Power is a frequently misunderstood fitness principle. Many fitness professionals consider power to be a standard exercise performed as quickly as possible. For example, performing a clapping push-up or a jumping squat. There is also the belief that including these exercises in an athlete's program will make the athlete more powerful or more capable of producing power in any given situation. Both beliefs are most often completely wrong.
Power is the rate at which you perform work. If you carry a medicine ball up ten flights of stairs, then the faster you reach the top, the more power you have produced. Work is force relative to distance, so the work does not change no matter how quickly you reach the top. Most people would agree that the faster you reach the top of the stairs, the more fit you are. In reality, the more powerful you are, the faster you will reach the top. Thus, the ability to produce power is one of the most important measures of fitness. If you want to train an athlete to be more powerful keep in mind two things, distance and time.
Give an athlete an exercise like pushing a 50 kg sled 60 yards and ask them to do it as quickly as possible. Many strong athletes will not be able to complete this task when first assigned. Once they can do it five times, you know you have increased their power output. Along the way, you made their heart stronger and improved their breathing. Initially, give them five minutes recovery between each attempt. As they get more fit, shorten the recovery and you will start to develop their endurance along with their power. The trick is not the speed or the load, but the distance. Asking an athlete to perform a task across a large distance separates a power movement from a strength movement. The amount of distance needed depends on the sport and the athlete, but 50-60 yards is a challenge for anyone in a sled push.
To understand power better, use a fixed weight, such as 50 kilograms and have a wide variety of athletes push the sled across the distance in a timed effort. You might be surprised that the "stronger" athletes are not the ones winning. Often it is the swimmers, runners, cyclists, rowers, etc who excel in this event. The good news is that when you take the NFL lineman and train him to excel in this event, he will be a much more powerful NFL player.
Sprinting 50 meters against resistance, multiple throws with medicine balls while running and so on are great ways to develop the body’s power. Olympic lifts and Kettlebells will not work as well since they do not incorporate enough distance. Making an NFL lineman swim 50 meters at full speed will develop his ability to produce power better than an Olympic lift, especially if he is an inefficient swimmer. In fact, if your athletes are particularly weak on the sled push, have them incorporate swim sprints into their routine for a few weeks without any sled training. Then come back to the sled and you will see a marked improvement because power is less about muscular strength and more about overall system efficiency. Flexibility, bodyfat, and cardiovascular endurance are the common limiters of power, not strength.
If Olympic weights and Kettlebells are all you have to work with then increasing the time of your sets to five minutes or more will simulate distance. Since you are repeating a movement over a long duration, this is only for the athletes with impeccable form. The reason being that even if you do not cause injury, having a athlete who is still developing the technique of an exercise repeat the task in a long set will make it harder for them to learn correct form.
There are many athletes that can produce the leg force of an Olympic sprinter, but they are not as fast as the Olympian because it takes them longer to apply this force. In this case, the missing ingredient is time. The neuromuscular system has to be trained to react to the situation faster. This is why athletes practice. It is only through proper practice that an athlete will become more powerful in their sport. What makes a great coach is their understanding of how to structure practice to develop their athlete’s potential. Michael Phelps wins races because he produces more power relative to the drag he creates, relative to his competition. Does he perform Olympic lifts? Absolutely! Because he needs to be stronger. For power, he swims and drills against resistance. When was the last time you had to swim with a 20 kilogram Olympic plate?
Another aspect of the time component of power is resistance. How much resistance is there to the desired powerful movement? In many cases, this resistance is created by a lack of flexibility. In spite of this, how often do we analyze range of motion when trying to increase power output? Flexibility can affect power and endurance. This makes stretching and other exercises to increase range of motion viable components of a power prescription.
The key to training your athlete to be more powerful is to understand the definition of the term. If you really want to know about a tree, study its roots. The roots of power are force, distance, and time. Know them well, understand how they apply to your athlete and your athlete’s sport, and you will solve the power problem.