• Introduction
  • The basics of power in sports
  • Physiological factors of power in sports
  • Mechanical factors of power in sports
  • Benefits of power in sports
  • Here's how you train for power
  • Final thoughts

Introduction

Have you ever dreamed of being in front of thousands of screaming fans with all eyes on you as you compete with the best athletes in the world? You’re fully focused, motivated and ready to become the very best in your field. This is what years of preparation have got you and you’re not backing up now. 

You perform better than ever and leave your competition behind on your way to victory.

Sounds pretty sweet, right?

Well, good news! There’s a way to get a competitive edge even at the very top. The closer you get to the world’s best, the smaller the differences in skill, technique and strength will be. Thus, the only real variable is how fast you can use these traits. And that’s where power comes in. It is the explosiveness, agility and speed that makes you stand out from the rest. It is the X-factor that separates professionals from legends.

This post describes the basic mechanics of power in sports and why it is vital for any athlete seeking to become better in their field. You can also head straight to our power training post to learn how to create your own training program. You’ll even find some free samples to get you started!

The basics of power in sports

Power, or explosive strength, can be described as the ability to produce as much force or velocity in as short an amount of time as possible. While maximum strength is sometimes mistakenly used to describe power, they have their own distinct characteristics. Strength measures how much force your muscles can ultimately produce, whereas power describes how quickly this force can be produced. Therefore, power is a combination of two components; strength and speed

While power is directly related to your maximum strength, it relies more on how fast and how efficiently your nerves can recruit muscle fibers. This neuromuscular connection controls every movement that happens in your body. 

In many ways, power refines your maximum strength into a more sports-specific quality and skill. In short, it gives athletes the explosive ability to jump higher, run faster, or throw harder than the rest. 

As an example, you can think of sprinting, throwing a javelin, or pitching a baseball. While all of these skills are mechanically different from each other, they all rely on the athlete’s explosiveness and muscle recruitment. And, if you can do it better than your competition, you are already at an advantage when it comes to overall performance. 

To understand power in sports more thoroughly, we should take a look at this simple lesson in physics:

Power

Work/Time

Force X Distance/Time

Force X Velocity

To put it simply, power describes your ability to exert a maximal amount of force in as little time or with as high of a velocity as possible. This is also often referred to as the rate of force development (RFD).

If you want to be more powerful, you either have to become faster or stronger. Think about football, soccer, ice hockey, tennis or track & field. They all benefit from your ability to be explosive, accelerate quickly and make sudden movements throughout your performance. Train for these and you’ll soon leave everyone else licking their wounds.

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Power describes the ability to produce as much force or velocity in an as short amount of time as possible.

Physiological factors of power in sports

Power is determined by many physiological factors, including sex, age, genetics, muscle recruitment, maximal strength, fatigue, and training background. While all of them have their own effect on power development, it can still be improved through smart and consistent training.  

Age can have a significant effect on your power production. The reason for this is twofold; first, your neuromuscular system (muscles and their connecting nerves) starts slowly deteriorating after the age of 30 which means that muscle recruitment will take slightly longer overall. Second, your muscle mass tends to reduce as you grow older (sarcopenia). And, since a bigger muscle provides a stronger contraction, you will not be able to produce as much force as before. Some studies state that strength peaks at 25 years of age, after which it starts steadily declining. 

Sex is another big factor in power production in sports. The reason behind this is that on average men have around 36% more muscle mass than women. This difference is due to increased testosterone production during puberty. As testosterone is an anabolic growth hormone, it significantly increases muscle mass and strength development. Thus, explaining the differences in force production between sexes. 

Genetics refers to the biological traits that you have inherited from your biological parents. This includes factors such as height, weight and muscle mass. However, the most important factor for power in sports is muscle fiber type and their proportions. You see, fast-twitch muscle fibers (type I) fire up quicker and are therefore better suited for fast force production. Slow-twitch muscle fibers, on the other hand, produce less force but significantly more efficiently, making them more suited for endurance activities. 

"Fatigue significantly hinders your ability to recruit muscles for athletic performance."

Muscle recruitment describes how many muscle fibers you can recruit for a certain movement through the nervous system. Additionally, the firing frequency (rate coding), synchronization and coordination between muscles are also crucial factors in explosive force production. In short, you have to use the right muscles at the right time for the most efficient performance.

Maximal strength and power go hand-in-hand. Simply put, the higher your maximum strength is, the higher your submaximal (below your maximum) force production will be. That is also the reason why power training is similar to strength training but with faster repetitions and slightly less weight.

Fatigue significantly hinders your ability to recruit muscles for athletic performance. The reason behind this is that your nerves are unable to contract the correct muscle fibers anymore, resulting in slower reaction time and lower force production. Even sleep deprivation can negatively affect your power.

