Part II – Developing Power for Improved Sport Performance

As discussed in part 1 of this series, understanding how to assess power output and the relationship that power has to successful sports performance is vitally important in designing a training program that is most effective for developing explosive power that transfers to successful sports performance. Moving forward, the primary challenge involves identifying the best training methods for accomplishing this goal. A key component in this process is recognizing the difference between maximum strength and power.  Maximum strength is the greatest amount of force one can generate regardless of the speed of movement or rate of force development, while maximum power represents the greatest amount of force one can produce in the shortest amount of time. More simply, an individual with a high level of maximum strength may be able to bench press 400 pounds for 1 repetition but it takes 5 seconds to complete that repetition. A more powerful individual would be able to take that same weight and complete the repetition in 2 seconds. 

“Justin Boren blocking for Dane Sanzenbacher” by Scott Stuart CC BY-SA 2.0

Many training programs place a large emphasis on maximum strength development but this form of training, by itself, is not as effective for developing sport specific movement speed because there is not enough time during most athletic movements to apply the increased levels of maximum strength (Newton & Kraemer, 1994). For example, an offensive lineman may be able to bench press 400 pounds in 5 seconds as mentioned above; however, this strength may not transfer well to game performance as blocking movements occur in a split second. This dilemma, in regards to program design, is demonstrated in research by Hoffman et al. that compared the effects of Olympic weightlifting versus powerlifting exercises in 20 collegiate football players. During a 15-week resistance training program, test subjects were divided into two groups with one focusing on explosive weightlifting exercises and another group emphasizing high-force, slow-velocity powerlifting exercises. The results showed that jump performance improved significantly more in the weightlifting group indicating that weightlifting exercises are more effective for developing explosive power than slow-velocity powerlifting movements (Hoffman et al., 2004). Ultimately, if explosive power adaptations are desired, a sound training program should include a balanced emphasis on movements that develop both maximum strength and power.

Olympic weightlifting and plyometrics are two of the most widely accepted training methods for developing explosive power. Although research has shown both to be an effective means for improving power, they have distinctly different qualities that must be considered. Plyometrics are classified as low-load speed strength exercises because they involve power output without an external load or with a very light load that is less than 30% of 1RM for a given exercise. Conversely, the Olympic lifts and their derivatives are considered high-load speed strength exercises because they involve power output with a relatively heavy load that is greater than 30% of 1RM for a given exercise (Hori et al., 2005).  In designing a training program, it is essential to determine the speed strength requirements of a particular sport to maximize transfer of training. For example, football frequently requires high-load speed strength as players must be able to explosively apply high levels of force against another individual who is equal to or greater in body mass than the individual applying the force; therefore, training for low-load speed strength would not be as effective in preparing a football player to carry out a task such as this.   

As stated by Hori et al. (2005), “To enhance maximal power, athletes need to perform training movements that involve rapid acceleration against resistance, and this acceleration should extend throughout the movement with no intention to decelerate at the end. Almost all rapid movements in sports exhibit such an acceleration profile; therefore, the training method that mimics this profile would likely induce desirable sport-specific adaptation” (p. 51).  Plyometric exercises fit this profile but they are limited in that they cannot improve high-load speed strength due to the light loads that are used for these types of exercises. On the other hand, Olympic weightlifting exercises are an excellent option for developing high-load speed strength as they require rapid acceleration, against a heavy load, that builds throughout the completion of the movement. Unlike traditional strength training exercises that require deceleration toward the end range of motion, the Olympic lifts allow the athlete to continue accelerating the weight upward until complete extension is achieved (Hori et al., 2005).

Phillip Wilhelm
2011 & 2102 USAW Junior National Champion
2012 Junior World Championship Team Member
2010 Express League MVP-Football

In part 3 of this series, we will continue examining why the Olympic weightlifting movements are so effective for developing power that transfers to improved sport performance.

CJ Del Balso – MS, CSCS, RSCC

USAW International Coach

Owner/Head Coach – Conqueror Weightlifting


Hoffman, J.R., Cooper, J., Wendell, M. & Kang, J. (2004). Comparison of Olympic vs. traditional powerlifting training programs in football players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 18(1), 129-135. 

Hori, N., Newton, R.U., Nosaka, K. & Stone, M.H. (2005). Weightlifting exercises enhance athletic performance that requires high-load speed strength. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 27(4), 50-55. 

Newton, R.U. & Kraemer, W.J. (1994). Developing explosive muscular power: implications for a mixed methods training strategy. Strength and Conditioning, 16(4), 20-31.