Power Development for Athletes: Improving Explosiveness

He-Man has the power.  So does Snap and Nintendo.  Now it’s your turn to have the power!

It’s time for a science lesson!  What is Power?  Power (P) is the rate at which energy is transferred, used, or transformed (scientifically, P = Force x Velocity).  The most important neuromuscular function in athletics is the ability to generate force in a rapid manner, i.e. maximal muscular power.  When you develop increased power, it leads to increases in things such as swing speed, throwing velocity, acceleration, jumping height, and change of direction.  Maximal power output is paramount to performance when the aim is to achieve maximal velocity at takeoff, release, or impact (sprinting, jumping, changing direction, throwing, and swinging).

Specifically, there are five key areas that can be consider essential components of athletic power:

  • Proper nutrition/hydration (you must fuel your body correctly in order for your muscles to function at their top performance level and fire powerfully)
  • Functional mobility/flexibility (you must have sufficient range of motion in your joints and adequate flexibility in your soft tissues to avoid “restricting” power output)
  • Core stability (you must have a stable “base of support”, allowing for maximal force output through your arms and legs)
  • Muscular strength (you cannot have power without developing true strength)
  • Speed of muscle contraction (in addition to having strength, you must also spend time training high speed movements)

Now, let us review some principles of training power.  Time to get scientific!  Power can, and should, be trained across a continuum (a variety of levels/intensities/work loads).  What this means is, one should sometimes train with light loads moving at high speed, and sometimes with heavier loads moving at a slow speed.  Heavy loads (greater than or equal to 80% of “1 rep max”, or how much weight someone could maximally lift one time) are suggested to improve maximal power output even though the movement speed is slow.  This is due to the large correlation between maximal strength and power production (i.e. the “force” part of the power equation).  Additionally, light loads (0-60% of how much weight someone could maximally lift one time) are also highly recommended in power training programs.  This light/fast approach permits athletes to train at tempos similar to those encountered in sport-specific movements (i.e. the “velocity” part of the power equation).  A qualified performance coach can help you determine the “optimal” resistance level that you should train with, which varies based on movement/exercise you are training.  For example, resistance typically ranges from body weight in the jump squat, to 30–40% of “1 rep max” with chest throw (medicine ball), up to 70–80% of 1 rep max in weightlifting movements.

Lastly, here’s how to apply these principles of power.  Below are some exercise recommendations for developing upper body, lower body, and total body power.  Additionally, some exercise ideas are provided to address “negative” power (the ability to absorb high-power forces).  These exercises should be performed after an effective dynamic warm up, using 3-4 sets of 4-8 repetitions, with adequate rest periods (60-90 seconds).

Ideas for developing total body power

  • Olympic-style lifts like dumbbell or barbell snatches and cleans, clean and jerk.  But you aren’t a jerk if you clean.
  • Power Chops/Diagonal Throws (using medicine balls, weighted bars, or tubing moving up and down diagonally across the body in a variety of stability positions)

Ideas for developing lower body power

  • Jump Variations: vertical/box jumps (2 leg, 1 leg), multidirectional jumps (such as broad, lateral, and diagonal), and single leg bounding (forward, diagonal, and lateral)
  • Variations of skipping (quick, power height, power distance, resisted, forward/lateral/retro)
  • Quick plyometrics such as jumping rope.  Or better yet…”turn this mutha out”with MC Hammer Quick Hops (an essential part of dominating the dance floor as well!)
  • Resisted running such as band resisted, sled drag, and parachute.  Or you could pull a car if you really wanted to – just make sure the e-brake is off, and it would not be wise to pull down hill.
  • Dumbbell/kettle bell swings
  • Dead lift (with drops from the top – placing emphasis on the concentric motion of the pull/extension)

Ideas for developing upper body power

  • Medicine ball throw variations: Chest pass, overhead forward, underhand forward or backward, rotational, and punches.  You should also say the word “boom” every time you release the ball.  BOOM!
  • Explosive dumbbell/barbell exercises such as overhead push press, dumbbell bench, dumbbell row)
  • Plyometric push up variations (can you clap for yourself?)
  • Tubing or cable column punches and “rips” (fast pull down or row).  Speaking of rips, Thomas Plummer once said “Dream big – big enough that you fart when trying to pick it up.”  Yep.

Ideas for developing “Negative” power (the ability to absorb force)

  • Deceleration/ landing training (2 legged and 1 legged)
  • Medicine ball catches (with a partner)
  • Anti-rotation exercises (using tubing, cable column, or gravity)
  • Squats and lunges with cable column/tubing lateral and rotational stress (resisting rotation and collapse)
  • Tug-o-war!

Any questions?  As always, feel free to reach out!
May the FORCE be with you!


Ryan Stevens, MPS, ATC, CSCS

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