Jerva Performance

Principles of Power Development

◆ ☕️☕️ 9 min read

Athletes need to be able to produce high levels of power to be successful. From a physics standpoint, power is the product of force and velocity, and requires a foundation in maximal strength capacity as a pre-requisite to achieve high power outputs.

Whereas this is often common knowledge, what is not so well understood is how to maximize power production from a daily training standpoint.

In training terms, P=F*V refers to the weight of the object being moved (the athlete’s body, a sport’s instrument, a barbell or a dumbbell etc.) and the velocity at which it is moved. Velocity and force are both equally important in the equation, which is why both need to be thoroughly considered for an optimal training approach.

Force and velocity have an inverse relationship, which means that as load (force) is increased, velocity decreases and vice versa. It’s a simple concept but understanding this is essential, because it means that there exists a point of optimal force and velocity at which peak power output is achieved.

Another intricacy of power to be mindful of is that the same power output can be generated in two different ways. Power output exists on a continuum between force and velocity, which interact with eachother. You can create power with either a high force and low velocity, or low force and high velocity. The optimal power output requires both high force and high velocity.

Power = FORCE x velocity

Power = force x VELOCITY

Optimal power = FORCE x VELOCITY

In sports, velocity is often the limiting factor in power production. As the velocity of the movement increases, the time for the athlete to produce force decreases. This means that if the athlete is unable to produce power at the specific velocities utilized in competition, optimal performance in this movement will not be achieved.

This is why rate of force development (RFD) is of upmost importance in athlete training. The athlete can have a high peak power, but if its production requires more time than the specific sport allows for, there is a lack of transfer of this ability to performance. Without a transfer to performance, training is useless.

To optimally develop power, we can create a list of principles to follow in our daily training.

Maximal Intent #

Power development adaptations realized are ultimately determined by the effort exerted by the athlete during training.

If the movement is not completed with the highest velocity possible, or with maximal intent and explosively, the power produced will be insufficient to create true performance improvements.

Maximal intent is the key to optimal power development.

Every movement aimed at power development of every training session must be completed at the highest velocity possible at that movement, regardless of the load utilized.

Even with a naturally high load and therefore slower movement velocity, maximal intent and thus maximal velocity remain key players for power production adaptations.

No matter how good the training program is, the adaptations of that program will ultimately be dictated by the athlete. A coach might have prescribed very accurate loads to be used in training, but if the athlete is not moving the load with 100% effort on every single repetition, the desired adaptations will not occur.

The issue with maximal intent is that it is hard to measure. Velocity-based training devices could be used to provide immediate feedback and assess the athlete’s effort based on bar speed and load. That feedback can motivate the athlete to try harder on the subsequent repetitions or even create competition between several athletes in case these devices are used in a group training session scenario.

Only when the athlete is executing exercises with maximal intent will the following principles be capable of improving power production to their maximal potential.

Achieve the Highest Level of Readiness #

Preparing the body for training is essential. In the case of training for power, a lot more is required than just a general dynamic warm up with some movement and mobility work.

One way to properly prepare for power training is through the use of post-activation potentiation (PAP). PAP is the enhancement of an athlete’s ability to generate force with moderate or light loads after an exercise of maximal intensity is performed. It is experienced due to an increase in the efficiency or speed of each nerve impulse sent through the body.

PAP is pretty much the highest level of warm-up a coach can utilize with an athlete, as it requires full engagement of the nervous system without inducing fatigue prior to the start of training.

PAP is most often used with heavier loads and low number of repetitions. This could include 85-100% 1RM with minimal volume, as volume leads to fatigue, and adequate rest periods. The heavy exercise would potentiate the subsequent power exercise.

If volume is increased and rest periods reduced, fatigue will start to accumulate, resulting in the athlete entering the training session in an already fatigued state and optimal power training cannot be undertaken. Short range of motion or isometric movements focusing on maximal intent and effort can be used to elicit the PAP effect.

Optimal Load #

Once the athlete has effectively prepared for the session, appropriate loads must be implemented.

Loads that optimize the relationship between force and velocity for power output must be utilized. This can be a difficult task, as loads of anything from bodyweight for jumps, to up to 80% of an athlete’s one repetition maximum hang clean could be used for power development.

The coaches need to consider the specifics of an exercise and make an educated decision in terms of how to provide an appropriate stimulus for the desired adaptation.

Training age of the athlete is a crucial factor here. The athlete will possess limited ability to complete power work to the fullest extent if they lack basic strength capabilities. Strength forms the foundation of power.

