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The word power is thrown around a lot in the strength and conditioning world, but unfortunately most coaches and athletes aren’t fully aware of what power truly is.
I am talking about the real definition of power as defined by biomechanics. Today I am going to explain this definition in as simple terms as possible, and then I will give you some ideas regarding application. The best part of today’s discussion is once you understand this biomechanical equation, application is only limited by your imagination.
In sports, coaches and athletes are always talking about working hard. You will constantly hear phrases like:
Those are all nice phrases, but what do they mean? I am glad you asked because I am going to tell you.
You might be wondering why I am talking about work when I said that we are going to talk about power. If you stick with me, I will explain. You can’t have power without work because at the end of the day power is performing a large amount of work in a short amount of time. So let’s break it down!
Work is defined as force x distance. Most of us already know that force is mass x acceleration. Now my goal is not to show you my skills in biomechanics. My goal is to help all of you understand the complexities of power in the simplest of terms. Therefore force in its simplest of terms is moving a mass. How do I know force is referring to displacement or moving positions? I know this because acceleration is a change in velocity, and the time it took to make that change. With work we’re referring to the distance that this force occurred.
When a strength and conditioning coach or biomechanist refers to power, they’re talking about doing work as quickly as possible. Power explained even more simply can be stated Power = Force x Velocity. We will come back to this shortly.
Power pretty much explains all things in sport that bring the crowd to their feet: hitting a homerun, sprinting at high speeds (foot striking the ground as the end point of the moment of inertia from the body’s center of gravity), a tackle in football, or a massive leap in the sky for a rim-shattering dunk.
Almost every athletic feat is going to revolve around one of Newton’s three laws of motion. Let’s take a look:
Newton’s First Law (Law of Inertia) – Newton’s First Law of inertia states that objects tend to resist changes in their state of motion. An object in motion will tend to stay in motion and an object at rest will tend to stay at rest unless acted upon by a force.
Newton’s Second Law of Motion (Law of Acceleration) – “The velocity of an object changes when it is subjected to an external force. The law defines a force to be equal to change in momentum (mass times velocity) per change in time.” Newton’s second law of motion explains how accelerations occur. (McGinnis, 2013). The acceleration (tendency of an object to change speed or direction) an object experiences is proportional to the size of the force and inversely proportional to the object’s mass (F = ma). Therefore, a greater force will cause a faster acceleration, and a heavier mass will create a slower acceleration.
Newton’s Third Law of Motion (Law of Reaction) – This one states for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore when an athlete’s foot strikes the ground during a sprint causing ground reaction forces between the foot and the friction encountered on the ground, the athlete is propelled in the opposite direction of the foot. The foot strike is creating force downward and backwards, and the ground with the help of friction creates a force upwards and forwards allowing the athlete to sprint down the field or track at an acceleration proportional to the force applied to the ground.
The one common trait amongst the three laws is force. Therefore force needs to be a consideration in all solid strength and conditioning programs. However, force can’t be the only consideration as velocity plays a massive role in power. If you want to improve an athlete’s sprinting speed, there are multiple concerns with none as important as the velocity the foot is traveling at the instant it strikes the ground. Does that mean coaches should only train velocity aka speed work? It depends, but probably not.
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If you desire to increase the sprint speed of an athlete, there are multiple factors that need to be considered:
Relative Strength – this has to be a major concern since that’s the main mass that an athlete works with during most athletic events that involve sprinting, jumping, and change of direction.
Absolute Strength – this is especially true up until a solid base of strength is developed with most sources stating 1.7 to 2 times bodyweight in the king of all strength lifts, the back squat. However this isn’t equivocal as there are many conflicting pieces of research out there with varying standards all over the place. I will talk more about this one a bit later.
Sprint Mechanics- I want to say right away that I love sprint specialist coaches. One of my favorite coaches in the world is Coach William Bradley. If you don’t know him, that’s your loss. He’s a magician with the 40-yard dash.
Mobility/ROM – this is where I believe a lot of arguments center without people knowing. The body has to be able to move throughout complete ranges of motion without restriction. One easy example is the effortless elevation of the femur placing the foot at a peak height before being driven into the ground will provide for maximal potential energy which is equal to mass x gravity x height (hint I am talking about the height).
Optimal Neural Adaptations – I am really talking about the neuromuscular system, and the relationship between the agonist and antagonist (when one is contracting, the other is relaxing). This comes with practice and the proper stimulus in training.
Power Production – we’ve already talked about this one a bit, and I will touch on this one a bit more later in this article.
Tendon Stiffness – Strain Energy is Another type of potential energy is also used in sport. Strain energy is energy due to the deformation of an object. This comes with proper strength training, plyometrics, bounding, and other drills on the track.
There are a few coaches out there taking relative strength to all new levels. Unilateral squats, pullups, pushups, and unilateral hinges are all a part of the equation. It isn’t just pullups. How stable is your leg when the foot strikes the ground? These are all considerations.
