a shot putter takes a 16lb steel ball and launches it at speed as far as he/she can. In order to move the shot there needs to be force. That force needs to be generated quickly. The faster the peak level of force is produced and applied to the fastest possible movement of the limb and the object (the shot), the further it will travel. The same principle applies to Olympic style lifts and a boxing punch.

Explosive Strength

Explosive strength is the quality of strength produced very quickly, but not necessarily relating to speed of movement. Explosive strength is the ability to reach absolute peak force as fast as possible. With power you are aiming to reach whatever force is required for the task at hand and do so quickly throughout the range of a given movement. Explosive strength is about generating absolute peak force, the maximum amount of force one is capable of, at a rapid pace. This could be applied to movement, in the case of performing a maximal or near maximal squat or bench press at high speed. Or it could be applied statically to an isometrics contraction. In fact, an isometric contraction is the easiest demonstration of explosive strength. Rate of force development is how quickly a muscle to go from resting to generating a particular level of force. Explosive strength is an expression of high rate of force development. During an isometric contraction a muscle is contracted but produces no movement. Therefore it can reach peak force in a very short space of time. That’s explosive strength.

Improving Performance

Performance improvement is a multi-layered task. Most sports are a complex combination of mini movements that are strung together to produce major movements. The better an athlete moves the greater their performance. This applies to speed of movement, force output and overall work capacity and density/volume of quality movement. Every sport and every individual is different, in that different forms of training are required as are different movement qualities. However there are certain universal qualities that apply to just about all sports and athletes.

Some universal qualities that benefit all athletes include…

Powerful hip extension

Hip extension is produced primarily by the glutes, those big muscles that make up your booty. The greater the force you can produce through hip extension and the greater the speed of application of that force, the better your performance will be over a great number of critical movements. This applies to movements such as sprinting, jumping and generating/initiating full body force such as in a punch.

Powerful hip extension is developed through developing strength through major movements such as squats, deadlifts and lunges, and applying that strength at speed through movements such as jumping and explosive lifting using movements like Olympic lifts and kettlebell exercises.

Joint rigidity

Joint rigidity is the ability to keep a joint locked within a very small range of movement in order to provide stability and absorb force. Greater strength in that joint combined with the ability to generate that strength quickly will allow for greater joint rigidity. The best example of joint rigidity in practice is the ankle during a sprint. There is movement of the joint, however it is required to act like a very firm spring upon impact of the foot with the ground so that minimal force is lost before then generating concentric force while pushing into the next stride.

Joint rigidity is best developed through repeat practice of the given movement at high speed and with high force. For instance, the glutes and several other large prime movers generate most of the strength and power in a sprinting stride. The greater the force generated by these muscles the more powerful the stride. Meaning that the foot will hit the ground much harder. If the ankle is not rigid it gives away too much force during absorption of impact. This is like the different between bouncing a flat basketball and a hard pumped ball. The flat one absorbs the impact too slowly and provides no rigidity. As a result it won’t bounce very well. But a full, hard basketball will bounce much higher. Joint rigidity is practiced through repeating the movement with a focus on firmness. Using the sprint as an example, one should practice sprinting with a firm foot strike and apply additional drills such as pogo jumps with a stiff ankle.

End-range strength and explosive strength

End-range strength is the ability to apply or absorb force rapidly at the extreme end range of motion at a given joint. An example is throwing. The arm goes back to coil the movement, right back to the shoulder’s furthest range of motion, then applies force immediately at that end-range while it then travels through its full range until release. Absorption of force is another example, such as landing from a jump. Muscles must contract with near maximal force at their extreme range of motion to avoid injury. This is where explosive strength comes in. In this case it’s explosive strength in going from a forceful eccentric contraction to a forceful concentric contraction right at the extreme range of motion for that joint.

End-range strength is best developed through applying strength movements through a full range of motion. This should be specific to the sport. For sports involving squatting and jumping movements this would involve full range squats, ass to grass. For throwing sports you might need movements like band resisted straight-arm pulls or dumbbell pull-overs at a full range of motion.

End-range explosive strength is much the same but involves the addition of speed as well as force. For squatting and jumping movements this involves jumping and landing through a full range of motion or explosive Olympic lifts such as cleans (full squat cleans). For martial arts this might include isometric contractions at maximal force of the hamstring in a fully stretched position.

Starting strength and starting power

Starting strength or starting power is the ability to generate strength or power from a static position, going from zero force to maximal force. This is in contrast to elastic strength or power where a muscle contracts eccentrically then reacts into a concentric contraction. An example of starting strength is a pause squat or box squat, where you go from static to lifting a load concentrically. An example of starting power is the very start of a sprint, where the athlete is static in the starting blocks and pushes out of the blocks at a rapid pace.

Starting strength is developed through habitually utilising strength movements without the aid of momentum. The best way to train for this is through paused reps, or concentric-only reps. Deadlifts are a great example, where the concentric portion of the movement is performed first and from a dead stop position off the floor or rack. Other movements could include pause squats, where one squats to the very bottom of the movement, pauses for several seconds before performing the concentric lifting phase, or applying the same principle to bench press, lowering to the bottom of the movement then performing the concentric action after a pause of several seconds.

