Improving Strength and Power in the Weightroom

I feel like this topic has been written about hundreds of times, but I really think with all of the information and content on the internet, misinformation is at an all-time high in many, many sports. While I realize many people wouldn’t classify soccer as a speed/power sport in a classically defined sense, but the same qualities true speed/power athletes possess are the some of the same qualities soccer demands.

Before we get into all the strength and power talk, I’m a fan of prehab and accessory work because in all reality you can’t cover all your bases with what I’ll call “traditional weightroom exercises”. Likewise, you can’t cover all your bases with just prehab and accessory work. I view prehab / accessory work as an opportunity to improve egregious asymmetries and improve stabilizers of the hips, knees, and ankles (or general high risk injury sites in the given sport). With that said, I do view the weightroom as the primary place to improve specific strength and power. By specific, I don’t mean weightroom exercises that look like actions that would occur in the sport (remember, we can take specificity too far). I mean qualities that are specific to the sport.

To lead us into the development of strength and power, I’d like to address a few general concepts that are driving forces in why we do what we do in the weightroom. Our team’s main goals in the weight room are to:

  • increase force production (strength),
  • improve the ability to absorb force, and to
  • increase power.

In regards to using the weightroom for power and strength development, we have to first understand how to increase strength and power values. We can do this simply by looking at the formulas for what strength and power are.

Strength is essentially the maximum amount of force one can apply against an object. F=ma

Strength can be manipulated a couple of different ways. Mass and acceleration are essentially inversely related. If your resistance (mass) is heavy the athlete will move it relatively slowly (albeit with intent to move fast). If your resistance is sub-maximal, the athlete can move it will move relatively fast, assuming there is maximal effort to accelerate the resistance. It really is that simple. To increase force we either have to move more weight at a constant velocity or move the same weight faster.

Power is force (m*a) with a time and distance component. P = (F * d) / t

This formula can be manipulated a few different ways to achieve higher power values (assuming all other variables in the equation are constant). Force (mass and/or acceleration) can increase, displacement can increase, or time can decrease.

This is why the list of exercises I use as the meat of what we do appears basic to some.

  • Back Squat
  • Power Clean / Jump Squat
  • Lunge
  • Pullup
  • Press

Dr. Mike Stone says something to the effect of “in relatively weak individuals, strength alone can help improve power.” When he says relatively weak, I would also include untrained. While this is overly simplistic, when we actually look at the equation this is true. Of course, in soccer, skill is massively important. When do consider skill, many players have been training for decades, but when we consider the weightroom it’s likely a different story. This is why I believe lower body strength to be very important to soccer players – not only can we improve relative strength, we can improve power output.

The next question then is what is weak and what is untrained. There is evidence for soccer players that stronger athletes have faster sprint times, higher vertical jumps, and better change of direction performance.

And in another, they went as far as comparing relative strength to sprint speed. The researchers broke up the two groups with one group having back squats in excess of 2.1x BW and the other group with less than 1.9x BW. The 2.1x BW squat group were faster than those individuals in the 1.9x BW.  This type of speed differential can be one step on the opponent. Sometimes that one step is all we need to create a goal scoring opportunity.

I think there is a clear line in the sand here. With this, we can now make some sort of definition of weak and untrained. I’m not here to say we all must back squat or that the exercises we use need to be used by everyone, but when we dissect what strength and power really are and how to increase these values (and other physiological adaptations that occur when you train these qualities), the exercises we do use lend themselves very well to improving both of these values.

My mentor Mike Young was quoted at a recent conference:

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Much of what I have in my toolbox has come from Mike and Athletic Lab coaches, but I liked this tweet because it shows that even some the most well-trained athletes in the weightroom, athletes who have been training in the weightroom for years at a very high level (especially when we compare to most soccer players), athletes that do have a  ≥2x BW Back Squat and a ≥1.5x Power Clean, still do the fundamental exercises.

If we go back up to the exercise list, when you look at it,  the common denominator of all of the exercises or variations of the exercise, is the amount of weight an athlete can lift or how fast it is lifted is the limiting factor.

If the overwhelming limiting factor in the exercise is not the weight or the speed you can move an object I would then ask: why am I using this exercise? Just because the exercise doesn’t meet this criterion, doesn’t mean it’s worthless, it just has to have a logical place.  There are some exercises that don’t fit this criterion that I would use, but if the main limiter in an exercise is the athlete’s ability to balance, I don’t think it’s possible to maximize power or force. With that said, balance exercises may not be all that bad, especially if they are specific to the goal. Chris Beardsley points out:

One interesting feature of stability-specificity is that the strength gains are highly specific to the exact movement pattern used in training. Even very similar movements that have small differences in balance requirements fail to display a high degree of transfer between each other, very much like balance tasks (Kümmel et al. 2016). This is probably because the neural adaptations that underpin balance and stability-specificity are themselves quite tightly regulated.

If the goal is to increase an athlete’s strength and/or, putting a governor on force production or speed of movement by having submaximal intent or decreasing balance is probably not the most efficient way to do so.

All in all, I think we have ways to go in the sport in terms of physical development of athletes, but what I think we can start doing is look at other sports that do develop speed, power, and strength at a very high level and pull concepts from those athletes and coaches and use them with soccer players.

 

 

 

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