Strength vs power

Strength and power are two different terms that, while often confused with each other, represent completely different goals within the gym.

While strength training builds muscle and increases strength by using heavy weights and low repetitions, power training focuses on workout speed and explosiveness to increase athletic performance.

We will run you through the three main differences between strength and power, along with the benefits.

Strength

WHAT IS STRENGTH?

Strength is the maximum force a muscle can produce in a single maximal contraction. This means that your 1RM number is how much weight you can squat, bench press, or deadlift for one repetition before fatiguing and failing on a rep.  

Powerlifting is a sport that consists of three different strength training exercises: squat, bench press, deadlift with maximal weights.  Each athlete competes in their respective weight class, and the person with the highest total for all three meets lifts wins.

WHY IS STRENGTH IMPORTANT?

Strength is essential in athletics such as football and rugby, where maximal loads (e.g., tackling an opponent) may be exerted over time (e.g., the duration of a play).

Strength is also an excellent physical quality to have in daily life. It is a general indicator of health and physical ability, playing a significant role in being independent and self-sufficient.

Let’s look at some of the benefits of strength training;

1. Increased bone density

Strength training has been proven to increase bone density.  This is especially important for women as they are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis than men.

2. Increased metabolism

Strength training increases both your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and your body’s ability to burn fat over time (called EPOC or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption).

3. Increased physical appearance

Strength training will increase muscle size, which gives the body a more toned appearance. It will also stretch the fascia or connective tissue surrounding the muscle. This increased elasticity leads to better posture and a leaner yet stronger you.

4. Protection against injury

A strong muscle is a more injury-resistant muscle, especially in the case of falls and sports injuries. Strength training also increases ligament and tendon strength – these are structures that connect bones to other bones or muscles.  

5.  Decreased risk of disease

In a study done on 1,798 diabetic men, it was found that strength training decreased their risk of heart disease, while both strength training and aerobic activity decreased their risk of diabetes.

6.  Better sleep quality

Strength training promotes better sleep, which means more energy and increased productivity during the day.

HOW IS STRENGTH TRAINED?

Strength is developed by using high load exercises performed within a repetition range of 1-5.

All major muscle groups must be trained in a strength program, emphasizing the prime movers (those most involved in moving). The intensity, volume, and frequency should gradually increase over time.

Here, we are going to run you through a strength training session.

HOW TO INCREASE YOUR 1RM

  • Start with a weight you can lift comfortably for at least eight reps and add 5lbs (for lower body exercises) or 10lbs (upper body).
  • Perform five reps, rest for 2 minutes and add another 5lbs (or 10lbs).
  • Perform four reps, rest for 3 minutes and add another 5 lbs (or 10 lbs) to your working set weight.
  • Repeat this process until you reach a weight you can only lift one time before failing.
  • Finally, calculate your one-rep max by adding the weight you lifted for one repetition to the weight you raised when you were able to complete two reps (i.e., If you met all three sets of 5 repetitions with your working set weight of 200 lbs and then successfully hit five reps at 210lbs, your one-rep max would be 215 lbs).
  • Begin your next workout by using this 1RM to calculate the weight you will lift in a set of 5 reps and following the steps above.

HOW TO INCREASE YOUR 5 REP MAX

  • Find your current five rep max
  • Perform five repetitions with 65% of your working set weight
  • Rest for approximately 60 seconds, then perform another set at 70% of your working set weight
  • Continue to increase the weight in this fashion (70%/60 sec rest; 75%; 75%) until you are unable to achieve at least five reps with the weight, but still manage to complete four repetitions.
  • At this point, your 5RM is equal to approximately 90% of your 1RM.

It’s important to note that if you are new to strength training, you should not jump straight into a program designed to increase maximal strength and your 1RM.

Start by performing a program that involves lighter weights and more repetitions, one that will allow you to grow accustomed to the movements required for success in an initial strength session.

After you have become familiar with the mechanics of each activity, you can begin a strength training program designed to increase maximal strength.

Power

WHAT IS POWER?

Power is defined as the amount of work done in a unit of time and is calculated by multiplying the load (weight) you are lifting by the speed at which you move it.

If you were to box squat 200lbs for three sets of 5 repetitions, this would be:

The weight lifted – 200 lbs

Time – 15 seconds (3 x 5 = 15)

Work – 4,000 ft-lbs or joules (200ft x 4j = 800J)

Power – 800J/15s = 53W

When it comes to strength training, power is often seen as the ability to perform explosive movements.

Power training requires speed; therefore, it involves lighter weights or even bodyweight exercises to achieve this.

WHY IS POWER IMPORTANT?

Performing repeated bouts of high-intensity (high power) exercise is crucial in many sports. Power training can also improve the effectiveness of weight training, as it allows you to use more weight and therefore overload the muscle fibers.

Power training is also beneficial for improving explosive strength, which can be helpful in many sports.

HOW IS POWER TRAINED?

Most power training workouts involve performing several sets and reps at a high intensity, with relatively short rest periods.

These workouts include using compound movements, working for large muscle groups, and maximizing speed.

For example, if your primary goal is to improve your squat, a power-based training workout would involve performing sets of 3 repetitions with a load that you could manage for eight reps if it were a typical strength workout.

3 Main Differences You Should Know Strength vs. Power

STRENGTH POWER
Strength training is designed to increase your maximal strength, allowing you to lift the heaviest possible weight for one repetition. Power training is designed to improve the speed and explosiveness you can move heavyweights, often in shorter periods. 
Strength training focuses on increasing maximal strength (overload). In contrast, power training increases explosive strength (overload and neuromuscular coordination).
Strength training is focused more heavily on the muscle. In comparison, power training is focused more heavily on the nervous system.

The Bottom Line

You should also remember that power is not always better than strength, nor is strength always better than power.

They are both critical in their own right and frequently work together to improve athletic performance.

If you are a bodybuilder or an athlete involved in sports requiring explosiveness, speed, or endurance, the benefits of training with power should be clear.

However, if you are a powerlifter whose sport requires lifting the heaviest possible weight in one repetition, your training will need to prioritize strength training.

So next time you step into the gym, keep these three differences between power and strength training in mind.

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