The ability to develop lower-body power is no easy feat. We all have our natural abilities to develop power, but what do we do when we need more? When the sport or activity we partake in demands more to compete at the top-tier. This is when power training can become tricky, and coaches really have to hone in on their athlete’s abilities, individuality, strengths, and weaknesses.
Power is the product of force times velocity. Force is found by dividing time by the amount of work we produce. And velocity is found by dividing time by force, plus displacement (or the moving of something or ourselves from one position to another).
Power = Force x Velocity
So what does this mean for the athlete or coach? In order to create power and have that translate to activity, we need to learn and develop a few things.
- First, the athlete must know how to transfer forces in their body. An example of this is absorbing the weight during a descent of a squat, and then shifting their force to explode out of the hole.
- Second, there must be a solid base of muscle and understanding built before you can truly dive into specialized power training. An athlete needs to understand each movement and how to execute them properly, since in most cases these are more demanding on the body.
- Third, the coach needs to understand what they’re putting their athlete through, and how the body is going to respond to the training. Haphazard programming can end in overuse and injury.
This being said, Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) style training is a great a way to develop power. In short, it’s the pairing of a heavy-load strength movement and an explosive (plyometric) movement. The theory behind using PAP is to create a higher neural drive and bring about more muscle recruitment by pairing a strength movement and plyometric movement together. With increased muscle recruitment and neural drive, we’ll be able to perform at higher levels, than we could otherwise.
Four points I always consider when programming PAP for an athlete are:
1. Athlete’s training age: Does the athlete have the training history to support the stress PAP is going to put on the body. In most cases, athletes will be perfectly fine with using “traditional” methods of training power, and PAP may be overreaching. Be aware of the athlete’s abilities and capabilities. For example, if your athlete is newer and hasn’t built a solid base of muscle, PAP training will be most likely not needed for growth. Also, newer athletes can improve doing progressions through normal plyometrics and see progress. Such as starting with regular jumping movements, then moving to box jumps, and then on to depth jumps.
2. Volume: PAP style training demands more from the muscular and nervous systems, it’s useful to account for the volume you’re going to program for that day. In my personal experiences, after PAP training, I drop my accessories to about 60% of normal volume. This helps save the nervous system, and with many athletes, it’s counterproductive to be sore for multiple days after one workout.
3. Exercise selection: Exercises should be selected that are going to create a carryover for your athlete and their activity. If you program exercises where the athlete doesn’t find carryover with, or isn’t proficient in (for example, doing depth jumps without mastering the depth jump) you may be wasting time or causing possible injury.
4. Training cycle: PAP training works best when an athlete is in the off-season, since in-season sport is the main concern, the added neural stress can be counterproductive. Also, off-season program allows you to build up to PAP training then taper for a deload and active rest stage.
Once you’ve considered these four factors into your athlete’s program, you can then start to implicate PAP style training. Below are three examples of lower-body PAP style training protocols I utilize.
Before we dive into the examples, note that exercise and plyometric selection can be manipulated accordingly to your athlete. These are basic examples I would personally use and the sports I would apply them for.
1. Back squat x 3 reps (85%-1rm) – 10 second rest – hurdle jumps x 5 – 4 minute rest
**Judge the amount of PAP sets on your athlete’s abilities, for a well-trained athlete I’d program 3-5 sets, less trained 1-2 to finish the normal working amount.
The heavy loaded back squat should be done relatively quickly, and a 2-3 second eccentric is a good tempo for speed. The reasoning for this, and with all types of PAP combinations, is the longer you put the body under the heavy load, the lower your performance will go down in the plyometrics. You want to increase drive and stimulation, but not cross over the fine line into a fatigued state.
Sports I would prescribe this for: Football, hockey, lacrosse, and rugby.
Why? All of these require maintaining a strong base, while still being fast and powerful. Also, axial loading will help increase their ability to handle heavier stressors, which can translate to stimuli their sport can produce. On top of this, the back squat has been seen to have carryover with increasing muscular size and strength.
2. Front squat x 4 reps (75%-1rm) – 15 second rest – broad jumps x 5 – 4 minute rest
The front squat is a great way to train the quads and posterior chain, while working on upright posture, all important components for explosive movement mechanics (jumping, first few steps, lateral movements). Also, most athletes will be doing less weight with the front squat compared to the back squat. This could be useful for athletes who require less of a mass gain, through the means of loading the hips and spine.
Sports I would prescribe this for: Soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, and volleyball.
Why? These sports require a fast initial burst, or the first three steps and don’t have an urgent demand for adding mass to their frame. Also, each of these athletes need strong posterior chains for the amount of running and jumping they undergo.
3. Barbell side step up x 3 (70%-1rm) – 10 second rest – single leg box jump x 3 – 4 minute rest
While unilateral lifts at this type of load should be used sparingly, this can be a great exercise pairing for a well-trained athlete lacking unilateral explosiveness. The side step up paired with a single leg box jump is a great pairing because, while it’s demanding on the body, if done properly the athlete really has to focus on developing unilateral power with proper mechanics. Plus, it’s a great method for coaching possible areas of weakness, for example, if your athlete’s knee is coming in on the box jump (valgus angle), then they may be lacking inner hamstring strength, weak hips or even glute med weakness. That right there can give you insight on your next move for increasing their unilateral power.
Sports I would prescribe this for: Tennis, hockey, and lacrosse.
Why? The above sports all require frequent side-to-side movements, whether it’s getting a ball in tennis, playing defense in lacrosse or taking a stride in hockey. Having quick and powerful unilateral strength will carryover to quick in-game side-to-side movements.