Sports that rely on change of direction, jumping, starting ability and sprinting are dependent on strength and power capabilities. All things held consistent like bodyweight, skill and height, athletes who possess the greater amount of strength and power have a competitive advantage and are more than likely going to be successful.
These performance characteristics are central to success in most sport events like football, baseball, soccer and all other ground-based team sports.
The purpose of this brief review is to recommend best-practices to retain strength and power capabilities during the competitive season. Before getting started I’d like to review some important concepts and issues that will serve as the foundation of in-season training for strength and power.
What is Strength?
Strength is a trainable skill that can be expressed during competition. Different levels of strength exist ranging from submaximal to maximal, with maximal strength being a major factor influencing performance (57). It comes as no surprise that stronger athletes are found at higher levels of competition in a variety of sports compared with weaker athletes (4,9,25,27,30).
One goal of most off-season programs is to improve the athletes' overall strength using a variety of methods and means, usually multi-joint, ground-based movements such as pushing, pulling and squat variations with barbells and dumbbells. These same exercises are used to measure strength and serve to motivate and inspire team competition. Many high school and collegiate teams award and encourage athletes to reach their strength potential.
In the past several decades the strength and conditioning industry has become much more sophisticated in strength training facilities, personnel qualifications, administration and, of course exercise programming. It really has become the norm for most high schools to have dedicated facilities and qualified instruction to every athletic team.
What is Power?
Power can be thought of as how fast an athlete can accelerate, lift weights fast or simply vertical jump. Here are several biomechanical equations that measure power:
- Power = work/time
- Power = force x (distance/time)
- Power = force x velocity.
What you many notice that these exercises are all explosive in nature. It should be kept in mind that with light or heavy loads, like body weight or power cleans, the object is to move quickly. The attempt to move quickly or explosively ensures muscular recruitment by the nervous system that maximizes power.
Measurements of Power
There are several methods to assess power. Before we address these methods, biomechanically power is measured in “watts”.
As an example, a long distance runner may produce only 50 watts with each stride in a race. In contrast, a weightlifter may produce more than 7,000 watts during the pull during of the clean and jerk (10).
If you take our equations from above and substitute “watts” for “power” you have the following:
- Watts = work/time
- Watts = force x (distance/time)
- Watts = force x velocity
This is fairly straightforward. If you are fortunate enough to have a measurement device for power in the weight room you can easily measure power in watts. For instance, if you know that weight of the bar and it travels from the ground to the shoulders, like in a power clean, you have a measure of power/watts.
Maybe an easier way to measure power is to use a vertical jump. Keep in mind you are actually measuring “relative power” or how powerful the athlete is relative to their bodyweight. As a coach, the vertical jump is a quick and easy test that will give you a basic idea of that athlete’s relative power.
It is worth mentioning that there are several valid, reliable and objective tests that can be used to measure the power of an athlete. It is beyond the scope of this article to go into detail but here are a few tests:
- The Vertical Jump: the distance between that athlete’s reach from the ground to the maximal jump height.
- The Standing Long Jump: This test requires that the athlete perform a countermovement, followed immediately by a jump for maximum horizontal distance.
- The Margaria-Kalamen stair climb test: requires a 6 meter horizontal run, followed immediately by climbing 9 steps vertically, 3 steps at a time.
- The Bosco Power Test: consists of jumping as high and rapidly as possible for a duration between 15 and 60 seconds.
- One Rep Power Clean: A technique intensive movement where the bar is explosively moved from the floor to the shoulders. A proficiency of movement should be mastered before testing this movement.
- One Rep Power Snatch: A technique intensive movement where the bar is explosively moved from the floor to overhead. A proficiency of movement should be mastered before testing this movement.
The Strength-Power Relationship
There is an intimate relationship between strength and power. Studies have shown that maximum strength has been shown to establish the upper limit of power production. Nothing beats power type movements when power is the goal. However, additional strength can also improve power production in an athlete. Thus, you can never be strong enough!
The Nature of In-Season Training
Strength and Power training in-season is significantly different than training in the off-season. Think of an athlete as having limited energy stores for training. If they empty their energy stores they become tired, overworked and subject to injury.
