Power is one of the most important parts of sports performance, it’s also one of the most misused and misunderstood terms in all of sports science. In this article we’ll cover:
What is muscular power?
Muscular power (measured in Watts) is defined as the rate of performing work. More work performed in a shorter time frame means more power.
Fun fact, this is why there is a brand of cycle called the ‘Watt Bike,’ because it can measure a cyclist’s power output in watts.
Here’s the equation for you
A quick example
Let’s say a 90 kg athlete runs up a 3m flight of stairs, in 2 seconds
Force = 900 N (90kg x 10)
Distance = 3 metres
Time = 2 seconds
Plug that into the equation and you get a power output of 1350.00W
Or just use an online power calculator like this
But I thought muscular power was just moving something heavy as quickly as possible?
Well, you’re not wrong.
Since work is force times displacement (W=F*d), and velocity is displacement over time (v=d/t), power equals force times velocity: P = F*v
So another equation for power is simply…
A quick definition list
Displacement: Displacement is a vector quantity that refers to an object’s overall change in position.
Displacement Over Time: How long did the displacement take to occur?
Force: In physics, force (measured in newtons) is an influence that can change the motion of an object. Forces can be described as either pushing or pulling.
Velocity: In physics, velocity is the rate of change of an object’s position, relative to a specific frame of reference. Or rather, it is speed in a specified direction.
Is power the same as rate of force development?
No, but the two are so closely correlated that they are often used interchangeably within coaching circles. Power is work done per unit time, and is measured in Watts, whereas RFD is force developed per unit time, and is measured in N·s-1
The biggest difference that I can think of from a practical standpoint is that power relates specifically to movement, whereas RFD measures can be taken isometrically (without movement) You can also take RFD measures from fairly slow moving exercises such as heavy squats or bench presses. The athlete is still being ‘explosive’ and generating force quickly, but the resultant movement is slow, and so the power output is lower.
On the other hand, exercises in which maximum power is generated involve fast movement.
So RFD versus Power is all about movement speed.
What is the difference between muscular strength and power?
Muscular strength is the maximal amount of force that a muscle can produce. So think of something like a 1 repetition maximum back squat, bench press or deadlift. You can put in loads of effort, and there’s no time constraint.
Power is different in that it is your ability to produce a moderate amount of force in a specific amount of time. So let’s say that you had to complete your squat, bench or deadlift rep in under 1.5s. You wouldn’t be able to produce as much force or lift as much weight, but you’d have to move quicker (more velocity)
This is why, generally speaking, the most powerful movements will have a combination of force and velocity.
For more information on the relationship between force and velocity, check out our article.
Why is muscular power important to athletes?
The ability to produce force quickly and be ‘explosive’ plays a huge role in many sporting activities, including everything from sprinting and change of direction through to tackling, striking, shooting and throwing. Without adequate power, you simply won’t be able to compete at a decent level in most sports.
Muscular power examples
- All punches, kicks, strikes and takedowns in combat sports
- Tackles in rugby and american football
- Acceleration and sprints in literally every sport that requires them
- Javelin, shot put, discus and hammer throws in athletics
How do you train for muscular power?
There are loads of different ways to train for muscular power. Essentially so long as you’re performing movements that increase either your muscles maximal force production abilities or their ability to express that force by contracting quickly, then you’ll be increasing your power.
How can I increase my power?
The best way to increase your power for most individuals is to take a well-rounded approach that incorporates three approaches. Numbers one and two are essential for everyone. Number 3 becomes most useful for late intermediate and advanced athletes.
- Maximal Strength Training
Since Power = Force x Velocity, using strength training to increase the maximal force you can produce will also increase your power.
Exercises like squats, bench press, rows and deadlifts, or close variations are great for this. Typically 2-4 sets of 2-6 reps at 80-100% of your 1 repetition maximum is a good guideline.
- Velocity Focused Training
Alongside your strength training, I recommend also adding in exercises that focus on quick muscle contractions and fast movements. Good exercises to accomplish this include vertical jumps, box jumps and med ball throws, each performed for something in the region of 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps with maximum intent.
- Special Strength Exercises
Methods one and two work fantastically to make you more powerful, and will have a good carryover to your sport for a long while. However, most athletes will eventually reach a point at which further general adaptations have much less carryover than they used to. This is where we introduce special strength exercises. These are exercises that closely mimic sport practice with a few key variations in loading.
For example, let’s say that you’re a shot putter who throws a regular 7.2kg shot. Two good special strength exercises would be…
- Overweight throws with a 9kg shot.
- Underweight throws with a 5kg shot.
Both exercises are highly specific, but offer enough variation to continue adaptation.
Don’t neglect your sport training
At the end of the day you want your power training to carry over to your sport as much as possible, which means you also need to be getting plenty of training for your actual sport. You can double, triple or even quadruple your power, but if you only practice your sport for one hour per week you’re still going to suck.
Sample upper body power training workout
Sample lower body power training workout
What tests measure muscular power?
General in-gym power tests
There are loads of different tests that you can perform as a measure of power.
Some of my favourites are…
- Vertical jump height
- Broad jump distance
- Med ball chest throw distance
- Wingate Anaerobic Cycle Test
I like these as they’re simple, easy to record and are relatively low-skilled.
The Wingate test is great because from a simple 30s test you can get data on…
- Peak power output: Usually achieved within first 5 seconds
- Relative power output: Peak power output in relation to bodyweight
- Anaerobic Fatigue: Highest peak power versus lowest peak power
- Anaerobic Capacity: Total work in 30s
That’s a lot of useful training data from a very quick test.
As a coach, you might also have access to a GymAware device for velocity based training and data collection. This can be a useful way to track power in exercises like squats, deadlifts and bench presses, as well as jumps and weightlifting variations.
Sport specific tests
You can also choose to perform some more sport specific power tests, assuming you have the right equipment.
- For cycling: You just use the Wingate.
- For sprinters or sports with lots of sprinting: You could use timing gates to look at 10, 20, 30 and 40m sprint times.
- For combat sport athletes: You could use sensor pads to establish impact forces of punches, kicks and other strikes.
Power is work done divided by time, OR force multiplied by velocity. It’s important for almost all athletes, and can be trained through a combination of strength training, velocity focused training and special strength training to maximise carryover.
- If you found the article useful, feel free to share
- If you have any questions or useful suggestions for your fellow coaches and athletes, pop them down in the comments below.
- Cronin & Sleivert (2005) – Challenges in Understanding the Influence of Maximal Power Training on Improving Athletic Performance.
- Kawamori et al. (2004) – The Optimal Training Load for the Development of Muscular Power.
If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:
Parry, A (2021). Training for muscular power – what you need to know. Available from: https://sportscienceinsider.com/muscular-power/ [Accessed dd/mm/yyyy].
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Alex is the Owner and Head Coach of Character Strength & Conditioning, and specialises in strength & power development for athletes.
He currently works as a Tutor & Educator for British Weightlifting, and has previously delivered S&C support to gymnastics and swimming talent pathways.