In our previous blog, we have highlighted key mechanical terminology related to power development, discussed the underpinning physiology and biomechanical theories applicable to power training, and identified possible training modalities that can elicit high power outputs (PO) and enhance force-velocity characteristics. In part 2, we will discuss power training strategies and programming considerations to enhance an athlete’s neuromuscular power as part of a periodised strength and conditioning (S&C) training programme.
Power is largely dependent on the ability to exert the highest possible force (i.e., rapid and maximum strength) and is built on a foundation of strength (Cormie et al., 2010a,b; Suchomel et al., 2016), evident by the high and linear positive correlations between peak power and maximum strength (Suchomel et al., 2016; Comfort et al., 2019). For example, significant relationships have been found between the 1 RM squat relative to body mass (BM) and countermovement (CMJ) peak power, CMJ peak velocity, and CMJ height (Nuzzo et al., 2008). This is further corroborated by Peterson et al. (2006) who found significant linear relationships between the 1RM squat, vertical jump peak power, and all impulsive performance tests (i.e., vertical jump, broad jump, agility t-test, sprint acceleration, sprint velocity). McBride et al. (2009) found that stronger individuals (i.e., ability to squat ≥ 2.1 × BM) exhibited a stronger correlation between maximal squat strength and sprint ability. Moreover, Baker and Newton (2006) reported the change in lower body strength (1RM squat) and jump squat peak power for a group of six elite professional rugby league players across a 4-year period. The 14% increase in strength and 13% increase in jump squat peak power were highly correlated (r = 0.96).
Seminal work by Cormie et al. (2010a) reported that getting athletes stronger over a 10-week period was more effective than power training in relatively weak men (~1.3 × BM squat), with greater increases in sprint and jump performance, improved force-velocity characteristics and strength, and improvements in lean body mass and tissue adaptations. Additionally, further work by Cormie et al. (2010b) demonstrated that stronger athletes tended to respond more favourably to power training (10 weeks) versus relatively weaker athletes, particularly mid-intervention. However, it is important to note that ceasing and the omission of high load, low velocity exercises (i.e., ≥ 85% 1RM strength training) resulted in a reduction in maximal strength; thus, when performing power training, is critical that additional strength maintenance exercises are still included (Suchomel and Comfort, 2018). Moreover, in a recent meta-analysis, heavy resistance training exercises performed with the intention to lift quickly and rapidly, even at slow velocities, resulted in greater improvements in isometric rate of force development and impulse (Blazevich et al., 2020). Consequently, power is built on a foundation of strength and greater training prioritisation should be given on developing athletes’ relative strength (~ 2 × BM squat) before dedicating a greater training density towards advanced and sophisticated training methods, such as weightlifting derivatives, plyometrics, ballistics, complex / contrast training / strength-power potentiation complexes (Cormie et al., 2010a; Suchomel et al., 2016; Suchomel and Comfort, 2018).
Overall, maximum strength is a key factor in developing high POs and, in order to fully develop an athlete’s power potential, S&C coaches should incorporate strength training within their periodised programmes (i.e., for athlete populations, maximal strength gains are elicited at a mean training intensity of 85% 1RM, ≤ 6reps, 2 days training per week, and with a mean training volume of 8 sets per muscle group) (Peterson et al., 2005). Moreover, because strength levels may only be maintained for 2 weeks (Hortobágyi et al., 1993), it is advisable to include strength sessions throughout the entirety of a periodised programme so to optimise and maintain high levels of PO and physical capacities. In addition, if these exercises are appropriately placed and sequenced within the exercise programme, they may also provide a beneficial potentiation effect for subsequent power-based activities (Suchomel et al., 2016; Cormie et al., 2011).
Ballistic training (BT), alternatively known as dynamic resistance training, requires the athlete to exert as much force as possible in short periods of time (i.e., ballistic movements), with the goal of projecting the accelerated object into free space (e.g., jumping, throwing, kicking), and accelerating through the whole range of motion (Figure 1) (Cormie et al., 2011). These are typically explosive movements such as a bench press throw or a jump squat, whereby a rapid acceleration against a resistance is performed and the mass of interest (barbell and/or lifter) becomes a projectile (Figure 1).