In-season sport training requires additional energy (and time) to prepare for competition. In-season typically has extended amounts of practice time running plays, installing schemes, tactics and techniques that will best prepare them for competition. When a competition arrives it is best to have the athletes well rested to perform their best. So there is a balance between a peak level of fitness and a reduction in fatigue. Strength-power programming will monitor and manage fitness and fatigue to optimize performance in-season.
So the question is what are the best practices to maintain strength-power capabilities while in-season training?
Scientific studies have demonstrated that in order to best accomplish those ends there will be a reduction in volume of training and maintenance in the intensity of training. In simple terms, perform less reps but keep the weights fairly heavy; greater than 80 percent repetition max. A program that calls for 3 heavy sets of 3-5 reps of 3 core exercises accomplishes this goal.
Bang for the Buck
Ideally, strength and conditioning program will identify exercises that give you the most return on the exercise. If you think about this in functional terms, you’d like to use exercises that will get the results most effectively and efficiently.
Ground based sports like football, soccer, tennis, volleyball, lacrosse, etc. are played with the feet in contact with the ground. If a force is transferred to the upper body via throwing or contact with an opponent, the force must be initiated at the ground. So it has been suggested that the most effective resistance training exercises will have contact with the ground.
Those exercises include, squats, squat variations, standing presses, pulls from the floor, the Olympic lifts and their variations.
Undulating Periodization Model
The undulating periodization model or, non-linear training model, has been effectively proven to facilitate the retention of strength and power capabilities in-season training. Periodization is a concept of training that fluctuates training variables to elicit optimal outcomes and avoid training fatigue.
In simplest applied terms to our in-season training we will use a heavy day and a moderate day. Sets and reps will be adjusted in an attempt use higher intensities and lower volumes of work.
There are a number of recommendations that should be used to optimize the retention of strength and power capabilities. Keep in mind that not every athlete is going to respond the same way to your programming. They are all individuals with their own unique adaptive capabilities.
Additionally, the program may work incredibly well one season and not as well the second season for the same individual athletes. Below are a few recommendations that may help retain strength and power capabilities in season.
- Consider all training variables when designing the in-season training program. Things like sleep, tests for students, nutrition, and personal relationships all can affect training.
- Reduce the amount of volume (and time) athletes spend in the weight room to accommodate for in-season sport training. Do not use the off-season training program for in-season resistance training.
- Lift with intention. Scientific studies demonstrate that when lifting with the intention to move the weight quickly is an effective strategy to improve strength and power.
- Be flexible with your programming. In-season inevitably will have bumps and bruises. Coaches need to adjust the exercises as training occurs.
- Sleep. Athletes need to recover from training and competition. The body restores best with sleep.
- Nutrition is essential to recover from training and competition. Adequate amounts of carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water will ensure athletes are fueled for in-season training and competition.
- Monitor athlete fitness during the season. Use fundamental strength and power test mentioned above to determine if the training program is effective. Asses each athlete to see where there is room for improvement.
A Theoretical Model for In-Season Strength and Power Maintenance
Below is a theoretical model that could be used for several ground based sports in-season. It uses multi-joint exercises that incorporate a relatively larger muscle mass providing a high degree of functional return. Day one is a “heavy day” and day two is a “moderate day”.
The first day incorporates a barbell for four of the five exercises. The second day uses dumbbells (DB) three of the four exercises. The nature of the barbell accommodates for heavier weights/ loads than the dumbbells.
There is an associated intensity or percentage of maximal weight with the repetition ranges. The lower reps correspond to higher intensities and lower volumes. This approach minimizes the production of fatigue for in-season training while preserving strength and power capabilities. More complex models can be derived from this basic approach illustrated below.
Strength and power gains made in the off-season are hard earned. If resistance training is not continued in-season those gains will soon be lost. It is highly advised that the strength and conditioning practitioner be well prepared for in-season programming and training to retain strength and power capabilities. I hope you have found this brief review of some key elements for in-season training helpful.