By Clayton Farris, Certified Personal Trainer, and Strength & Conditioning Specialist
If your exercise goal is to make functional improvements with your training, improve your performance in your sports league, or to be ready for anything life throws your way, training for muscular strength and power congruently can be a solid path to achieve your goals.
What’s the difference between muscular strength and power?
To put it simply, the difference between muscular strength and muscular power is speed. While strength is the ability to exert force, power is the ability to exert force rapidly. For example, muscular strength is what it takes to push through a heavy set of barbell squats, and muscular power is the explosiveness it takes to jump up and dunk a basketball. While solid muscular strength is the basis for good muscular power, power is an important factor for performance in many sports and activities.
By focusing on developing power, you can improve your general movement skills and sports performance. If you are an endurance athlete, increased muscular power can help you to run, swim, or bike faster. In other sports, increased muscular power can help you to hit a tennis or golf ball harder, jump higher, and move more quickly. Having good muscular power can also be beneficial for everyday activities like regaining your balance or running up stairs, and can be helpful in reducing and preventing injuries.1
Can you train for strength and power at the same time?
It is possible to improve power and strength at the same time since solid muscular strength is the basis for muscular power.
“A basic principle when training for muscular power is to focus on training movements instead of muscles.”
Because training for muscular power involves a focus on developing the capacity for specific movements and explosiveness, the capabilities gained through power training can be easily transferred to sport-specific activities like jumping, throwing a ball, or swinging a racket.
A strength training routine that includes basic compound movements like presses, pulls, and squats is essential for developing solid muscular strength and muscular power. You can alter sets and reps to specifically tailor your workouts for power or for strength. In general, when training for power, you should strive for maximum output of effort in each movement.
That doesn’t mean to load up the barbell so much that you can only move it slowly, but rather to use a weight that you can focus on exploding with. You can also add specialized power exercises to your workouts based on your specific goals. Below are some of the best types of exercises for improving muscular power, with examples of each:
1. Plyometric exercises:
Plyometric exercises are quick movements that start with the lengthening of a muscle immediately followed by a concentric, or muscle shortening, movement. These exercises involve repeated, rapid stretching and contracting of muscles, like jumping. Plyometrics are great for enhancing your capacity for single, explosive movements like swinging a golf club, jumping, or throwing a baseball.
2. Interval training:
HIIT or high intensity interval training includes repeated bouts of high-intensity exercise alternated with varied levels of recovery phases within the same workout. Interval training is great for maximizing muscular power for endurance athletes like runners, swimmers, and cyclists. HIIT is also popular for a variety of benefits that extend past developing muscular power, such as improved cardiovascular health and blood pressure levels, and has been linked to lower levels of abdominal fat.1
3. Olympic-style lifts:
For more experienced lifters, Olympic weightlifting exercises can be a valuable addition to your current routine. Exercises include variations of the snatch, and the clean and jerk. These movements are unmatched in the weight room for developing overall power and explosiveness. If you want to increase your vertical jumping ability and general muscular power, Olympic lifts are the way to go. Proper form is essential though; not only to prevent injury, but also to ensure maximum effectiveness. As such, these exercises should only be performed by experienced athletes, or under the supervision of a fitness professional.
But when it comes to strength and power does (muscular) size matter?
Solid muscular strength is the basis for muscular power, but there are other factors that can affect power as well—muscle size, muscle elasticity, and body mechanics, to name a few. Generally speaking, the greater size of a muscle, the greater potential muscle capacity, strength, and power. Training specifically for muscle size doesn’t necessarily make you more powerful, though. So focus on strength and power first, and size will come.
What are your strength and conditioning goals?
Fahey, T. (2013). Strength and Conditioning. International Sports Sciences Association, 3rd ed.
Clayton Farris is based in Southern California and works as part of the Vega Sales Team. He lives an active, healthy lifestyle and is passionate about inspiring others to do the same. He is also a certified Personal Trainer, and Strength & Conditioning Specialist. He enjoys spending his free time outdoors, especially at the beach.