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Building Explosive Power and being able to repeat it is the Holy Grail of Physical Preparation for any field sport. We build strength in the gym and we work on technical aspect on the field but we need to be able to express these elements combined as quick and as forcefully as possible and as many times as possible. Using the gym to build power is a critical part of this.
What may not be so apparent to people is the relationship Aerobic fitness has with expressing this Power over and over again. Building power does not just happen in the gym though, and this is the one area where the link between gym program and field program is critical, as is the relationship between the Strength Coach and Field Coach.
What I like to do is build strength and then power in the gym near start of the year, but then bring Power work onto the field periodically and even bring into conditioned games or drill so we can express this new found power and strength. I look at it like a chain from the barbell to the hurley or ball.
Unfortunately, I meet a lot of resistance to this and have probably lost out on work due to suggesting an integrative approach like this. There is still very much an attitude in Gaelic Games of “You do the fitness, let me worry about the skills/hurling/football”. This is a very reductionist and regressive outlook. Teams, Clubs and Counties who have overcome this are having success and we do not have to go mentioning who they are again, they are obvious. This attitude can be quite localized. It is also especially prevalent in Soccer in Ireland.
In this 6-part mini-series I will discuss the following topic:
We will deal with the relationship between Strength, Power and Aerobic Capacity first and why they interlink and how they transfer to game play.
Part 1 - Relationship between Strength and Power
One of the important parts of Strength & Power for Field sports is the understanding of the Force-Velocity Profile of an athlete. This sounds complex and you can get deep into it, but on the surface of it this is simply relationship between Strength (Force Production) and Power (Velocity).
When an athlete is too far up on the Force side of the Force Velocity Axis (see example Axis below) and velocity is low then they benefit more from High velocity exercises with light loads. What this might mean in practical terms is an athlete who has just been lifting weights to get strong for a long period of time and appears to slow down (and the old school guys in the club say “its all that gym work” LOL) it's a small adjustment that can make significant changes. There may be no need to lose that muscle or size, there simply may be a better way of using it.
A simple thing like changing 150 KG Hex Bar Deadlifts to 45KG Hex Bar Jumps could actually have a profound effect after 3-4 weeks on said athlete. The added weight of muscle has to be accounted for as well. There is a tipping point. More size means you need more strength and power to express that size in the movements needed for your sport. It’s the simple Newton's Laws of Physics in play.
Maximum Strength, Velocity and the Force-Velocity all effect Jump Height and Length (Vertical & Horizontal). We know that horizontal and vertical expressions are very closely related to Power and important aspects of Field Sport like Hurling or Football. So that means every acceleration, deceleration, jump, hit, strike, tackle, kick pass and hand pass is affected by these aspects.
What may also be lost of Power Training is how it enhances Skill. Yes I said Skill. Power training will in time and if correctly loaded enhance your Nervous System (as Maximal Strength training does as well). Having an efficient and fresh Central Nervous System is critical to our Motor Skills, general movement and expression of skills on the field. So while Hex Bar Jumps, Med Ball Throws, Plyometrics and all these exercises do not look like a Hurling trapping a ball in mid-flight. The more we start seeing athletic development in conjunction with Skill development the better.
So at a very basic level if an athlete has developed an appreciable amount of strength and has stopped progressing athletically on the field then looking at simple variations in the gym can have a big effect. Performig Barbell Squat Jumps instead of Back Squats, Hex Bar Jumps instead of Hex Bar Deadlifts, Bench Throws instead of Bench Press, Heavy KB Swings for Deadlifts and so on could have a significant effect on an athlete.
However I still tend to deliver Power Blocks in my programming, because it is very important. That means we will concentrate on Power for a given number of weeks. In the past I was fearful some athletes were not ready but over recent years I have seen what a profound effect it can have. Unless there is major issues with movement or technique, the sooner the better.
For example, someone with an appreciable amount of strength training done this has been shown to not only to increase power and velocity but also Maximum Strength itself. So we will not be losing Maximum Strength in this phase. Everything we do is to increase speed of movement on the field. So if we can lift weights faster, then we should when we can. There is a mobility, stability, technique and movement efficiency element to this as well. It's important that we are not adding speed to poor movements or weight lifting technique.
There is often a perception that you have to be of a certain strength before training for Power or indeed Plyometrics. For me this does not stand up practically or scientifically. The fear is injury. But playing sports we are jumping and using powerful forces all the time. Every sprint is a Plyometric movement. It’s just about what exercises we use and what level of intensity.