An often debated topic in sports, particularly football, is the difference between power and strength and which is better. In simple terms, power is defined by moving an object between two points as quickly as possible. Strength is simply the amount of weight that can be moved and not the speed in which it is moved. So, which is more applicable to football?
Personally, I’ve always trained my athletes for power. Power translates to the movements required by all football players more so than strength does, with one exception, and I’ll explain that shortly. Power is speed and all coaches want as many players with speed as they can get. Power is also quickness, another necessary component of football.
In reference to the muscles, power is how quickly a muscle can contract. The faster a muscle contracts, the faster the limb that it controls will move. Speed is defined by stride length x stride frequency. Some players have a quick stride but their stride is short. Some players have long strides but their turnover frequency is slow. A fast athlete has a quick, long stride and power will enhance both.
Fast twitch muscle fibers are what create power. Those fibers are what need to be worked when training for power. So, how do we do this? It starts in the weight room and how the muscles are trained. It’s simple really as it’s how the weight is moved and not necessarily how much weight is lifted. There are two types of muscle contractions, eccentric (lengthening) and concentric (shortening). The concentric contraction is what creates power in the muscle as this is how fast the muscle contracts.
Let me give you a quick example of how this would apply in a weight lifting scenario, specifically the squat.
An athlete training for strength would train with a maximum amount of weight and that weight would be lifted slowly for a short number of repetitions (3-5). When squatting for strength the eccentric contraction would be controlled, as well as the concentric contraction, as an athlete can not lift a heavy weight explosively or quickly. When squatting for power the weight should be less and each concentric contraction should be performed explosively (as quickly as possible) for higher reps (10-12) in order to create power. This type of movement will train the fast twitch fibers to move quickly and this is what will translate to power and speed. The higher repetitions will also enhance muscular endurance which enables the muscles to contract quickly for longer periods of time.
When squatting, instead of putting 315 pounds on the bar and training for strength I suggest putting 205 pounds on the bar and training for power. Go down slowly and controlled through the eccentric phase, pause for a second with the thighs parallel to the ground, and then explode upwards (concentric phase) as quickly as possible. These types of movements will translate to training for speed on the field much more accurately. An explosive muscle in the weight room will be a more explosive muscle on the field regardless of whether it’s for foot speed or generating initial contact on an opponent.
One of the huge benefits of training with less weight in a more explosive fashion is that it is much easier on the joints and tendons. I know many older athletes that trained only for strength for many years and now they deal with horrible tendinitis problems and even joint deterioration (meniscus damage). Additionally, athletes who train for strength tend to build much thicker, less flexible muscles which makes them prone to muscle pulls. Football players need to be agile and flexible based on the movements they perform on the football field.
The only positions in football that require strength training are interior defensive lineman and all offensive lineman. However, they need to train for power also. This will benefit them upon their first step across the line of scrimmage into their opponent. Strength for lineman comes into play after that initial contact. After the initial contact a stalemate will often occur and the stronger athlete will typically prevail. Offensive lineman need strength in pass protection in order to hold the stalemate after contact with a rushing defender. However, the athlete that creates more power upon initial contact can often overcome a stalemate and put the opponent at a disadvantage. This includes the offensive lineman in pass protection who can create power upon initial contact on a rushing defender. Again, I suggest that interior defensive lineman and all offensive lineman train for both power and strength.
To summarize, it all begins in the weight room. Train your athletes for power and muscular endurance and you will create an athlete that is fast and can maintain that speed for longer periods. Training for power should also occur on the field by utilizing plyometric movements, starting and stopping, and quick changes of direction. This type of training should be done over longer periods of time (20-30 seconds per repetition) in order to create muscular endurance.