Speed and Power Training

A Contrarian View

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Speed and power training is an essential form of training for many athletes. However sometimes we get blinded by what is right there in front of us. A great example is the use of strength training for athletes such as shot putters. A shot putter requires a balance of strength, power and speed in order to throw the shot as far as possible. This requires perfect execution with a full extension at the end of the movement. The athlete that can move the object fastest until release will throw the furthest. Sounds simple enough.

It is well known among coaches and trainers that strength training combined with explosive power training will develop maximum muscular power. So as coaches we tend to stick to old principles that have proven effective over time and miss that which may be even more effective. No one would argue that weight training is essential in power athletes. Without a solid strength training program the athlete has nothing base speed and power training from. Power is essentially force times velocity. The more force one can produce the greater velocity that same person can achieve at similar weights.

The problem here is when the force needed is constant throughout an athletic movement. Coaches will have their athletes continuously striving to lift heavier and heavier weights. It makes sense to them because they have been doing it for years. However it does not perfectly match the criteria for an activity such as shot put. Since the force generated is constant, the variable for greater performance is speed. So why then are athletes measured consistently on the amount of weight lifted?

Effective athletic conditioning for speed and power training is an effective combination of the two elements of strength and power. So since in many athletic environments the force is constant, why don’t we play with the speed of the movement? This is the variable and so would make more sense to focus on. If a shot putter can power clean 140kg at a rate of one metre per second then it would be effective practice to keep that 140kg power clean and strive for 1.5 metres per second and so on. Only when the movement gets to a maximum pace and plateaus should we begin to focus on increased force by adding weight to the bar.

A study conducted by Dr. Bogden Poprawski, director of the Sport High Performance Institute in Toronto, Canada, on three elite level shot putters revealed the efficacy of the theory of speed play in speed and power training. To summarise, what was noted was the increase in tests related to speed and power were far greater than tests related to sheer brute force alone. Since speed and power are common themes in dynamic sports, this is evidence enough to suggest that increasing velocity at a given percentage of maximum will increase speed and power and hence increase performance in activities requiring this quality.

Integration of Strength, Speed and Power Training

In order to make maximum use of training at high velocity with resistance exercises the weight should be set between 50 - 75% of maximum. The emphasis should be on translocation of the bar and speed. Let me explain a little better; the core strength and conditioning movements of a speed and power training should involve those that do not require deceleration. Deceleration is inevitable in exercises such as a squat or a bench press performed explosively. To squat explosively you must still stop at the top of the movement to avoid actually jumping off the ground. A power clean however is different. There is no deceleration in a movement such as a power clean or other Olympic lifts such as the snatch. These are perfect for the development of power and should form the basis for the program, with other strength movements being simply auxiliary work.

Combine with these movements the incorporation of plyometrics, short sprint training and specific application of the movement itself. This will put into context the speed and power developed through effective weight training.

Speed and power training is fun to play around with. I understand that we all have our methodologies that we have been using for years. However ignoring anything new that comes to the surface and proves its worth would be madness. Effective coaches can make use of this simple training protocol to better train their speed, power and team sport athletes.

I used shot putters as the main example, however this applies to a broad spectrum of athletes. The same can be applied to sprinters, rugby players, other field athletes, long jumpers, hurdlers etc.

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