Intelligent Training: Strength and power for football athletes (Part 1)

By Jace Derwin | Posted 4/17/2017

There is no argument that football is a game that requires tremendous strength. Tackling an opponent, laying a block and stiff-arming pursuing tacklers are just a few examples of strength-dependent maneuvers. In conjunction with proper technique and execution, having a high level of strength will increase an athlete’s ability to perform these actions effectively against an opponent. However, strength alone doesn’t win football games.

Athletes need both strength and power

Power is a measure of the speed at which maximal force can be utilized within a movement. An athlete may be able to squat 500 lbs, but how much of that strength translates into their sprinting and jumping ability? “Explosiveness” is a term regularly used to describe athletes who have a high power potential. Two athletes may have the same strength capabilities, but the more explosive athlete can utilize that strength at a faster rate. Both qualities are important to the maximization of an athlete’s potential, but coaches often make missteps in proper sequencing of the traits within an off-season plan.

Power has an inherently greater transfer to athletic ability because sprinting, jumping, and change of direction are all high-velocity maneuvers. It’s not that strength should be ignored, but rather power needs to be trained at the appropriate time so that strength development can best be realized on the football field. Strength training also carries with it many injury mitigating effects that help to reinforce an athlete's ability to tolerate stress on muscles, tendons and bones. Additionally, greater strength levels improve the resilience and effectiveness of explosive power training.

Conversely, there are coaches that only value sprint and power training under the belief that training pure “athleticism” is more valuable than developing athlete's strength capabilities. Where the intent is commendable, the application under delivers. Power is best built on a foundation of quality strength training. For this article, we will focus on the importance of strength and how it helps to supplement the development of power in later stages of training.

Develop strength before power

Athletes can maximize their potential through a proper development and sequencing of both strength and power abilities. Because power is measure of strength utilization, it’s ideal to develop high levels of strength prior to concentrating efforts towards power expression. This sequencing allows for the both training demands to be readily developed and fully complement athletic readiness for the game of football. Not only does this allow for a greater influence of strength on power expression, but athletes can garner the injury prevention benefits prior to more high-impact training interventions used in power-focused training.

The development of strength should be done in conditions where producing near-maximal force is the objective. Resistance training with heavy weight tends to suit the job nicely. Barbell training that incorporates compound movements are ideal for they challenge athletes to produce force into the ground, stabilize that force with their body, and use a high number of motor units to complete the task. The intensity necessary to elicit strength adaptations requires training loads at and greater than 80% of maximal output. Repetitions should be kept to no more than 5 reps and rest should be around 3 minutes per attempt to allow for the highest quality of strength expression without fatigue influencing form or execution.

The takeaway

Improving strength is a foundational element of maximizing athlete durability and improving the potential for power expression. Strength development has it’s greatest transfer to performance when athletes are newer to training and have ample room to improve their ability to produce force. More advanced athletes will need more regulation and monitoring when it comes to improving performance levels and regularly need more power training since their strength potentials have more than likely been reached. In part 2, we will discuss the methods, benefits, and timing of proper power development.

Free resource for football coaches

Want to learn more about Volt’s football position-specific programs? Check out Volt’s step-by-step guide to designing safe and effective football programs: “The Ultimate Guide to Football Strength Training.” Written by Volt’s Sport Performance department in collaboration with our Strength Coach Advisory Board, chaired by legendary hall of fame strength coach Boyd Epley of Nebraska, this free resource is great for any coach looking to expand their knowledge about strength and conditioning for football.

Jace Derwin, CSCS, RSCC, is the lead sport performance specialist at Volt Athletics, the official strength and conditioning provider of USA Football and the U.S. National Team. Volt provides individualized sport-specific training programs to athletes and teams, built by certified strength coaches, through cloud-based technology. To learn more about Volt Athletics, visit and like on Facebook and follow on Twitter.