Do Absolute Strength Athletes Need to Train For Power?

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Today’s guest post comes courtesy of TG.com regular, Justin Kompf. This is Justin’s fourth or fifth article on this site, but admittedly it’s been awhile since he’s contributed because he’s gotten all fancy pants and has a job and website and stuff.

Today he tackles a “touchy” topic: speed/power training (what it means and how to apply it into programming).

Enjoy!

Photo Credit: Denilson Costa

Also, before we get into the meat and potatoes of the post I wanted to remind everyone that Justin’s responsible for organizing the 2nd Annual SUNY Cortland Strength and Conditioning Symposium.

You can read all about HERE (<—- link to my site), or go directly to registration HERE.

For $60 you can attend an event where myself, Nick Tumminello, Mark Fisher, John Gaglione, and Joy Victoria will be speaking. That’s literally nothing for what mounts to a night at the movies.

No excuses young fitness professionals. Get it done. Come listen and learn from some of the best in the fitness industry.

Do Absolute Strength Athletes Need to Train For Power?

Powerlifters often incorporate speed training into their programming. This is called dynamic effort training. For example, they may train at high intensities for a few weeks or training cycles then add in some maximal speed training with sub-maximal load.

This protocol is great for developing force quickly but likely not nearly as effective at increasing absolute strength as training at high intensities are.

It takes about .4 seconds to develop maximal force. Therefore, if you lift at a high velocity, which is only possible with lighter weight, you cannot develop maximal force.

However, some good things happen with speed training, namely athletic development or maintenance. Powerlifters may not want to become accustomed to only lifting heavy weight slow.

No one would argue that speed training is important for athletic development but how important it is for maximal strength is another story. There are a few equations and concepts that need to be understood to help elaborate on why lifting sub-maximal loads faster may not have an impact on strength.

These concepts include the relationship between force and velocity and the equation for force.

Force Velocity Relationships

According to the relationship between force and velocity, as the external load being moved increases the velocity at which it is being moved decreases. This means that as force increases velocity decreases. In fact you can produce more force in isometric conditions where the bar is not moving than in concentric conditions.

 

To give a practical example of this relationship think about it this way; it is possible for most resistance trained athletes to squat 135 at a high velocity. To ask them to squat 315 pounds at the same maximal velocity would not be possible.

Force

It is often argued that because force equals mass multiplied by acceleration, training acceleration with a constant load will increase force production. When the load increases and acceleration decreases force should still be high and when the load decreases and acceleration increases force should also still be high.

Unfortunately, this may be a misunderstanding of acceleration and the force equation.

Acceleration is the change in velocity over time, whereas velocity is the change in distance over time. Just because barbell speed is high, does not mean that acceleration is high if the speed remains constant.

Change the equation force = mass x acceleration to acceleration = force/mass (it’s still the same equation) and we see that the greater the force an athlete puts into a lift the greater the acceleration. Remember that force and velocity have an inverse relationship. High forces cannot be generated at high velocities. The goal of speed training is to lift the bar at high velocities.

Therefore, if velocity is low due to maximal weights being lifted then force is actually high. Another easy way to think about it is like this; if mass goes up and the load is moved force goes up. If mass goes up barbell velocity goes down. With high velocities maximal force cannot be trained. Lifters may have been misinterpreted acceleration with barbell velocity.

Practical Recommendations

In the book Science and Practice of Strength Training the authors states that….

“The method of dynamic effort is used not for increasing maximal strength but only to improve the rate of force development and explosive strength”.

This article is by no means advocating slow speed training. We know that doesn’t work for strength training. In fact loads have to be reduced by 30% to get the equivalent number of repetitions with intentionally slow speed training. The only real rationale for slow contractions would be a function of the load being moved, meaning if you’re lifting heavy weight the speed of contraction is going to be slow.

Training for power, which is (force x distance)/ time, is an important part of athletic development and should hold some place in every individual’s program. However, training for power which necessitates low loads, likely will not have a cross over effect to maximal strength. If you want to get strong you have to lift heavy weights and progressively increase the intensities you are training at.

For athletics, rate of force development, or the change in force over time is extremely important. As mentioned before, it takes about .4 seconds to build maximum force. However, sporting movements happen in shorter time periods than .4 seconds. Therefore, the ability to rapidly produce force is important. However, because speed is high and the time to produce force is low, force production will never be maximal.

Also, the intent to maximally accelerate a load, regardless of weight and subsequent bar velocity may be important in strength development.

One study examined 30 division one collegiate football players and put them into two groups. A control group, that continued training at regular bar velocities and an experimental group that was instructed to train at maximal velocities.

This protocol lasted for 14 weeks, during the upper body training days the athletes used the bench press, incline bench press, behind the neck press, and arm curls. They were pretested and post tested in the one repetition maximum bench press, seated medicine ball throw, and the plyometric pushup.

The experimental groups bench press went up by 8.6% compared with the controlled groups 3.8%. The authors concluded that…

“The intent to maximally accelerate concentrically with heavy weight may be better for improving strength and power than slower heavy strength training.”

This study was interesting because the control group performed the same program and continued to train at the exact velocity they had been training at.

Should You Throw Out Speed Training?

It is clear that as weight increases the potential barbell speed decreases. Because power is dependent upon speed and force is dependent on load, one cannot produce high rates of power and force at the same time.

If you want to specialize in being as strong as possible, focus your training on working with high training intensities.

Speed training certainly can and should have its place in programming.

Speed training could be used to accumulate extra training volume for a movement. For example, on a heavy deadlift day using a submaximal squat weight for speed training can be programmed in after the deadlift. Speed training can also be used to focus on technique with lighter weight. Finally, speed training as previously mentioned is vital in athletic performance.

There is not a definitive answer out there saying speed training absolutely will not help you increase strength.

It is entirely possible that training with sub-max loads (think 70% or even heavier quick singles at 80% & not 40-50%) can help a lifter break the bar off the ground on the deadlift, come out of the hole quicker on the squat, or get the bar off their chest in the bench press.

Also if speed training helps a lifter build up momentum prior to their sticking point, it may help them surpass that region.

Finally, this is not an argument for lifting weights slow, as a matter of fact research supports maximally ‘intended’ concentric contractions for strength training. This means you should try to lift a weight fast regardless of the weight and regardless of how fast the bar is actually moving.

The point here is that training is specific.

If you want to train to be as muscular as possible, focus on training volume. If you want to be as fast as you can, focus on training speed, and if you desire to be as strong as possible the majority of your training should be focused on increasing training intensities.

There certainly can be a mixed approach for well-balanced training. Bodybuilders lift at high intensities in their training cycles so they can handle more load when they go back to training for volume and powerlifters may take on a bodybuilding training approach to increase lean body mass and thus produce more force.

There is nothing wrong with a powerlifter incorporating speed training into their routine as long as they realize that speed training alone probably is not going to have much of an impact on absolute strength.

Further Reading (a lot of the concepts were drawn from the following)

Hales, E.M.(2011). Evaluating common weight training concepts associated with developing muscular strength: Truths or myths? Strength and Conditioning Journal. 33: 91-95

Jones K., Hunter G., Fleisig G, Escamila R., Lemak L. (1999). The effects of compensatory acceleration on upper-body strength and power in collegiate football players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 13: 99-105.

About the Author

You can check out more of Justin’s stuff at his website HERE.

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