The Power to Live Better

Strength + Speed = Power

In athletic terms, “power” is a much lauded quality for human beings to possess.  The MLB pitcher who can throw a fastball in excess of 100mph, the tennis player with an almost un-returnable serve, the boxer with a knockout loaded in almost every punch; these are all obvious displays of explosive power.  With such extreme examples of this capability in the limelight, we are quick to overlook the demand for this skill in our daily lives, but make no mistake, this physical attribute is as essential to our quality of life as it is to the professional athlete’s paycheck.  

Ascending a steep staircase, climbing over an obstacle, and even just pushing a tired body back up from a nice rest in a comfy chair are all activities requiring the use of athletic power. In modern society, not only do most of us give scant consideration to this aspect of our fundamentally physical existence, but we take it as a truism that whatever such power we might possess in our youth, it will certainly deteriorate considerably as we age.  We must resist this apathetic descent into sedentary darkness and reclaim our freedom to move with purpose! 


Fortunately, recent advances in the study of exercise science have given us a better understanding of where “power" comes from, and most importantly, how not to lose it.  The rate at which force is generated provides us a simple definition of power in this context and as such, we are simply talking about a combination of strength and speed. Training to be as strong as possible is a good thing, but without the ability to apply that strength quickly, we still don’t have any power.  Picture a car capable of reaching 250mph.  That ’s a strong engine!  But what if it took a full 30 seconds for that same car to reach 60mph?  All that strength potential isn’t going to help it maneuver around a track very well or get out of danger in time to avoid a collision!  The ability to accelerate quickly is a key performance indicator, obviously.  

There has long been a debate as to whether or not our muscle contractions get slower as we age, or if they just get weaker, causing what seems to be an inevitable decrease in the ability to produce explosive power in our advanced years.  On a positive note, the results from a recent study at Manchester Metropolitan University actually concluded that our muscles don’t just somehow contract more slowly as we age.  The main reason that we lose power is simply because our muscles get weaker and so lose the “strength” component in the Strength + Speed = Power equation.  We then stop doing things fast or explosively because we lose confidence in our ability to safely stabilize that movement.

So… If athletic power is a quality we all must work to preserve and strength is a key, then how do we ensure that our training addresses this concern as directly and safely as possible?  When most coaches think of “power” exercises, box jumps and explosive push ups spring to mind and frighten away even the most enthusiastic trainees.  Too often a history of injury or just a more sedentary lifestyle imposes too great a restriction on a trainee’s safe range of motion for them to readily consider explosive movements as part of a training regimen.  But the solution is not to give up and avoid them entirely!  The problem in most cases is that the training is only focused on the ability to expel energy and comparatively little practice time is spent on the skill of absorbing it.  But if we use multi-joint, compound movements and directly focus on training mastery of their component parts, we can actually unlock the skills of safe power generation quite effectively. 

What do I mean by taking the component parts of a movement and training it?  Well, at face value, it seems that improved force production comes from simply training the concentric phase of a movement, (where muscle tension rises to meet resistance) but it actually is much more complicated than that.  To safely work on explosive strength, we must spend as much practice time in the eccentric and isometric phases of dynamic movements as we do with the concentric phase.  This means that we specifically train the loading or yielding phase (eccentric) of a lift and the pause that occurs as the energy is transferred (isometric phase) with as much enthusiasm as the muscle contracting, dynamic power output phase (concentric).  For example, if we can become confidently skilled and strong in the descending movement of a squat, and fully own the pause at the bottom with feed-forward tension, then the return to standing (even at high speeds or under loads) will become a stronger, safer affair.  This effectively takes the safety brake off and unlocks our power to squat heavy loads and make higher leaps!


The crux of all this is to say that a body capable of absorbing more energy will also be capable of expelling more energy.  Most of us aren’t hesitant about performing a high jump because we’re worried about the jump, we’re worried about the ability to safely absorb the shock of the landing.  As such, the ability to safely land from greater heights will help us unlock the ability to jump to greater ones!  After all, if we want to jump, we have to dip at the hips and knees first (squat), otherwise it’s not much of a jump.  

Teaching athletes to expel energy is important, of course, but learning the skill of absorbing it is perhaps even more so and is a key to developing power.  Whether we want to be able to generate more explosiveness for sport, enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle or simply continue living independently, we mustn’t neglect training for power.  To possess this skill, we must first possess strength, but we also must learn to how to properly use that strength at high speed.  Proper training with a coach who understands how to develop the skills in all three phases of a movement can help us remain confident in the ability to quickly produce force and give us the power to live safer, longer and better lives!



This website or its third-party tools process personal data.
You may opt out by using the link Opt Out