By: Derek Fry, MS, ATC, NASM-PES, NASE
The process of developing power is a lot more intricate than you might think. The power in a strength athlete or an explosive motion within many athletics can be described as the quick summation of muscle fibers. Basically, how fast your body can group together the fibers within a muscle and activate them quickly to produce force. This is usually exemplified in a jump, the start of a sprint, a throw or other explosive movements. The development of power is usually associated with movements such as Olympic lifts or plyometric, but if you truly want to get the most out of your athletes, you’ll think a little deeper and start the process earlier than jumping right to power cleans or box jumps.
For any movement to occur within the body, the brain must recognize the musculature involved to make that movement occur. Even then, a bare minimum effort is used for each predetermined action.
For example, if a person must stand up, the brain assumes a certain amount of strength based on past history of standing up. This is why sudden weight gain can be a surprise to a person and their “getting up” mechanics have to keep changing. Your brain/body wants to operate a certain way, but it’s mechanics or the weight to be lifted has changed, thus it must adjust the way you get up. If it is too unpredictable, the brain decides to go with a familiar path, or an easy one, and the result is usually injury (eventually). In athletics, we want to guess high on that minimum, and actually prefer to produce a maximum effort when moving. This is the basis for power training; producing maximum effort and force in a minimum amount of time.
So let’s take a couple of steps back. Let’s say you want to perform a vertical leap, a basic “power” movement. We must first recognize the different parts of the vertical leap: the stance, quick squat, arm swing and full body extension (we’re not worried about the landing in this article). Each of those components must be trained to maximize their effects.
Because we don’t want that minimum effort that your brain believes is necessary. Because each stance, quick squat, arm swing and full body extension must be the same or consistent, otherwise your brain will make up its own perceived path as the best way to move. Your body must get used to each position, in order to be consistent and then progress to adding resistance.
When I train athletes, I split up their movements in this way, analyze each one to find consistencies or inconsistencies and then train the weak points to streamline the process. I also split each movement into Postural Correction/Neural Activation, Strength, Strength Endurance and then Power.
Every athlete needs to…
Get into the proper biomechanical position. Maintain each position without stress or for time. Maintain each position under increased stress (usually weight/resistance) or for more time. Then learn to get into that CORRECT position QUICKLY!
Once an athlete can do this, they have finally developed true power.
So here is an example of how to use this formula for at least one movement:
Focus on performing a consistent, good form squat to at least parallel position (thighs parallel to the floor/butt level to knees).
Focus on swinging arms in rhythm to squatting motion.
Make sure there are no obvious postural abnormalities.
– No bending over
– No rounding back
– Knees and hips are the same on each side
– Knees do not tough each other (come in)
– Body does not twist
– Body is balanced throughout the movement (most important)
Perform multiple squats or strength training (perform a set # of reps and sets to increase strength)
Focus on good form and consistency.
Perform bodyweight jumping.
Focus on good form.
Progress to resisted jumping with bands, sand bags, weights, etc.
Focus on good form.
Once this is done, the movement can be analyzed for weakness and the process can be started all over again. This example is a VERY simple approach/outline of training for jumping power. There are many different styles of this same approach and there are also much more advanced styles of training using progressive resistance, chains, bands, plyo boxes, weight vests and other great equipment that can be added to every phase of an athlete’s training.