Training background is also a crucial factor for your ability to be explosive and produce force quickly. This happens because our bodies tend to adapt according to the situations that we face. For example, sprinters train to be as fast as possible whereas endurance athletes need to sustain a certain intensity for a longer time. However, both of these athletes train at the intensity needed in their sport.

Power refines your maximum strength into a more sports-specific quality and skill.

Mechanical factors of power in sports

Physiological factors are not the only determinants of your ability to produce power quickly. There are also a few mechanical factors that need to be taken into consideration, such as the type of muscle action, joint angle, muscle temperature and technique. 

Joint angle refers to the angle in which a limb produces power. The more room a limb has to accelerate, the more capacity you have for power production. For example, jumping vertically from a full squat vs. a half squat. Therefore, an athlete should be able to utilize the whole range of the muscle and use the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) for the ultimate performance. 

Muscle temperature also has an interesting effect on your power. This is because higher muscle temperatures not only increase power output but also enhance mechanical efficiency. 

Technique may be the most important component of power in sports. Essentially this means that you must be able to utilize your strength in a sports-specific setting. One of the main factors in enhanced force production is using the muscle’s stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) to store and utilize its elastic energy. 

Benefits of power in sports

Power offers an impressive amount of benefits in sports that rely on speed, skill, acceleration, explosiveness and agility. With power training and the improved neuromuscular connection it provides, you’ll be flying past the defense in no time. 

And the best part about power training? It can produce results quickly! This is not due to increased muscle mass (muscular hypertrophy) and a stronger contraction it provides but rather your body’s ability to recruit muscles better and more efficiently. Therefore, your body will become stronger, more efficient and more powerful without added muscle mass.

While power translates very well to court-based sports, and water sports it can have an enormous impact on field sports as well. Some training routines have also shown a direct link to contest results, making them a great indicator of competitive readiness before the season.

”Even marathon runners have to sprint to the finish line.”

While explosive strength and power training are often considered to be important in only fast and intense activities, this is not entirely the case. In fact, power training has been proven to improve performance in endurance sports such as cross-country skiing and long-distance running.

The reason for this is that even marathon runners have to sprint to the finish line. That said, power training can also shorten your normal 0,15-0,25s contact time of each step while running. This, on the other hand, provides more efficiency for long-distance athletes that rely on endurance. 

As impressive as these examples sound, there are endless other ones that we could mention as well. In short, nearly every sport you can think of can benefit from increased power. 

Too much one-dimensional training may cause overuse injuries - too little and you won’t make progress in your performance.

Here’s how you train for power

To train your power, you should perform a variety of exercises in an explosive and accelerating fashion with less weight than full-on strength training. After all, explosiveness is what you are aiming for in your sport anyway.

It is also important to note that it takes a relatively long time (0,5-2,5s) for your body to reach maximum contraction. And, since you often only have 0,01- 1,00 seconds to do this in real-life situations, power training should focus on producing as high of a submaximal (below your maximum) contraction as fast as possible.

That is why explosive full-body exercises such as plyometric training (explosive jumps, leaps etc.), ballistic training (explosive throws), contrast training (exercises with alternating weights) and power lifts are all great methods for improving your power.

"Power refines your strength and condition into sport-specific skill".

Some coaches even train power in two different ways; cyclically (continuously) and acyclically (one repetition at a time). Explosive acyclical movements rely on a lightning-fast connection between the muscles and nerves to create as much force as quickly as possible. They are often used in sports that require a single intense execution such as shot put.

Intense continuous (cyclical) executions improve performance in sports where you must be as fast and powerful in a short (<10s) and intense bursts. Sprinting being the most common example.

As far as training goes, the main difference between the two is the amount of weight used and the number of repetitions in each set. Both of them can provide significant power benefits on the field. For the best results, we suggest you think about what kind of training could benefit your sport and your personal goals the best.

Interested in learning how to train power explosive strength? We’ve written an in-depth post on how to make most of your workouts and improve your power. Click the button to learn more!

Final thoughts

There’s no question that power is a vital component in sports and athletic ability. Being stronger, more explosive, and more efficient is beneficial in every physical activity you can imagine regardless of how intense your sport is. Therefore, we urge all athletes to improve their power and explosiveness with the correct training methods.

However, training is not the only thing you need to consider if you want to become a better athlete. You also need to remember that any sort of progress in your performance is highly dependent on what we call the ”holy trinity” of training – nutrition, exercise and rest. If you want to become the best you can be, you have to find a balance between these three crucial elements. So, get out there, practice, have fun, but most importantly listen to your body. 

But before you go and start training for power, here’s a quick recap:

  • Improves neuromuscular connection between the muscles and nerves
  • Focuses on producing as much force in as short of a time as possible
  • Relies on fast-twitch muscle fibers
  • Anaerobic energy production
  • Short explosive exercises
  • Improves strength without adding muscle mass
  • Improves efficiency of a single movement
  • Useful in every sport imaginable

Did you learn anything new about power in sports? Let us know in the comments below!

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