Power is defined as the rate at which work is done. In terms of human performance this means the fitter we become, the greater the potential will be for us to yield power production as it relates to our training.
If we expect to move along the spectrum from developing a baseline of strength to developing sustained power production, we need to utilize smart progression. We need to think about how to achieve this goal as both a coach and a trainee? And step by step what does all of this actually look like?
To keep this simple, I will walk you through the basic progression in order to look at the developmental process of building a trainee or athlete to develop a high level of fitness. I’ll cover this model in a macro style approach to provide an understanding in a way that can help you move towards developing a skillful level of speed and power in various other movements that demand those particular elements.
Phase I: Foundational Strength
First of all, let’s assume that we’re dealing with a very capable and able bodied individual that can move with relatively good function, but lacks the fitness of a well trained iron veteran.
In looking at this, I would first ensure that the trainee is capable of performing some of the most basic foundational movements associated with strength development by having him or her focus on mastering their own body resistance. Push ups, bodyweight squats, and pull ups are going to be a staple in the beginning of this process.
I don’t know why this is the case, but as a coach with over 14 years of experience I have continually witnessed people that start out lifting, but are incapable of doing so with any respectable level of control, let alone performing a free weighted movement with a satisfactory range of motion (ROM). Sadly enough I’ve even witnessed this very disappointing scenario while certain individuals were under the watchful eye of a so-called coach or trainer.
It’s because of this that I’m a big believer that every trainee should earn the right to lift. Without mastering foundational movement with one’s own resistance, what’s the point in loading up with an external force and lifting something with sloppy effort?
Phase II: Loading Strength
Secondly, the next logical step towards developing power in this particular progression would be to build onto the foundational movements we have already introduced. Advancing the baseline of strength now should come with adding a load such as barbell squats, deadlifts, and presses. This should only happen if the individual can demonstrate a reasonable level of control, a solid ROM, and significant physical enhancement in regards to what they have already gotten introduced to.
Now without stating the obvious, we can certainly introduce elements of strength in scenarios for the purpose of speed (strength speed) here for the purpose of advancing our power development. However for this particular approach and for the sake of simplicity I’m holding out on that element until the next phase.
Phase III: Power Production
This is the phase where I would hit a trainee with a challenge to perform more ballistic and faster moving drills for the purpose of enhancing power. It is here that we can hit a trainee with the task to start developing a solid baseline of power and dynamic strength.
Kettlebell swings, medicine ball slams, and resisted runs and jumps would all be pieces of the puzzle to fit right into this phase of the power development plan. In addition to Phase II we can combine elements of power drills such as explosive kettlebell swings and resisted sprinting for the purpose of increasing more rapid movement while getting a trainee used to handling external resistance.
This phase allows us to introduce strategies to help a given trainee gain greater control of various movements, while also performing them faster. In addition to increasing the rate of velocity, we can also hone a trainee’s skills in this phase to improve coordination as well.
Yes, being able to perform more ballistic movements such as medicine ball throws and kettlebell swings does require a solid baseline of strength, but it also requires a respectable amount of coordination and skill. If you have any experience training people in this day and age, you understand the struggle many folks in the general population have with coordination. This is why this is one of my favorite phases for overall physical development.
Phase IV: Plyometrics
Plyometrics are exercises that produce short-burst, rapid muscular contractions. Jumping, skipping, and bounding are all examples of plyometric exercise. To further clarify, sprinting is a plyometric exercise because sprinting consists of nothing more than a rapid series of bounds. Keep in mind that the degree of difficulty of these drills can be varied in order to produce a desired intensity and outcome.
The objective with plyometric training is to initiate a neuromuscular response known as the stretch shortening cycle (SSC). This essentially involves the rapid lengthening and shortening of muscles and soft tissues during movement. This sets the stage to form and release the potential energy created in the muscle during the movement for the desired outcome.
Keep in mind that plyometrics should be introduced to a trainee much like we introduced the foundational strength to a trainee before loading them. In other words, an intelligent and progressive plan must be adopted when introducing a plyometric program, so that a trainee can avoid injury.
A healthy volume of lower intensity plyometric training must be mastered by a trainee or athlete before moving on to more intense and advanced plyometric work. Jump roping skips, running skips, and low level bounds must be mastered before anyone can move on to more difficult jumping drills such high hurdle jumps, or the significantly more intense depth jumps.
Finally, some of the most intense plyometric jumps involve single limb movements (unilateral). Single leg bounds and jumps would be at the end of the spectrum for developing optimal power. In my opinion only the most advanced athletes and trainees should be performing this level of plyometric exercise.
Trust me, once you have progressed to the point of executing Phase IV with these types of plyometric drills you will have reached an eye catching level of power that will suit you well for most any sport or physical task you can dream up. The key here is to understand it’s all about the consistent progression!
Developing muscular power requires a sound progression. Strength coaches may have different approaches compared to mine, but as qualified teachers we should always be able to agree on the principles. When approaching any strength and conditioning program, a trainee should always focus on mastering the fundamentals at every phase. Foundational strength is a prerequisite before you can move onto more advanced strength movements in any sound training model.
Each progressive phase of training should bring a trainee or athlete to the point of performing those desired movements within that phase at a respectable level, before they move on to the next phase. The best way to practice is to practice smart. This is how you go about developing power and it’s also a great metaphor for life as well.
Stay strong and keep training smart.
ABOUT BRANDON RICHEY
Brandon Richey is a lifelong athlete and coach and has been in the strength and fitness business now for over 14 years. He’s a certified strength and conditioning specialists (CSCS) certified through the NSCA and has worked with an array of serious fitness personnel and athletes from 10 years of age all the way up to Division-1 and the Pro-level. He’s the founder of Brandon Richey Fitness and is a regular blogger, author, and believes that like everything else in life strength must be earned!