Strength and Power training for athletes

This topic receives more attention then a bent over Anna Kournikova it’s a huge topic and one that get’s completely muddled in translation.  In a previous blog post I addressed why getting the skill learning process out of the way in training was so important.  I will touch on it briefly on this blog post but I want to keep it on the bigger picture and not get too dragged down and lost in unimportant noise.
Strength and power are both intertwined so deeply that trying to separate the two is a complete and utter nonsense.  Maximal strength feeds into your ability to project your own body mass and if it is not developed to a sufficient level then trying to fine tune the strength you already have (power training) is a futile small percentage activity.


Your Body as an Engine.
An analogy I like to drag up to illustrate the relationship between strength and power is that of a car engine.  If you where to imagine your maximal strength is the amount of Brake Horse Power you can put down at your maximal output then power is your ability to express this ability throughout the “gears” you have in effect it is your ability to accelerate.  
Power training is in effect fine tuning your gear ratios, it allows you to call upon higher accelerations at lower percentages of your gross output.  Using this analogy we can look at two different engines.
Engine A – A 80 BHP car that weights 800 kilos, it would be much easier to get more performance out of this car buy increasing the BHP (read maximal strength) and given it’s very low output aspiring more gross power form the engine will be very easy.  Optimising what you have will not yeild a great gain in performance because at the end of the day you still have a pathetic power output optimised or not.
Engine B – A 500 BHP car that weighs 1200 kilos that hasn’t been optimised for racing, trying to derive more horse power form an engine with such a high output already would require quite a lot of effort and ingenuity.  However since it has remained unoptimised you can start to fiddle with there things such as it’s weight, gear ratios, tyres etc to start deriving a lot more performance out of the engine you already have.
If you imagine engine A is the sports person who hasn’t engadged in strength training to a decent level then you would be far better served working on their strength levels to illicit sports performance whilst laying the track for more specific work in the future teaching them technical lifts or working on their jump triaining.
For person B who has well developed strength you would be much better served looking at ways to improve them in terms of rate of force development, nutrition and squeezing out extra performance with what you already have since improving their top end will be difficult and call upon a lot of recovery capital that can be better spent else where.

What is a Decent Level of Strength?
Many people derive strength standards off tables such as Exrx’s table of weight lifting standards these tables in practice however are arbitrary as hell.  Derivatives gained from body weight are also arbitrary in their nature for instance for a 60kg person to squat 120kg contrasted to a 120kg athlete squatting 240kg the levels of effort needed to derive the same outcome are no where near the same.  You are better to develop your own strength standards based on the training response of a similar group.
So for example if you are working with a Female field hockey team and keeping constant records of training loads, over time will have a wealth of population specific data that you can mine for standards that will make sense.  Conversely when you are just starting to work with a population you would be much better served by not presuming anything and just trying to outright squeeze as much strength out of them as possible.
When looking at the exrx table some strength athletes I have worked with fall into the Advanced to Elite category yet wouldn’t win a national level meet in a country that isn’t exactly a strength sport mecca whilst some basketball players would struggle to make it onto the novice standard (due to their short weight training history) and are fully international representatives.
Strength standard must be population specific otherwise they are a meaningless metric.

Programming for Novice Strength Levels.
When you are working with a population of athletes who are not strength or power athletes you can pretty much go ahead and presume they are novice athletes regardless of the level they have attained in their sport.  If you contrast them to say weightlifters of a similar body weight they will most likely come up wanting although, this is of course to be expected. 
By accepting that they are novices right out of the gates (if they are not novices it will be evident in their training loads) you are better preparing yourself to succeed with your programming.  They are still in the period of their training life when strength comes easy using a progressive system that allows them to push harder on a session to session basis.  The job of a coach is to make sure this is done safely and efficiently and NOT to arbitrarily hamstring them with some fancy perodisation method based off assumptions because you feel the need too.  Experienced strength coaches or athletes who have gotten consistent results in their training in the past will know this and unfortunately the only real teacher of this skill is experience.
You must also lay the ground work for them to succeed later in their training life when they reach a level of physical maturity and strength that will allow them to better take advantage of power training.  You do this by teaching them the ballistic lifts and drills (cleans, snatches, jumping etc) that will allow them to maximise their strength later in life. 


Programming for a physically mature athlete
Through previous experience with the athlete or through their own experience you should know what works and what does not work for the individual.  Ignoring this information will almost completely destroy any good work you can do.
I don’t like to pidgeon hole people or concepts but if I where to offer a definition of a physically mature athlete it might read something like this

Someone who can no longer make significant and systematic gains using progression models based of percentages or otherwise without the help of erogenous factors (completly changing their schedule to allow for more rest, gaining bodyweight, AAS etc).

With an athlete of this nature and believe me they are few and far between outside of weightlifting or power lifting you will be MUCH better served paying attention to jump training and novel approaches that will maximise what they already have.
Athletes like this will be to the point where they could probably programme for themselves successfully this is by no means a bad thing and you can use it to your advantage by making them part of the process it will help them to buy into it and two heads are better then one if you are trying to approach training in an optimal or unique way.
Research also suggests that athletes with higher strength capabilities adapt to power training much faster and thus reap the benefits in a shorter time frame and with an increased amplitude.
To best tackle strength and power levels in athletes you must look at their strength and power out puts in isolation from their sports mastery and look at it in the context of raw physical ability.  In light of these observations you must tackle the situation using the tools that will reap the most pronounced results in the most efficient manner possible.