Strong vs Powerful Athletes

Most people will often use the terms power and strength interchangeably, especially when talking about physical qualities. One person will say jack is a powerful athlete, while trying to convey the idea that this idea is strong. News flash, power and strength are two different qualities, and athletes from different sports and different positions will need different amounts of strength and power.


Strength is a basic quality, simply referring to how much force is exerted. As simple as picking up a 100-pound weight. There is no time component. It doesn’t matter if you lift that weight effortlessly or you struggle.


Power always has a time component which makes it more beneficial to most sports. High amounts of power are equal to large forces being created in a small amount of time. The longer it takes to exert a certain amount of force, the power will be lower.

The sport of powerlifting (squat, bench press, deadlift) has a goal of creating as much force as possible, whereas the sport of weightlifting (clean and jerk, snatch) has a goal of creating as much power as possible. Bar velocity matters much more when trying to the bar from floor to overhead (weightlifting) than it does when completing a squat or deadlift (powerlifting).


Most team sports, such as basketball, baseball, football, are going to have a large reliability on how much power an athlete is able to create. In baseball, power is used to create velocity on a throw, ripping dingers, and sprinting. There is no time for strong slow movements, only fast and powerful movements. Same for basketball as we need quick cuts, sprints, and explosive jumping. In football, most positions rely on exploding through contact, quick acceleration and sprints.


There is so much room for progress if we can create more explosive athletes, how many of our athletes begin training and only get stronger, and not just more powerful? The answer is that the training needs to be dynamic. Training an athlete change based on the time of the year. Movements, rep ranges, intensity, and velocity are all things that should be tracked and managed throughout the year so our athletes can peak at the right time. We don’t need to train to be explosive year-round. Training to gain strength will lead to gaining power. Training to gain size will lead to gaining strength. We just need to periodize our training so that the training goals match our playing season.


During the offseason, we need to focus in on strength and size, as this will be the foundation of our season. As we move closer to the preseason, you should begin to change up your training to more closely mirror your sport. This means more sport specific movements, more velocity on the bar.


We need strength to create power, but strength and power are not the same. Nor are they equal. Power is a better indicator of success in most sports, but that doesn’t mean we should neglect training for strength all together. If we don’t gain strength, we will quickly find the ceiling in regard to our power production. The key lies in the implementation of these qualities and how well they are managed. Managed well, any athlete can reach their top athletic potential.


Chris Still

BS Exercise Science

CSCS, USA Weightlifting

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