Absolute strength is where there are a lot of variables that come into play. When I talk about absolute strength in regards to squat strength, I am talking about a full range of motion. Yes, I agree that partial ranges of motion are great for power development. However only when joints are taken through a full range of motion is synovial fluid released in the joint providing nourishment and lubrication. Not to mention, if I train an athlete like a powerlifter, that means I am teaching them to bottom out at right below parallel. That would be me purposely shortening the ROM of a sports athlete just to get them stronger. This doesn’t make sense in the world of athletics.
Sprint Mechanics should probably have been discussed first on this list. If you want to get good at a certain activity, you need to do that activity. The same goes for sprinting. This leads me to my belief on “how strong is too strong.” When you get so strong that the volume required to get any stronger takes longer than you have set aside for strength training, then you can start to slow that process. If not, strength training will start to take away from other categories that need to maintain their state of equilibrium. It’s the athlete’s version of homeostasis. All categories related to faster sprinting times need to improve in relation to one another with the priority remaining sprint mechanics. I hope this makes sense.
I already discussed range of motion, but the deal is that strength can’t come at the cost of range of motion. When that starts, you are now a powerlifter. An athlete has to be able to travel through space within all the planes of motion. For that to happen the body needs to maintain a complete range of motion. Kinesthetic awareness and proprioception rely on the athlete’s ability to flow through space unrestricted. To be clear I am not referring to hypermobility, but rather I am referring to optimal mobility.
Optimal neural adaptations will take place within the neuromuscular system with proper sprinting mechanics as well as using movements in training that encourage this agonist/antagonist relationship. Weightlifting is the perfect example if you think about it. The body produces a massive force, experiences complete relaxation from antagonist allowing for maximal acceleration during the change of direction aspects of the pull under aka third pull phases and drive under phases of the jerk. Just like in sprinting the best weightlifters are not just the athletes that can produce the most force, but rather they are the athletes that have systems effectively inhibiting those antagonists during those crucial phases. Specificity relates to the style of training as much or more as the specificity of the movement.
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Power Production is something that we discussed earlier on, and was the lead in to the entire argument. Once an athlete realizes those amounts of absolute strength where volume requirements exceed that of more important aspects, velocity based training should become the primary component in the weight room. I recommend developing a complete force-velocity curve with the movements that you intend on using in the weight room. I recommend movements such as bilateral back squats, unilateral squats, deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, push press, and rows. Once you define the quality of speed/velocity that you are deficient, that becomes the focus of one’s strength training. However at this point you can call it speed-strength training. This will be a lot less taxing on the body, and will yield big dividends with speed.
Tendon stiffness is where plenty of athletes still have room for improvement that could lead to sprint personal records. This form of potential energy is related to tendon stiffness and the amount of deformation of the tendon. Tendon stiffness can be improved with plyometric training and complete range of motion training at the ankle and knee especially. There’s a lot of great work out there right now. You can check out plenty of new work out there on tendon stiffness. Some of the guys creating all-time vertical leaps have tapped into this quality.
So there it is guys. This is my way of coaching athletic performance. I don’t believe that you can be dogmatic toward any one component. I believe the ones that are trying that are the ones that are inefficient in one or more categories. Check out @spikesonly on Twitter for some real information in the sprinting world. I promise you will thank me. Now can we all go back to creating holistic workouts that develop well-rounded awesome athletes?
McGinnis, Peter M.. Biomechanics of Sport and Exercise . Human Kinetics, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
It’s so easy to get information regarding the nutritional needs for endurance athletes. Nutritional advice for bodybuilders is literally everywhere you look online (although most of it is wrong). But what about power athletes? What about athletes who compete in high intensity sports? I am referring to the powerlifters, weightlifters, sprinters, throwers, and even to the football players. This article is for you.
I believe nutrition is a tool that could easily be used to maximize an athlete’s potential. I have so many athletes who tell me they want to medal in the Olympics, win world championships, and break world records. They tell me they will do whatever it takes. They tell me so much!
I always respond that the true champion will do what everyone else refuses to do. Everyone trains hard, so don’t tell me about your work ethic. You should love your sport, so training hard is easy. What about the mundane things like nutrition, sleep, and recovery? Don’t tell me you want to be a champion and then fail to keep a food journal. I am simply not going to believe you.
I have watched several athletes win national championships, make world teams, and have really amazing careers. However, I have never witnessed someone become incredible without becoming a master of the mundane. Tommy Bohanon spent seven years in the NFL, and I can promise you he did the mundane things and a lot more. Greg Olsen is one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history. Coach Joe Kenn told me that Olsen takes personal responsibility for every area of his health and wellness.
I think I have made my point. This isn’t an article to make you feel bad, but I wanted to set the record straight. Now let’s look at the different components of nutrition, and hopefully give you some insight on making nutrition decisions for yourself or your athletes.
