In looking to answer this most basic of questions I researched the ideas of some of the preeminent trainers in athletic development and performance enhancement. Here you will find pertinent observations & suggestions from a Who’s Who including Gambetta, Versteegan, Waterbury, Vermeil, Gentilcore, Horne,  Anderson, Patel, Cressey, Mahler, & Thibaudeau.



“I prefer the term athletic development rather than strength and conditioning because it clearly denotes an integrated system to develop the athlete. It sends a clear message that what is being developed is the complete athlete, not one component. All components of physical performance: strength, power, speed, agility, endurance and flexibility must be developed in a systematic, sequential and progressive manner to prepare the athlete. Athletic development coaches enhance athletic performance by developing athletes that are completely adaptable and prepared to handle the psychological, physical, technical and tactical demands required to compete”
Vern Gambetta

“Perhaps a more practical way of describing power is explosiveness. Tiger Woods has an explosive swing off the tee. Average golfers have a swing speed of 50-90 miles per hour. Most professional golfers have a clubhead (swing) velocity in excess of 115 miles per hour. Tiger’s is about 130 mph. His strength plus speed combine to produce power.

In other sports, a powerful running back is one who explodes through a hole—he has strong core and lower body muscles, and he can make those muscles move rapidly to eat up yards and blast through or past defenders. World-class boxers may be strong, but unless they can get off a punch or series of punches in fractions of seconds, they aren’t necessarily powerful. Power is either a prerequisite or an advantage in almost every sport. Cross-country and distance running may be the only exceptions.

You can be strong without being powerful (because you can’t get that strength into motion quickly), but you can’t be powerful without having underlying strength of muscles and muscle groups.”
Mark Versteegan & Athletes’ Performance



Chad Waterbury on The Science of Motor Unit Recruitment

“How do I recruit all my motor units?…

There are two ways: lift as heavy as possible, and lift as fast as possible. Now, keep in mind that heavy weights won’t move quickly, no matter how hard you try. But they don’t need to. When the weight is heavy enough to only allow three or four reps, you’re recruiting all your motor units because it takes every ounce of effort to get the weight moving.

Science of Motor Recruitment – Part 3
“Where many people screw up, however, is with submaximal weights….It’s not the load of the weight that’s important – it’s the effort and intensity that will make or break your results. ”

According to Chad you have  bursts of less than 10 seconds to train a person at their maximum output. It is in this high adrenaline state – “Fight or Flight” that we can increase a person’s peak performance. Clearly, high motivation is a pre-requisite!

When discussing this approach with Chad he told me, “Rate of Force Development is developed most effectively with submax loads. For instance, start with a load a guy can lift 10 times but only do 3 explosive reps for 8-10 sets. This is explosive strength training.”

Al Vermeil
“If your athlete lacks the “burst” in their initial acceleration, strength deficits should be looked at as a possible contributor.
a. Males should be able to squat 150-200% their body weight
b. Females should be able to squat 140-180% of their body weight
c. ** remember you can’t get to third gear if you can’t get out of first gear.
Strength and starting strength are absolute prerequisites before other, more advanced training modalities.”

Tony Gentilcore

“Power simply refers to the ability to apply a lot of force in a minimum amount of time (Power = Force x Velocity). In order to improve power, you need to increase force and/or velocity.”

“Interesting to note, from a velocity standpoint, it’s been shown that power output increases as the weight lifted decreases from 100% of 1RM to 90% of 1RM. In fact, for the back squat and deadlift, power output for a load at 90% 1RM may be twice as high as the 1RM load due to the large decrease in the time required to complete the exercise with the lighter load (1).
This obviously shows how velocity plays an important role and why using the dynamic effort method is a great way to improve strength. Optimal speed and power can only be maintained for approximately six seconds. ”

1. Baechle, T., Earle, R., and Wathen, D. Resistance Training.. In: Essentials of Strength and Conditioning (2nd Ed.) Baechle, T.R., Earle, R.W.., ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2000.


Art Horne
Single arm snatches from Troy Anderson & Jumps are recommended for groups where 1:1 instruction is not feasible

Brijesh Patel commented to BSMG,
“I look at 2 different vertical jumps to decide the course of training:
1. Vertical Jump with countermovement
2. Vertical Jump with approach

If there is a greater than 4 inch difference b/w the 2, I will focus more on developing strength (they are more elastic). If there is less than a 4 inch difference, the athlete can spend more time devoted to developing power (strength-speed, speed-strength methods).”

The related link  Can Speed Be Trained? discusses the strength-speed continuum.

Eric Cressey’s discussion of this topic is highly informative and lucid.

Front Squats from Mike Mahler
“Squats: Learn the front squat that has tremendous carry over to sports and the hack squat that works the calves and glutes with one kettlebell behind your back. You will be amazed by how heavy one kettlebell feels in this position. What is great about various kettlebell squats is that they do not place any strain on the lower back, Moreover, if you get in trouble you can simply let go of the weight. No spotters or squat racks are required.”

High Pull
Christian Thibaudeau

10 examples of exercises from Athletes’ Performance to increase power, including some plyometric activities:

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10 Responses to How can we make our athlete’s more powerful?