Newton et al. (1996) highlighted some of the issues associated with traditional RT in comparison to BT, which are highlighted in Figure 2. These researchers revealed that during the final half of the repetition during the bench press, power decreased significantly to decelerate the bar and reach zero velocity. This is to enable the athlete to maintain a hold of the bar without injury to the shoulder and / or arm joints. It has been reported that deceleration accounts for 24% of the movement with a heavy weight and 52% of the movement with a light weight (Elliot et al., 1989). Newton et al. (1996) reported that ballistic movements such as the bench press throw produced significantly higher outputs for average velocity, peak velocity, average force, average power, and peak power throughout the lift, especially during the later stages (Figure 2). Thus, unless full acceleration is ensured, the athlete is merely training the neuromuscular system to decelerate the barbell to ensure zero outputs for velocity, force and power at the end range of motion when arguably the highest of these values should be attained. As such, ballistic and weightlifting derivatives enable athletes to attain higher PO which is more conducive to a more effective power training stimulus compared to traditional high-force, low velocity movements (Haff and Stone, 2015; Turner et al., 2021) (Figure 3).
Seminal work by Kaneko et al. (1983) documented the significance of calculating and training at maximal PO. The authors concluded that for the elbow flexors, maximum PO occurred at 30% of maximal isometric strength and that following 12 weeks training at this load, maximal PO increased by 26%. This was higher than the result of training at higher and lower intensities. Furthermore, this study along with classical experiments (Hill, 1950, Fenn, 1935) that identified loading parameters for PO max in individual muscle fibres, likely compounded the generalisation that loads of 30% 1RM will elicit PO max across all movements, and this work has led to growing interest in the “optimal load” which maximised PO, but this is a controversial area. These studies, however, did not take body mass into account (Suchomel and Comfort, 2018; Haff and Nimphius, 2012). Where this has been taken into account (Cormie et al., 2007), PO max has been found to be noticeably lower (0% 1RM), and is dependent on the method of assessing power, the exercise, fatigue, and the athletes’ training status (Haff and Stone, 2015; Turner et al., 2021). Additionally, 1RM testing each exercise may not always be feasible in order to establish the “optimal load”. Table 1 illustrates the optimal loads to elicit maximum PO, and training ± 10% of the % of 1RM typically results in the athletes attaining similar PO (trivial differences) (Cormie et al., 2007; Suchomel et al., 2017). Recently, however, it has been recommended to consider the force / load-velocity characteristics when prescribing power training, and to focus on developing high force, high velocity characteristics, or a combination of the two (Haff and Nimphius, 2012; Suchomel et al., 2017). If both force and velocity characteristics of an athlete have enhanced as result of training, then a direct by-product of this would be an increased PO.
Power training guidelines adapted from the NSCA (2016) are presented in Table 2, which outline the recommendations for single and multiple effort sports. However, these recommendations from the NSCA (2016) do not consider training status of athletes, and the intensities / loads for power are based on Olympic weightlifters performing Olympic lifts. As stated above, the optimal loads for power development will depend on training status and the exercise involved. The ACSM (Kraemer et al., 2002) have provided alternative and more detailed power development guidelines which account for the athletes’ training status which are presented in Table 3.
To optimise power development, training should focus on quality rather than quantity. As such, in contrast to hypertrophy training where higher repetitions and volume-loads are common, when power development is the primary aim, particularly when peaking, lower repetitions and subsequently volume-load is necessary in order to preserve intensity, reduce fatigue, and provide an optimal training stimulus (NSCA, 2016). This typically entails training with 1-5 repetitions per set, at least 3 minutes rest between sets, and a maximum of 5 sets (though there will be individual variation) (Fleck et al., 2004). Consequently, power training should be performed in a non-fatigued state, with sufficient rest periods to restore key metabolic substrates, with the intention to lift rapidly, with each repetition performed at ≥ 90% of max PO or velocity to maintain intensity and provide an optimal training stimulus (Fleck et al., 2004). For example, 3-5 minutes is necessary to fully replenish ATP (Hultman et al. 1967), and clustering techniques (i.e., inter-repetition rest of 10-30 seconds between rep(s)) are highly effective in preserving the quality of performance (i.e., velocity, force, power, technique) by reducing acute fatigue, while providing an excellent opportunity to provide technical feedback and / or strong verbal encouragement for the athlete (Davies et al., 2021; Tufano et al., 2017). However, practitioners must work within the time constraints of the session and consider the feasibility of the abovementioned rest periods and clustering techniques in practice.
