In sports science, the term ‘power’ can be a confusing one. This is partly due to its use in daily life and associations with everything from politics to the television series. Within sport its use becomes increasingly diverse, for example when commentators create superlative descriptions of athletes. When it comes to sports science and coaching we face further ambiguity as the term ‘power’ is regularly interjected into coaching language on top of its use as a metric for measuring performance.
“I would like to improve athlete A’s power.” This is something I hear all the time at coaching meetings.
So, what is power? Well, if we look at it from a physics point of view, it is the amount of work, measured in joules, an individual can complete over time, measured in seconds.
P = W (j)/ T (s)
As Work is a component of Displacement and Force, we can then simplify this formula to something a little more recognisable.
Power (w) = Force (N) x Velocity (m.s).
This formula is widely used within the sports science community and is more relatable, for many, than its original form. Power is primarily a metric for measuring performance in a laboratory setting. Although there are derivatives that are being explored outside of the laboratory setting, they have relatively little application to performance improvements. Power stands alone as a metric for tracking improvement over time. Historically, measurements of power have regularly been associated with superior performance., an example includes the difference in power noted by Dan Baker’s 2001 study between professional and college rugby players in upper and lower body movements.
If we take the stance that of a technical coach who wants to improve their athlete’s power,
what are they really meaning?
They are likely looking for their athlete to complete a skill or movement faster than an opponent or than they could complete it initially.
The culture and knowledge of different sports sport can also have an influence here, so it is recommended you speak with coaches and athletes alike, to gain clear understanding of they mean by power. A poor understanding of these semantics has likely burnt many a professional relationship, so it is important to have that conversation early on.
The view of what power means from a technical coach links quite neatly with F x V formula shown above, but still has little practical application for training methods that seek to improve it. For this, the S & C coach needs to be more specific in their approach and work across the full breadth of the force velocity curve alongside an understanding of the physiology required to make these adaptations.
In part 2 of this blog we will explore the underlying mechanisms behind power development and how they can be used for best effect.