Strength and Power

Strength and power are two components of fitness that are necessary in the widest range of sports and daily activities. It has been shown through a lot of research that strength and power are one of the key determining factors for performance in sports like rugby, American football, sprinting, throwing sports, gymnastics and a host of others.

In addition to sports these two components provide a whole range of other benefits to all sorts of non-sport related activities. Many years ago it was determined by researchers that strength was a key factor for health in elderly people. It prevents falls, allows for greater mobility and also contributes to the health of the endocrine system. However in recent years it has been shown that power, in addition to strength, is even more important for elderly people. That is, the ability to exert force faster. If an old lady trips then her muscles need to correct her balance immediately, which involves absorption of force. This is a characteristic of power.

But here’s the thing, strength and power in sports can be a mystery with regard to how and in what ratio it should be developed. Take a thrower for instance, this relates to any throwing sport like javelin, shot put, discus etc. Throughout the years they have used intensive strength training programmes. But what if that is not the best way?

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I’ll use shot put as the example, and I have covered this before to some degree. The shot weighs 16lbs and has to be launched as far as possible. The shot always weighs this much, it never changes. The strength training programme of a shot putter is phenomenal. He/she will train to lift enormous amounts of weight on exercises like the squat, deadlift, push-press, clean etc. Now this is extremely helpful, but it may get to a point where the effort to benefit ratio makes it invalid.

Allow me to explain; if a shot weighs 16lbs and never changes then it makes sense that you only need to be strong enough to move that weight at maximum speed. At a certain level of strength development you have to shift your focus onto power. Why? Because it requires the same force as it always has to throw 16lbs, but what makes it go further each time is not extra force, it is extra velocity. So training should, at a certain point, be shifted towards the development of that same force at a greater velocity. This is not achieved through pounding away in the gym lifting yet heavier weights.

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So how is it achieved then? Sports specific exercises that allow for the production and development of adequate force at high velocity. This includes exercises such as the clean, plyometrics, heavy throws, elastic resistance at max speed and a whole variety of other ways.

This applies in all sports, not just shot put, but hopefully it gives you something to think about. The guy that jumps the highest can no doubt squat a lot of weight, but he is unlikely to be the heaviest squatter in the world. This amazing jumper simply exerts enough force at a fast enough rate to propel himself higher into the air than anyone else.

Please don’t make the mistake of thinking I am discrediting strength training. There is no way known to mankind I would do that. Strength training is an essential component of any athletic conditioning programme, however it needs to be used intelligently and the correct ratio of strength and power needs to be understood for the task at hand. This applies across all sports that involve rapid movement and also in day to day activities and for the purpose of good health and daily function.

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