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The two main systems involved with power sports and high intensity sport athletes are the creatine phosphate system (PCr) and the Glycolytic System. Both are, of course, anaerobic (meaning they don’t rely on oxygen). But that doesn’t necessarily mean the aerobic system is useless. The aerobic system, like the glycolytic system, uses oxidative phosphorylation to breakdown carbohydrates, fats, and even protein into Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) with the help of oxygen. All three systems have the job of creating ATP (aka energy), and the way we fuel our bodies is directly related to how efficient those systems work.
The PCr system is the one of importance for short duration single efforts like in the sports of weightlifting, powerlifting, throwing, and even short sprints. PCr is stored in the muscles and consists of a creatine molecule combined with one phosphagen molecule. The PCr provides the fuel for the first 10-ish seconds of a high intensity event. The means that PCr donates the phosphagen molecule to ADP to form ATP and continued energy.
(If you guys want me to explain these energy systems in detail and in a way that you understand, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will get right on it.)
The glycolytic system kicks in after the PCr stores are burned up. This system is fueled by the glycogen stores in the muscles. Glycogen is what carbohydrates (CHO) are stored as in the muscles and liver. CHO are stored as glucose in the blood, which transports the glucose to the cells throughout the body including the brain. The brain’s sole source of energy is also glycogen.
I won’t go into detail in this article on the aerobic system – but I can say that in regards to recovery, it’s a good idea to do a little low intensity aerobic work. The increased capillary network aids with recovery and ridding the muscles of waste. FYI, more recovery equals a greater capacity to train. In a sport where the highest volume wins, that’s a big advantage. Obviously people have won world championships without aerobic work, but that doesn’t mean it’s useless. Sometimes it’s the guy or gal who does every single thing right who ends up on top. You simply have to ask yourself if you’re willing to do those little things.
Now that we have the different energy sources cleared up, let’s take a look at the macronutrients and micronutrients suggested for powerful athletes.
For carbohydrates, 5 to 7 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day is the recommendation. There are no concrete studies that would support going above this amount for power and/or high intensity training. Glycogen is important, so I wouldn’t go below this amount. However, with eating between 5 to 7 grams/kg/day, you will have plenty of glycogen storage in the muscles to produce ATP for movement and plenty in the brain and the PNS to keep the neurological system performing.
For weightlifters, powerlifters and throwers who are involved in sports where the duration is just a few seconds or less, the recommendation is to stay closer to the 5g/kg mark. If you are a sprinter entered in events greater than 10 seconds or practice with repeated bouts and longer distances, the recommendation is to stay closer to the 7g/kg amount. If you are competing and/or have multiple bouts of practice or events, some studies would suggest having some CHOs between sessions at 0.7g/kg for recovery and replenishing of glycogen. I would like to note that extra CHO consumption hasn’t been shown to have any performance benefits, but on the contrary the extra weight gain that might follow could hurt performance.
For power sports, protein synthesis is the name of the game. Complete proteins are essential for protein synthesis. By complete I mean proteins that contain all the EAAs or essential amino acids. Those are the building blocks during muscle protein synthesis, especially leucine.
This is where all protein isn’t created equal. Red meat, chicken, fish, and eggs are all rich in EAAs along with whey protein if you supplement. The recommendation is 1.8 to 2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. Based on the latest information, if you are trying to cut weight and maintain muscle mass, upwards of 3 grams/kg have been shown to have good results. Not to mention, the extra protein has been shown to increase the thermic effect of food and to increase satiety. If you want to get jacked or stay jacked, this is one area you want to focus on. When you train, muscle protein breakdown is occurring. Complete sources of protein are the building blocks needed to repair damaged muscle fibers, making them bigger and stronger than ever.
What about fat? After you determine your daily caloric needs and figure out the two recommendations for CHO and Protein, the rest will come from fat. There isn’t a big need for fat when it comes to power sports. These sports are too short in time duration to ever get into the aerobic phases where fats are used efficiently for energy. Fat is needed for other processes in the body, so I am not recommending a fat-free diet. However, fat isn’t going to be the priority.
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Now this is where most of you miss the mark. Dehydration levels of less than 1% can have negative effects on power athletes. At levels of 3-4% muscular strength and power is majorly affected. One ounce per kilogram of bodyweight is a safe amount. I recommend drinking 20% of that amount four hours before training or competition and 10% two hours before. Then continue to drink water throughout training or competition. Many studies have shown several top athletes lacked optimal hydration.
As far as supplements go, obviously creatine is a good idea. This will saturate the muscles with more available sources of PCr in the muscles, which as we stated above is the critical energy source. Whey protein is filled with EAAs, making it a smart choice for athletes needing help getting in the proper amounts of complete protein. Vitamin D might also be a good micronutrient to supplement, since we found many athletes are slightly deficient.
If you know about strength, you’ve heard of Sorinex.
And on today’s podcast, we talk to the man behind the madness – the president of Sorinex, Bert Sorin.
One great thing about him is he’s the real deal when it comes to strength (a former collegiate thrower). He earned a lot of business because he would show up and lift right beside the guys he was selling equipment to.
And Bert has tons of great advice on life, growth, business – and even the dark side of success and lifting.
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