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Why Power Training is Essential to Becoming a Faster Athlete

Feb 25, 2008
Maximum power is trained when the athlete works in a range of between 95-100% of their maximum intensity. All too often athletes perform these power training drills at a low intensity thus defeating the purpose of overloading the muscles and maximizing you time spent training. Plyometrics has become the standard for power development with many trainers.

Power is simply the combination of speed and strength. In recent years many athletes and coaches have thought of power training as plyometric training due to the popularity of the term. However, plyometric training is just one form of power training. Plyometric training refers to an athlete developing explosive movements through a concentric contraction (shortening of muscle) following an eccentric contraction (lengthening of muscle).

It is during this eccentric contraction that the maximum force generated by the muscle is attained. The amount of force generated by the muscles following an eccentric contraction is greater. How does this apply to making you faster? Well it is not only specific to the various movements involved in your sport but it allows you to develop a more explosive start which will help you to get to your destination more quickly.

It is the stored energy from an eccentric contraction when a muscle is stretched that is available during the following explosive concentric contraction. It is this stretching of the muscles prior to the explosive muscle contraction that is often referred to as the "loading phase." The key point here to know is that the greater the load and the faster the load will result in a more powerful contraction.

One key aspect for athletes to know is that the concentric contraction must be immediate after the eccentric contraction otherwise a lot of this energy will be lost. For example if you want to increase your vertical jump you will bend down and then immediately explode upwards. However, you are unlikely to achieve such a height if you bend down, wait a few seconds and then jump upwards. Therefore an athlete must try to jump as soon as they can following the eccentric contraction. This process is often referred to the stretch-shortening cycle and is what plyometrics is built around.

Now transfer this over to how it can make you faster. It could make you faster in getting to a ball if you can time your jump rather than just waiting in a crouched position. It could allow you to be faster if you learn to take off following this phase rather that trying to take off from a crouched position. In tennis you could become faster if you hit the ball, land and recover and then learn to time your explosive start immediately from this position rather than a full upright or fully crouched position.

I found this to be true for the tennis players that I have trained. When waiting in the already crouched position on a return; I found out that they were slower to get off the mark compared to when they were able to time their forward movement. This is where learning the split-step the correct way will make you faster in getting to the ball.

Power training must be specific to the skill or movement that is being performed by the athlete. It is also important that when conducting power training that the load placed upon the body does not affect the actual specific sporting skill or movement. For example; you could where a weighted vest and try to perform a series of vertical jumps but if your specific movement patterns are effected then you are inhibiting the transferring benefit.

This is why when conducting plyometric exercises it is important to choose sport specific exercises with appropriate loading as there will be greater transference across in terms of physiological and learned adaptations.

Key plyometric exercises that help to improve speed include single leg hops, single leg bounding, pistol squats, double leg tuck jumps, double leg hops, alternate leg bounding, incline two leg bounding, zigzag hops or one legged lateral bounding, lateral jumps, squat jumps and split jumps, depth jumps, alternating step ups, double leg jumps and single leg box squats. Additional plyo-metric training method include ladder exercises, stair training, medicine ball exercises, kettle ball exercises, bounding over cones, bounding over mini-hurdles, jump/skipping rope and stadium hops.

One of my favourite exercises is running sand dunes! This is a killer workout and a great way to add extra resistance and variety to your training programs. I guarantee that if you are looking for a fun new way to train your athletes then take them down to the beach where there are some sand dunes. You can also include some sprint sessions along the beach followed by some swimming. Your athletes will be ready to sleep for hours after this work out. It is also fun for them to be outside on the beach. Just be sure to include a proper warm-up and warm-down into your session.

After spending many years with coaches from a variety of sports in developing and designing their fitness and conditioning programs; it was quite apparent that many coaches did not know how to properly implement a plyometric program. The key areas of concern were that many coaches were not completely educated on how to teach and instruct each plyometric exercises. Other factors included the equipment used was of the wrong shape, size and weight for the athlete, the surface that they were performing the exercises on were poor and dangerous, the athletes didn't understand what they were working on or how it applied to their sport, athletes did not perform a proper warm-up prior to commencing a plyometric program, injuries were not reviewed prior to starting a plyometric training program, plyometrics were used at the wrong time of the season such as introducing new plyometric exercises during the competitive season, a strength base was not established first, some of the athletes were too young for plyometric training and many coaches did not know how many sets and repetitions to use.