Starting power is developed in much the same way as starting strength, but with high velocity movements instead. For jumping movements, starting power can be developed by performing a paused vertical jump from a deep squat position or a paused standing long jump, where there is no counter-movement. With sprinting movements starting power is developed simply by practicing repeat starts as powerfully as possible.

Reactive Strength/Power

Reactive strength, reactive power, elastic strength, whatever you want to call it, is the ability to move from a forceful eccentric contraction to a forceful concentric contraction. The best example of this is in sprinting. During a sprint your foot hits the ground, absorbs impact and then reacts elastically by producing concentric force to propel you into the next stride. Another example is the reactive force after “catching” an Olympic clean in a deep squat and immediately exploding into the concentric portion of the lift to stand up.

Reactive strength and reactive power are best developed in three ways.

1.      Through dynamic and explosive strength movements such as speed squats and Olympic lifts, where the eccentric movement is performed rapidly and the concentric portion is performed with equal speed as rapidly as possible after the eccentric absorption or “catch” phase.

 

2.      Plyometrics movements, where a jump or other explosive movement is performed and the impact is rapidly absorbed before reacting immediately into a concentric movement. Best examples include depth jumps and bounding movements.

 

3.      Sprinting is one of the best ways to train elastic power. When the foot hits the ground during a sprint it does so with a huge amount of force at a very rapid pace. As soon as the impact is absorbed the muscles involved contract concentrically to push off for the next stride. Regular sprinting practice will benefit just about all sports.

 

Putting it all together

All of the above-mentioned qualities are universal markers of high performance in most sports. Especially team sports such as basketball, rugby, tennis etc. If all of these qualities are developed to the highest possible level, besides specific skill development, the athlete will have an edge over his/her competition.

All training programmes for athletes need to be progressive in nature and involve training phases and a different emphasis during each phase. The end result is having all qualities equally well developed. This includes the simultaneous development of strength, power and explosive strength. Obviously every athlete is different and all sports are different. As a result no two training programmes will never be identical. However there is a basic strength and conditioning format that can be followed for peak performance.

Here we will look at a basic, effective, foundational strength and conditioning programme for athletes that require strength, power and explosive strength as a matter of priority. Individual athletes and coaches need to use their own discretion in modifying the programme to suit the specific physical needs of the athlete. We will cover a typical pre-season training mini-cycle, lasting one week. The programme will focus on developing strength, speed, power and explosive strength.

The Programme

For this programme we are assuming the athlete is an amateur athlete and only able to train once per day, as opposed to a full time professional athlete that can dedicate time to multiple sessions per day.

DAY ONE: Lower Body Strength

Deadlift for 5-3-1-1-1 reps

Pause squat for 5-3-3-3 reps

Speed front squats for 5-5-5 reps

DAY TWO: Upper Body Strength

Barbell snatch grip row for 3-3-3-3 reps

Push press for 2-2-2-2 reps

Barbell pull-overs for 5-5-5 reps

DAY THREE: Plyometrics, Sprinting and Starting Power

Sprint starts (5-10m) x 15

Wind-up acceleration sprints x 5

Pause squat jumps for 3-3-3 reps

Depth jumps x 10

DAY FOUR: Olympic Lifts and Medball

Full clean for 3-3-3-3 reps

Hang power snatch for 3-3-3-3 reps

Hang power clean into push press for 2-2-2-2 reps

Overhead medball slams into a wall x 12

DAY FIVE: Full Body Strength

Deadlift for 3-3-3 reps

Weighted pull-ups for 3-3-3 reps

Speed squats for 3-3-3 reps

Single arm standing dumbbell press for 3-3-3 reps

DAY SIX: Plyometrics, Sprinting and Starting Power

Broad jumps for 3-3-3 reps

Single leg bounding for 3-3-3 reps each leg

Sprint starts x 10

25m max-pace sprints x 5

DAY SEVEN: Rest

There we have a very simple, moderate volume programme that just about anyone can follow. As you can see we need to be wise in how we spread the love between exercises and physical qualities. But by covering things like this we are able to cover all bases and develop all necessary qualities. By following a programme structured like this we can cover everything if progressive overload is intelligently applied. All qualities, being strength, power and explosive strength can be developed this way and applied effectively to almost any sport.

Take the advice here and the general structure and tailor it according to individual needs.

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YOUR COACH – Chris Lyons

Chris Lyons is an experienced strength and conditioning coach, having trained athletes of all ages and levels since 2002. Chris specialises in coaching athletes for speed and power specific to fast-moving sports such as rugby league, rugby union, soccer, Aussie rules football etc. Since 2002 Chris has conducted close to 15,000 hours of training and coaching directly with athletes and members of the general population. From this experience comes Sprint Ninja, based on tried and tested training methods combined with up to date research. Chris continues to challenge himself not only as a coach, but also as an athlete, competing in sprinting events, strongman and Olympic-style weightlifting.

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