Maximal Power Training
Vern Gambetta is well known to many readers as a coach, writer, founder of USATF’s
Coaching Education, professional sports consultant, and even ex-editor of this esteemed
periodical, among other things. When the call went out for articles, Vern responded
immediately, and this piece is an excellent summary of the work of two Australian sports
scientists, Greg Wilson and Robert Newton. In our opinion, Gambetta has always been on the
cutting edge of training, and you will agree when you read this piece. For more information
on what Gambetta is up to, his web site address is http://www.gambetta.com/main.html. This
article has been reprinted with the kind permission of Eleanor Frankel, who edits Training and
Conditioning. You may call 607/272-0265 to get further information on this journal. Currently,
it comes out six times per year, but it will be bumped up to nine times in 1999.
REPRINTED FROM TRACK COACH #145 (Fall 1998)
The quest for the development of application. I will attempt to sum- Explosive ballistic work was done out
power as a means to improve sports marize their research and give some of necessity because their performance
performance is never ending. Training practical ideas on the implementation arena demands the highest expression
methods to improve power have run the of their concepts. of explosive power to propel their
gamut from heavy weight training to Power is the application of body or an implement with maximal
light fast weight training to plyometrics strength with speed. Strength is only velocity.
where the acceleration and deceleration concerned with the application of force To achieve maximal power the
of the body is the overload. as expressed by the formula F x D. The bar or the implement must accelerate
All these methods have produced time of the application of force is of throughout the movement. A major
results, although the results have not no consideration; force production is limitation of using weight training to
always been commensurate with the the main goal. achieve maximal power is that the bar
training time invested. As a coach I Power is expressed by the formula must achieve zero velocity at the end
have tried many of the methods with F x D/Time; here speed is of the es- of the concentric phase of the move-
varying degrees of success. I have sence. Power is the quality needed ment. This means that near the end
always felt that there had to be a more for performance in the athletic arena, of an exercise, whether it is a squat,
systematic way to approach power where movements take place in less clean or bench press, the bar must slow
development. than .3 of a second. down in preparation for stopping.
In my continuing search to ﬁnd The training methods to achieve Research has shown that in a
a better way to train for power the this kind of power are not new. They maximal lift 23% of the movement
research of Australian sport scientists have been used for years by jumpers is accounted for by deceleration of
Greg Wilson and Robert Newton ap- and throwers and more recently by the bar. In a lift at 81% of maximum
pealed to me because of its practical sprinters and hurdlers in track & ﬁeld. the deceleration phase accounted for
By Vern Gambetta, Gambetta Sports Training Systems
TRACK COACH — 4630
52% of the concentric movement (Wil- Therefore, to attempt Maximal Power
son 1994). This is one of the major Training (MPT) with the traditional MAXIMAL POWER
limitations of weight training for the
development of maximal power.
weight training exercises on machines
or with free weights would be counter- TRAINING EXERCISES
In addition, traditional weight productive to the stated goal of raising
training is unable to imitate speciﬁc explosive power. Plyo Power System—This is
sport movements. This is true of both MPT is a marriage between a machine that Wilson and Newton
machines or free weights. strength training and plyometrics. used for their research. It is essen-
That is not to say that weight “Maximal power training could be tially a modiﬁed Smith machine with
training is unimportant. Much to the considered a form of plyometrics a computer-controlled braking device
contrary, it is very important to have a training that is speciﬁcally performed to catch the bar after it is released. It
base of absolute strength, but as with at a load which maximizes the power is the safest way to utilize maximal
any other method, it must be used at output of the exercise” (Wilson 1994). power training with weight training
the proper place as part of an overall The loading is greater than plyometrics because of the brake to catch the weight
program. It can’t be the sole focus of because more resistance than body upon release. It is also very effective
the program. It is necessary to train weight is used. But lighter than tra- because of the computer interface that
across a broad continuum of speeds ditional weight training. gives instant feedback on the power
and external resistance to achieve The danger in this method is that generated by the athlete.
optimum results. No one method will due to external loading the exercises The caveat to this method is that
get the job done. have greater impact forces as well as it is still guided resistance so that the
In the search to utilize weights to greater contact times at a slower ve- proprioceptive and stabilization de-
raise explosive power one method that locity than using plyometric training mand is not as high and it is limited
has been advocated is to lift lighter where there is no external load. This to exercises in the vertical plane. The
weights fast. Superﬁcially it appears makes it imperative that the athletes system is expensive and currently
that the bar is moving fast but even this using this method have a very good unavailable for sale in the USA. With
approach does not solve the problem training base or they will be at greater some ingenuity it is possible to modify
as the bar is accelerated for only a risk of injury. a regular Smith to be able to catch the
short time at the ﬁrst part of the move- To effectively use MPT, exercises bar upon release.
ment. The rest of the lift involves the should be selected that allow for the Jump Squat—In this exercise
production of very little force since production of the highest forces pos- the athlete rapidly squats down and
the work is directed at slowing down sible throughout the whole range of explodes back up as fast as possible
and stopping the bar at the end of the movement. One of the best examples of aiming to achieve maximal height. To
movement. this type of movement is the weighted achieve the goal of maximal power
High power production is best squat jump. The power potential for production it is best done with external
represented by sport activities like this exercise is very high. According load.
putting a shot put. throwing a baseball, to Baker, “The multiple repetition To determine the appropriate load
swinging a golf club or a baseball bat. jump squats are associated with power it is necessary to ﬁrst determine the
The common characteristic of all these outputs usually only generated by elite Total System Mass = Body Weight
activities is that the implement or ball weightlifting during the second pull of + Barbell Weight (Baker pp. 12). For
is accelerated progressively throughout jerk thrust.” He goes on to conclude. example if the athlete weighs 200 lbs.
the movement until release or contact . . “ Multiple repetition jump squats and has a maximum squat of 375 lbs.
occurs. This results in high power pro- may provide an excellent alternative or the total of 575 lbs. is the total system
duction throughout the movement. supplement to the traditional Olympic mass.
