Strength, Power, and Athleticism

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As a strength and conditioning coach, I seek the most efficient means possible to make every athlete I work with as strong and powerful as their genetics will allow. It is very important in athletic training to define your goals and cut out what I would call “fluff exercises.” This is truly a field where 20% of all available exercise options can lead to 80% of potential growth (increased strength and power). I think an argument can also be made that 10% of total potential exercises could lead to 90% of an athlete’s performance progress. Allow me to explain.

As unfair as it may be, athleticism is almost entirely determined by genetics. An athlete can certainly harness his or her skills for a particular sport through thousands of repetitions, but at the end of the day, athleticism will play a large factor in an athlete moving to the next level of play.

Likewise, power is largely determined by genetics. Genetics play a greater role in determining athletes than they do in determining power, as there are more factors that determine athletic qualities (hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness, body control). Nonetheless, I can recognize a powerful athlete instantly whether they are 8 years old or 18. A powerful athlete has a unique ability to generate force extremely quickly and efficiently. Power is simply strength demonstrated quickly, or force times velocity. Power can certainly be improved, but it is largely genetic.

Now what does all this have to do with strength training? Strength training is the most productive way to increase power to the extent that it can be developed. Power is largely genetic, but the part that is not can be increased significantly through months and years of dedicated, heavy, barbell lifting on the basic movements that utilize the most weight. When more weight is used in an exercise, it leads to more force production, increased power, and improved explosion for an athlete’s chosen sport(s).

This is why it is vital for any teenage athlete who is serious about becoming better at their chosen sport(s) to systematically determine that they are going to increase their deadlift, squat, clean, and bench press or overhead press by substantial amounts over several years if they expect to take their game to the next level. Without a doubt, if you have two 18 year old football players of equal skill level and ability, yet one has progressively increased his squat from 135 pounds to 400 pounds over a year or two of training, and the other still has a 135 pound squat, which athlete will have more power off the line, more first step quickness, and more intimidating, hard hits on the field? It will always be the stronger, more forceful athlete.

In strength and conditioning, we know how to make athletes stronger. The problem is when this knowledge is forgotten, ignored, or viewed as outdated when you have new fitness fads like

  • “Functional” training
    excessive use of machines or TRX suspension
  • Stability ball work
  • Yoga
  • Viper training

These modes of training are not vital to developing maximum force and power.

The Takeaway: Athletic performance programs need to return to the basics: barbell squats, barbell deadlifts, power cleans, bench presses and push presses, and Olympic lifting. There needs to be less agility work, less ladder drills, less conditioning, and, overall, less gimmicky training and more of what has always produced powerful, forceful, intimidating athletes for all age levels: basic, progressive, heavy strength training. If you have an athlete in the 8-20 year old range looking to improve in his or her sport and he or she hasn’t done proper, progressive strength training yet, it is definitely time to get the ball rolling.

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