Generally, three strategies have been suggested for power development (Haff and Nimphius, 2012):
- Lower intensity efforts (≤ 50% of 1RM)
- Higher loads (50–70% 1RM)
- Mixed methods approach in which a variety of loads and exercise types are used in periodised manner to manipulate the whole FVC (Figure 4)
For optimal power development and transfer to sport, a mixed methods approach which utilises a combination of high-load low velocity exercises (HLLV), moderate-load moderate velocity (MLMV) exercises, and low-load high velocity (LLHV) exercises that span the FVC/ load-velocity curve as part of periodised training programme is recommended (Haff and Nimphius, 2012; Suchomel and Comfort, 2018). This is illustrated in Figure 4, whereby HLLV training will improve the force aspect of the FVC, whereas LLHV training will improve the velocity aspect. The best blend is to utilise a mixed-methods approach, using a combination of HLLV (which is integral for strength maintenance particularly in-season), MLMV, and LLHV exercises, to “surf the curve”, as part of a periodised training programme for the greatest adaptive response across the whole FVC. This is particularly pertinent as most sports involve a variety of motor skills that span the FVC, and thus a combined approach has been shown to be highly effective in improving neuromuscular performance (Bompa and Carrera, 2005; Toji et al., 1997; Harris et al., 2000).
An example power training session is provided in Table 4 below, which utilises a combination of loaded and unloaded exercises as part of a mixed methods approach (Haff and Nimphius, 2012). However, when designing a power training programme, it is important to acknowledge the contextual demands and needs analysis of the sport (Haff and Nimphius, 2012). For example, does the sport involve collisions, implements, or acceleration of external masses? Rugby players, wrestlers, and American footballer players for example, have to accelerate their own mass (i.e., unloaded) and opponents (i.e., loaded); therefore, they need to be able to express high POs across a spectrum of loads (F-V spectrum). Conversely, a sprinter only needs to accelerate their own mass, and thus a greater density of training might be dedicated to training the velocity aspect of the FVC with unloaded exercises. Finally, warm-up sets also provide an excellent opportunity to increase velocity and PO using LLHV exercises while targeting the more velocity aspect of the FVC / load velocity curve, which can be implemented during strength and hypertrophy phases (Haff and Nimphius, 2012).
Phase potentiation (alternatively known as sequential or horizontal periodisation) is a periodisation model which is conducive to improving power capacity (Minetti et al., 2002; Zamparo et al. 2002; Haff and Stone, 2015; Stone et al., 2016; Harris et al., 2000). This model is summarised in Figure 5, whereby the training blocks and cycles (i.e., mesocycles) are sequenced to serve the foundation, and subsequently enhance and potentiate the next phase. Generally, 4-8 weeks is spent in each phase and the athlete may go through repeated cycles of this model throughout the season / annual plan (Figure 6). Importantly, the power phase will typically coincide with peaking / key competitions (i.e., important competition dates), and volume tends to reduce with each phase while intensity will generally increase. It should be noted that that all aspects will be covered in each phase but trained at different densities which is known as an emphasis (mixed) model (Suchomel and Comfort, 2018). For example, all RT goals are concurrently trained during a phase (Figure 6), but at different densities whereby primary the emphasis will differ. In most sports, it is common to train multiple fitness qualities simultaneously, but different qualities will be EMPHASISED to different magnitudes throughout the year, and the emphasis will depend on training priorities / goal / testing (i.e., strength diagnostics).
- For weaker athletes, strength training can elicit greater increases in power than power training (Cormie, McGuigan & Newton, 2010).
- Stronger athletes have the potential to benefit more greatly from power training (Cormie, McGuigan & Newton, 2010).
- Power is built on a foundation of strength, so make your athletes stronger!
- If both force and velocity characteristics of an athlete have enhanced as result of training, then a direct by-product of this would be an increased PO.
- A mixed methods approach which uses a combination of different loads and exercises to train the FVC (with the intention to lift quickly!) is recommended.
- Focus on developing net impulse (increase force production over critical time intervals).
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