According to Wilson (1994), weightlifting style movements for the To determine the optimal training
“Maximal explosive power training development of speed-strength.” load take 40% of 575 lbs. which would
involves performance of dynamic Incorporating these methods will be 230 lbs. Then subtract the athlete’s
weight training at the load which maxi- involve a paradigm shift for many body weight from that, which results
mizes mechanical power output.” This people who have relied almost ex- in a training load of 30 lbs.
involves lifting loads in the range of clusively on heavy external loading It is imperative that special care
30-45% of maximum at high speed. through weight training. It will demand must be taken so that loads that are
Based on the previous discussion more imagination as well as creativ- too heavy are not selected. That is why
it should be obvious that the exercises ity on the part of the user to develop it is so important to take into account
must not be the typical weight training programs that serve the needs of the total system mass. This workout is best
exercises where the bar reaches zero individual athletes relative to the power performed in rep ranges from 8 to 15
velocity at the end of the movement. demands of their sport. reps for 3 to 5 sets. Two times in a
TRACK COACH — 4631
seven-day microcycle is sufﬁcient. • Triple Extension Throws Forward base and an extensive weight training
Elastic Equivalent—These work- Use 3 to 5 sets of 6 to 8 repeti- background in explosive movements in
outs consist of pairing of exercises tions. order to be able to handle the intensity
consisting of one heavy exercise in Pendulum swings—This is an of the work necessary to insure im-
the traditional weight training mode exercise that technically does not ﬁt provement. It is probably best utilized
followed by an MPT exercise that al- into the MPT mode of training but it during the times of the training year
lows acceleration over the entire range can achieve many of the same effects. when you want to raise power to new
of the movement. Use no more than Hang a heavy medicine ball on a rope levels.
three pairs of exercises in a session suspended from above. Swing the ball The traditional approach would
and only two sessions a week for a out creating a pendulum swing. As be to put it at the end of a training
maximum of three weeks. This is very the ball swings toward you catch the program just before the most important
intense work of high nervous system ball with either one or two hands and competitions. That is acceptable. But
demand that has the potential to raise immediately accelerate the ball back it would probably be better to use it
explosive power to higher levels, but out. several times throughout the year in
if overused it can dull the nervous Kettle Bells (Powerballs)—This two- or three-week blocks to raise
system. is a favorite of the Eastern European explosive power.
throwers. Kettle bells are essentially Remember, this method is not a method
Examples would be: a large heavy metal ball with handles that should be used with beginners; you
• Squat (4 - 6 @ 75 to 80%) & Jump for gripping that enable the athlete to must have a good base of training and
Squat (10 to 12 reps) throw them. They are not currently good proﬁciency in your sport before
• Bench Press (4 - 6 @ 75 to 80%) available in the USA except in the beginning this type of training.
& Medicine Ball Chest Pass (10 form of throwing weights for track
to 12 reps)
• Hang Power Clean (4 - 6 @ 75
Instead I use a powerball which is
to 80%) & Stair Jumps with a a plastic ball with a handle for throw- 1. Baker, Dan. “Selecting the appropriate exer-
weighted vest (10 to 12 reps) ing that can be thrown on any surface cises and loads for speed-strength develop-
ment.” Strength and Conditioning Coach, Vol. 3
Use 4 to 6 reps on the weight without damaging the surface. The #2 1995 pp.8-16.
exercises at about an intensity of 75 powerball varies in weight from two 2. Baker, Dan. “Improving vertical jump perfor-
- 80% of max. Use 8 to 12 reps on pounds up to 40 pounds. With these mance through general, special and speciﬁc
strength training: a brief review.” Journal of
the elastic equivalent exercise. balls it is possible to execute a clean or Strength and Conditioning Research, Vol.10 #2
Medicine Ball—To achieve the a snatch movement and release the ball May 1996 pp 131-136.
3. Wilson, Greg J., Newton, Robert U., Murphy,
MPT training effect it is necessary to to achieve maximal power production. Aaron J. and Humphries, Brendan J. “The
use heavier medicine balls. If heavier It is best to perform these exercises in optimal training load for the development
of dynamic athletic performance.” Medicine
balls are not available it is possible to the range of 6 to 8 repetitions for 3 to And Science In Sports And Exercise Vol. 23 pp.
use weight plates thrown into a sand 5 sets. 1279-1286 1993.
or a foam pit. To achieve optimum results from 4. Wilson, Greg J. “Strength and power in sport,”
in Applied Anatomy And Biomechanics In Sport.
• Triple Extension Throws Back- this method of training it is necessary Blackwell Scientiﬁc Publications (1994), Carl-
ward to have a good overall general ﬁtness ton, Australia, pp. 110-208.
TRACK COACH — 4632