  1. Jeff Cubos says:

    Here’s an excellent and related post by my fried Thomas Lam

  2. Tim Morgan, DC says:

    As evidenced by the number of varied yet scientifically based thoughts on power production offered in this post, power production is multi-factorial and highly dependent on what the athlete brings into training.

    The ability to produce force is important, but no more important than the ability to recruit high threshold motor units quickly, simultaneously, and synergistically. We’ve all seen impressive leaping ability that comes natural to an athlete, despite minimal strength training experience, suggesting it is the way in which we utilize our force production.

    Optimal power production will ultimately come from a synergistic compromise of all of the contributing factors, as evidenced by accepted theories such as the Force Velocity curve, time to peak power production, the stretch shortening cycle, and total length tension.

    Fiber type populations cannot be trained, but preferential neurological recruitment can. Elasticity can be trained, but is better inherited. Low speed strength might be the easiest to train given the relative non-biased fiber type recruitment, but alone, where does that get 98% of our athletes? Power development needs to be custom to the athlete’s need, and is probably best obtained through periodization. Case in point…one of the most powerful people i know is a 300+ pound olympic lifter who has held national records…he cannot do anything slowly, he is a preferential type II recruiter…he struggles mightily at body weight isometrics. For therapeutic reasons, he was put on long term isometric work during out of competition time…he is now lifting at PRs. From a muscle physiology standpoint, this work certainly is not the chief reason he has progressed, but it seemingly helped negate some of the physical and functional collateral ‘damage’ incurred from a lifetime of high speed dominant training. Power development is multi-factorial and needs to be customized for the individual athlete.

  3. Craig Liebenson says:

    Thanks for these insights. When you say, “Power development needs to be custom to the athlete’s need, and is probably best obtained through periodization.” can you explain exactly what periodization means to you in this context.


  4. […] "How can we make our athletes more powerful?" – Craig Liebenson […]

  5. Tim Morgan, DC says:

    “In this context” is well stated.

    Classically, periodization is the manner in which athletic capacities are developed through the course of time. This concept relies on the working assumption that these capacities cannot be developed quickly, rather they need to be systematically built, in respect to all of the contributing factors.

    Short turn around improvements are often gimmicky….kind of like Letterman’s “stupid pet tricks”…we can teach an animal to do something in short order via patterning and reward, but that doesnt mean they know what they are doing or that they will do it instinctually. “Muscle Activation” often falls into this category…therapeutic and fitness professionals see this all the time….as when someone cannot perform voluntary active prone hip extension…yet 30 seconds of either bridging, muscle perturbation, or joint manipulation (for proprioception or restriction) has them lifting 6″ off the table. This isnt new found strength, its utilizing the dormant ability of the joint system.

    So when I offered ‘periodization’ as a means of increasing power, it was in respect to the process of chronic training adaptations, not stupid pet tricks. From the other entries in this thread, a number of concepts were offered…strength (low speed)…elasticity…recruitment…and stretch shortening to name a few. What I am suggesting is that all of these individual components of power need to be trained over the course of time, and all respond at different rates.

    The muscle activation example showed that motor unit and/or synergist recruitment can happen quickly (pet trick)…and the posts that suggest lifting heavy for recruitment follow the typical adaptation model of strength training (not a pet trick!). So the muscular force generation that is needed for power is developed over time, and you cannot get it quickly, not legally anyway. Yet if we rely on heavy lifting to develop force, we will essentially de-train the capacity to move quickly…so the classic model of periodizing thru strength to power will have the intensities drop as we move towards training true power. We move from type I and type II recruitment towards preferential type II recruitment. This is a chronic neurological adaptation…just as prolonged high intensity low speed training will produce stronger, but less powerful muscles.

    Power is not targeted at high intensity, low speed training…but it borrows from it later in the training cycle due to the pure force generating capacity of a muscle….make it strong, then make it fast. Fast comes from recruitment, and rate coding….recruitment of the same motor units that have been developed thru the low speed training.

    The connective tissue adaptations are chronic. To develop elasticity in a relative inelastic tissue, it needs to be put thru an overload/supercompensation curve as with muscle…the chronic adaptation will be thicker, stronger connective tissues with greater and more organized elastin content (not a pet trick). Sprinters can gain quick elastic returns thru pre-sprint drills owing to acute neuromuscular ‘activation’ (pet trick) and because these drills address the tissues viscoelasticity. This equates to an attempt at 11th hour optimization of all of the power components they trained over the course of much time.

    Power therefore, is best trained over the course of time, and through addressing each component in a timely fashion considering the training period. With all of this said, the athlete can start the elastic and neurological exercise of power production early in a training program. Movement training, proprioception and non loaded speed drills come in to play here.

  6. Joe says:

    As a trainer of basketball players, I am always working to create powerful/explosive athletes…

    Brijesh Patel commented to BSMG,
    “I look at 2 different vertical jumps to decide the course of training:
    1. Vertical Jump with countermovement
    2. Vertical Jump with approach

    I personally always had 6-8″ difference between these two movements. If you look at the NBA Scouting Combine each year, it is interesting to see the differences in the no-step vertical vs. max vertical (with a run-up).

    I am also a big fan of explosive glute-ham raises, heavy DB split squats, light lunge switch steps…

    @Tim enjoyed your comments…thought provoking for me.

  7. Joe says:

    Craig – will check out the link. I am on the never-ending quest to find the best strategies for my players….

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