There will be no single load optimal for all exercises for power development. The intricacies of different exercises cause variance in optimal loads.

Power development can be further split up into categories such as “strength-speed”, “speed-strength” and “speed”, to allow for the coach to more specifically program training sessions and target more specific adaptations.

Strength-Speed #

The priority is on strength, so higher loading is implemented. This means that adaptations are more aimed at the force aspect of the power formula. This might be in the 65-75% 1RM range, and maximal intent is still the key determinant for the desired training adaptations to occur.

Speed-Strength #

The priority is shifted onto speed and the adaptations are more aimed at the velocity side of the power formula. The loads utilized might be in the 45-55% 1RM range, still focusing on speed of execution.

Speed #

Speed is the only priority. Low loads in the range of 0-15% 1RM are used and adaptations are entirely focused on the velocity aspect of the power formula. Speed training really places the focus on maximal force production in minimal time, despite not necessarily reflecting the highest level of power production. This is most transferrable to sport, but must be trained along with all the other aspects to maximize transfer.

No matter how you decide to make the distinctions between the categories, there is value in adequately targeting the whole force-velocity curve, all the way from maximal force (load) work to maximal velocity (speed) work. With a velocity-based training device, the athlete can be profiled to identify priority areas from their individual force-velocity profile.

Maintain Velocity #

Power is ultimately dependent on force and velocity. With the external force (load) remaining constant throughout the exercise (unless accommodating resistance like chains and resistance bands are utilized), power is reliant on the velocity at which the external load is moved. If the athlete moves the load with greater speed, power is increased. This reflects the importance of maintaining velocity for the entirety of a training session.

To achieve that, quality of repetitions has to remain the goal of training. The number of repetitions has to remain low and the velocity high. If the repetition number increases, the athlete’s ability to sufficiently recover and produce movements at high speeds decreases. Targeting excessive training volume will lead to repetitive sub-maximal power production focusing on work capacity training, instead of improving the athlete’s ability to produce maximal power.

This is not to say that power endurance training is not vital to sport performance. The coach has to be able to outline what the main goal of the session or a training phase is. If increasing power output is the identified goal, it must be made sure that the athlete is provided the appropriate stimulus to achieve this adaptation.

A way to maintain velocity of movement is through the use of cluster sets. Cluster sets allow for maximal power output for a greater amount of time through higher quality training.

As the name implies, the purpose is to break up, or cluster, the repetitions within a set and include short amounts of rest (as little as 10 seconds) between repetitions. This helps to prevent fatigue accumulation, meaning that higher quality of training can be sustained for a longer period of time.

The greater the number of repetitions an athlete can complete with maximal velocity, the greater the improvements in power. Training with high quality allows for maximal adaptations to be realized in the most efficient manner.

There is no single optimal approach to cluster sets in terms of the repetition scheme or how long the inter-repetition rest periods should be. The approach needs to be tailored to the specific athlete.

Keep in mind that the goal of using cluster sets is to maintain velocity. Structure the cluster sets to achieve this aim. Lose sight of that goal and you will likely miss out on the desired adaptations.

Minimize Fatigue #

The mere intent of power training is to train at high power outputs. If the athlete shows up to training in a fatigued state due to improper recovery from previous sessions, the quality of power training is decreased.

The coach has to be able to determine if the athlete’s current state of fatigue is too high for the prescribed training session. The coach can’t be stubborn to stick to the training program they might have designed weeks ago if the athlete shows signs of fatigue. It’s hardly possible to design a long-term training plan that fits the athlete as it was originally written. Individualized training adjustments along the way will help aid recovery and avoid unwarranted stress. Sticking to the plan is the stupidest thing when the athlete is clearly in a more fatigued state than appropriate for the upcoming training session.

The plan needs to be adjusted according to the athlete in front of you at that exact moment, not according to some theoretical prediction you might have made about the athlete weeks ago while planning the upcoming training phase.

An objective measure to keep an eye on the athlete’s state of fatigue is to use a velocity-based training device and track the movement velocities for the exercises in a training session. The presence of fatigue would be reflected in lower movement velocities than usual.

But often times you don’t even have to get that specific. Simple observations of the athlete’s movement along with communication with the athlete can work as long as the athlete-coach relationship is built on honesty and the coach is experienced.

This wraps up the article on power development. Hopefully you've gotten some value out of it. Keep the listed ideas in mind when trying to maximize power development in training.

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