Progression of exercises to develop speed include developing vertical drive - conducting plyometric exercises using cones and mini-hurdles will help to develop the vertical drive in athletes. Developing explosive hip power - one of my favorite modes of exercises for developing power, in particular hip power, is stair hops. The key with these exercises is to take away the use of the arms. One way to do this is to place your hands behind your head as you hop with two feet together up the steps. Developing explosive starts - this is where the various bounding exercises assist the athlete in developing speed by improving their explosive starts. Two of my favourite exercises are the single-leg and double-leg bounding followed by an immediate sprint. These exercises assist the athlete in pushing off the ground followed by a subsequent burst of speed over 10 metres.

Three main points in order to gain positive results from plyometric training are to develop a sound base of flexibility, develop a sound base of strength and to reduce the risk of injury by performing the proper technique for each exercise.

The following need to be identified and considered prior to an athlete commencing a plyometric training program: Age of the athlete, current or potential injuries, medical history, muscle imbalances, current strength of athlete, current speed of athlete, the athlete's weight, the athlete's experience and knowledge with power training and the surface that the exercises will be performed on.

The key variables that need to be considered with plyometric training include frequency of sessions, rest and recovery between sessions, overload, progression with intensity levels, progression with volume, what season the athlete is in (pre or post season), duration of the program or session, the specific demands of the sport, implementation of a thorough warm-up and your tournament schedule.

The following is how developing power can improve an athlete's speed in a chosen sport such as tennis. The development of power in the game of tennis is most important to players at the higher levels. It is important to understand both components of power, which are the strength and speed aspects and how each relates to power development.

Power is also involved in all strokes and areas of the game of tennis. Power is particularly important in the explosive movement during the service motion, thus adding more "speed" to the serve. A faster serve will obviously be more effective and can help the player to develop the serve into a weapon.

Power is also extremely important to developing speed as it contributes to improved explosive starts and speed over short distances. Power development is one of the most neglected areas when training tennis players due to the lack of knowledge and understanding by coaches in how to train for "power."

Include power drills that involve the use of some equipment such as a medicine ball, as well as some drills using ones' own body weight for those programs that do not have access to the required equipment.

Injury Concerns with power training - It is extremely important to demonstrate proper technique in all power drills in order to prevent injuries. The development of power involves many "explosive" or "ballistic" movements and if performed incorrectly can often lead to injury. It is therefore important for the coach to fully understand how to demonstrate the skill, what they are trying to achieve, each player's physical ability, and how to include power training into their fitness and conditioning programs. It is important, as with all fitness drills, that the coach follows any specific directions given by a player's physician.

Power development is primarily directed towards the more advanced competitive athletes. When coaching younger athletes still in the developmental stages (both technically and physically) it is more important to use the time available to develop stroke technique, court positioning, scoring, and overall understanding of the game of tennis.

Power training needs to be specific to the movement involved. All of the major power movements have been identified and the following drills have been developed specifically for power development in tennis players.

Be sure to complete a needs analysis for each athlete identifying any possible injuries of concern. To minimize the risk of injury, it is important to conduct an aerobic warm-up and extensive stretching routine prior to performing these power training drills. Weights are used not only to develop absolute strength, but also strength-speed.

The simple jump exercises (such as single leg hops, two feet bounding, jumps for height or distance) are useful in developing the eccentric component of the forced stretch - contract phase. Perform these simple jump exercises prior to starting the more advanced exercises.

The training sessions should be progressive with each phase developing the player's body sufficiently so that they can move onto the next phase of training. The ultimate goal is to be peaking for their competitive phase, so be sure to prevent stagnation by understanding what phase of training they are in. Include a variety of drills.

If you wish to increase you speed then you will need to incorporate some form of power training into your sessions. Speed is often defined over short distances and this is where you need that powerful and explosive acceleration to help make you faster.
About the Author
David Horne is a former professional tennis player who has created several online sports web sites including Sports eBooks which is the Ultimate Sports eBook Directory for all sports fans!
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