The difference between strength and power - and how to train accordingly

The Difference Between Strength and Power:
And How it Relates to Performance

As a strength and conditioning specialist, there are certain things that I hear people say when talking about weight training that make me cringe. The first is "crossfit" - but that's a whole other story. One of the other ones I often hear that immediately makes me want to interrupt is when people misuse the words "strength" and "power" when relating it to their workout. And it's not their fault, they just simply don't understand the difference, and there's nothing wrong with that except...you need to understand it. Especially if you want to take your training seriously and really maximize your GAINZ (cringe).

By understanding the difference between "strength" and "power", athletes can better utilize their muscles in an effective way to improve their performance.

Strength training is a broad term in the fitness world. In general, most people refer to strength training as any form of weight lifting regardless to the intensity. Even more, STRENGTH and conditioning has become a popular mode of training for athletes, but in essence many strength & conditioning professionals are dealing more with POWER development, depending on the athlete and their sport. In fact, if you are POWERlifter, and compete in power lifting competitions, you are actually performing more strength-based exercises (it's confusing...I know). Furthermore, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) defines strength as "slow-speed strength", whereas power is defined as "fast-speed strength". But still both those definitions have the word "strength" in them - so you can see where the confusion lies. 

So what IS the difference between strength and power?

When we are talking about strength, yes, we are talking about SLOW speeds. Strength training exercises use large muscle groups to overcome a load at near maximal intensities, resulting in the muscle being under tension for a longer period of time. This is why strength training tends to elicit more hypertrophy (muscle growth) than power training - because we know time under tension = muscle growth (but again...this is a whole other mode of training we are not discussing in this article). Strength training exercises include compound lifts such as the squat, deadlift, military press, and bench press. To measure muscular strength, the 1-repetition max (1RM) method is used to assess how much weight can be successfully lifted one time. Sometimes, a percentage of 1RM (%1RM) method is used to estimate an individuals true 1RM but using a lower load and performing more reps. To train and assess strength, athletes should perform 1-6 repetitions of any of the previously described exercises, and progressively work towards their 1RM.  

When strength training, the muscle is under tension for a longer period of time, and the goal is to lift as much weight at possible. 

Power training, on the other hand, utilizes fast movement speeds to overcome a lesser load relative to strength training. In fact, when training to improve power, movements should be executed AS FAST as possible to truly maximize the ability of the fast-twitch muscle fibers. Exercises used to improve power are jump squats, box jumps, or a variety of olympic lifts (power-cleans, snatches, hang cleans etc.). These types of exercises should be performed at loads of 75-90% 1RM in the 1-5 repetition zone. As a general rule, power exercises should not be performed at maximal intensities due to the technique requirement of power movements. Also, the closer athletes get to their 1RM when performing power movements - the less repetitions they should perform. To assess muscular power, a variety of field-based (vertical jump, medicine ball toss) and lab-based (wingate anaerobic test, force platforms) assessments are used. A summary of power and strength guidelines can be found in the table below. 

Power training uses high intensity movement speeds to overcome a given weight as fast as possible. 

Training
 Goal
Load
 (%1rm)
Reps
(#)
Speed of contraction
Strength
≥85
≤6
Slow
Power


Fast
Single try
80-90
1-2
"
Multiple try
75-85
3-5
"

Disclaimer: Due to the different energy and muscle fiber requirements, it is generally suggested that strength and power training exercises are performed in separate training sessions. Also, it is important to recognize that there is a strength-power relationship, and one should only perform power exercises after already developing a strength base. It is strongly suggested to perform both power and strength training under the guidance of a strength and conditioning professional due to the high load and technique requirements. 

While it can be confusing to really understand the difference between strength and power training, it is important to understand to ensure you are properly training to meet your goals. Furthermore, and probably the most important reason for understanding the difference, is that you too can now be a smug evidence-based professional and proudly educate other gym-goers on their incorrect use of meaningless definitions that just confuse everybody anyways. But hey, at least you UNDERSTAND it now...right?

Got questions? Feel free to email me at KalanAnglos@Gmail.com or find me on my Facebook page: KFit Conditioning by Kalan Anglos

Bio:
Kalan is a Combat Sports Performance Specialist who brings an evidence-based approach with practical-based knowledge to the world of combat sports and human performance. He is recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA). and is currently finishing his MSc. Kinesiology degree at the University of Victoria. Through his masters thesis research, Kalan has established and implemented the KFit Test Battery for Combat Sport Athletes which is used by both Karate BC & Karate Canada as their standard fitness test for  athletes across the country. Additionally, Kalan is an exercise physiology lab instructor at the University of Victoria, and trains individuals (including athletes) every day to help meet their fitness needs and goals. He has many years of experience both as an elite athlete and high performance coach and is knowledgeable in the many fields surrounding fitness and training for sports performance.