Strength vs Power: The Differences Explained

Published by Debbie Luna
Last Updated: October 18, 2021

The terms strength and power are used both in physical therapy and athletic training as a way to describe the nature of an exercise or movement. This allows a coach or physical therapist to classify them into different categories, of which will make arranging their order in an exercise routine easier.

Strength, when used in a training context, is simply the exerciser’s own ability to overcome a resistance, generally in the shape of weights or their own bodyweight. This is often demonstrated through the utilization of exercise equipment like barbells or dumbbells, which require controlled levels of force from the body to use.

Power, on the other hand, is quite similar to strength in that it also involves the exerciser’s ability to overcome resistance. However, power also incorporates acceleration into the exercise, and as such does not entirely rely on the exerciser themselves to bear the total mass of the weight; This can be seen in certain types of barbell exercises such as the Olympic power clean or burpees.

Should You Do Strength or Power Exercises First?

In the process of forming an exercise routine with your coach or physical therapist, the question of whether strength or power exercises should come first may come up. 

Generally, the answer to this will depend on your particular goals and whether you have prior experience in these types of exercises. In particular, athletes going for explosive speed should prioritize power exercises first, so long as they understand how to perform the prescribed exercises involved.

However, if the purpose of your exercise routine is rehabilitation of an injury or to otherwise strengthen the tissues in your body while reducing the focus on athletic performance, then strength exercises will work best.

Naturally, the exerciser will be able to reap the most benefits from the first few exercises they perform during their exercise routine owing to the fact that their body is still energetic and fresh, allowing them to apply more force and speed towards these exercises, inducing further hypertrophy and neurological adaptation.

An important factor to add onto this calculation is to also tactically space out rests between exercises or even sets of an exercise. The length of a resting period, and the exercises performed before and after this rest period can significantly change the specific output of your training.

Does Power Training Induce Muscular Hypertrophy?

Depending on the intensity of the exercise and the particular training experience of the exerciser, nearly any sort of resistance applied to the muscular structures of the body may induce muscular hypertrophy.

In lay man’s terms, this means that generally most exercises can make muscles stronger and bigger, though the effectiveness and safety of this varies between each exercise.

When concerning power training, for example, if sufficient weight is used, it is likely to rival or eclipse the muscular gains of regular strength training. This is due in part to the relative intensity of power exercises, which may be more difficult to safely achieve with strength-focused weightlifting exercises.

Even in members of the older population, power training not only induces significant muscular hypertrophy, but also neuromuscular recruitment ability and other measures of physical athletic performance. 

What are the Best Strength Exercises?

Considering the fact that strength exercises are differentiated from power exercises by the fact that the exercise is often performed in a highly controlled manner with very little acceleration brought into the movement, the best strength exercises all involve relatively heavy weights loaded onto a barbell in order to act as resistance.

The Squat

The squat is possibly the most commonly practiced strength exercise, both in and out of the gym. A cornerstone of most training regiments, the squat activates the entirety of the lower body’s musculature as well as the abdominal stabilizers, making it an excellent strength exercise.

The squat is performed by placing a loaded barbell along the back of the shoulders, allowing it to rest against the shelf of the trapezius. 

barbell squat

Once secured to the back, the exerciser will then lower themselves until their knees are at least parallel with their hips, all the while keeping their back straight and their core tight.

If performed correctly, the squat can invoke impressive strength gains in muscle groups such as the quadriceps femoris, the gluteus maximus and even the various muscles in the calves.

The Deadlift

The deadlift is considered one of the heaviest compound exercises primarily used in strength training. Often incorporated into many strength training regimens, the deadlift is a multi-muscle group exercise that incorporates the entirety of the posterior chain, the arms, the abdominals and even the quadriceps to an extent.

The deadlift is performed by placing a barbell loaded with a moderate to high amount of weight on the floor. The exerciser will then lower themselves at the hips and knees, maintain as straight a back as possible, and grip the bar at either end.

barbell deadlift

Once secure, the exerciser will then raise the bar to approximately hip or thigh level before repeating the process.

Deadlifts are excellent for developing neurological adaptation to large-scale muscle fiber recruitment owing to the fact that it is an extremely taxing exercise on the central nervous system, inducing impressive changes that are difficult to replicate in other strength training exercises.

The Row

The lightest among these three exercises, the row is primarily a pulling-type compound exercise that focuses specifically on the back muscles such as the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, erector spinae as well as the biceps brachii. 

The row, whether performed with a cable machine, a set of dumbbells or even a barbell, is quite a safe exercise with little risk of injury, making it an excellent addition to any strength building routine.

bent over row

The row is primarily performed by providing a point of resistance some distance away from the torso and drawing it towards the chest of the exerciser as they engage the entirety of their back muscles. 

Depending on the type of equipment being utilized, this can appear in a variety of ways, such as the exerciser leaning over a bench and drawing a dumbbell to their sternum, or the exerciser seated at a cable machine, feet braced, as they pull the pulley cable’s attachment to their breastbone.

What are the Best Power Exercises?

Unlike strength exercises, power-focused exercises often feature an explosive portion of the movement, wherein the source of resistance is moved at high speeds or otherwise accelerated by the force released through the exerciser’s muscles.

Because of this, power exercises are somewhat less suitable for inexperienced weight lifters or those who possess fragile connective tissue, owing to the risk of injury. This may be avoided by ensuring that the exerciser is utilizing proper form, a spotter, protective gear and has a professional monitoring them.

Kettlebell Swings

The kettlebell swing is a highly explosive movement with the ability to activate full body muscular recruitment. Being a closed kinetic chain exercise, the kettlebell swing is an excellent choice for athletes with very little equipment and no space to perform other explosive athletic exercises that often require an open space to do.

To begin, the exerciser will choose a kettlebell of appropriate weight, as one that is too light will have very little muscular hypertrophy induction, and a kettlebell that is too heavy may cause damage to the connective tissues.

The exerciser will then place the kettlebell between their feet, of which are planted approximately shoulder width apart and with the exerciser’s knees bent slightly.

kettlebell swing

Leaning forward at the hips while maintaining a straight back, the exerciser will grip the kettlebell between both hands and swing it between their legs, towards the rear of their body. Care must be taken not to swing it too high, however, as this could be quite painful.

As the kettlebell swings to its furthest point behind the exerciser’s legs, the exerciser will then thrust their hands upwards, simultaneously straightening their hips and knees, producing enough force to move the weight forwards once again.

If performed properly, the kettlebell should rapidly move upwards, reaching as high as the exerciser’s chest. In order to keep control of this fast-moving weight, the exerciser should allow their arms to lock out as it swings above their hips, allowing them to adjust the direction and speed of the kettlebell.

After reaching the apex of its arc, the kettlebell will begin to fall towards the floor. The exerciser must maintain their grip on the weight and follow its descent with their knees and hips, allowing it to once again swing back between their legs. This completes one repetition of the exercise.

Clean and Jerk

The clean and jerk is, in fact, two differing composite exercises combined to form a single explosive chain that may act as a full body muscular activation, inducing hypertrophic growth in nearly all the musculature of the human form.

The clean and jerk is performed by the exerciser resting a barbell loaded with moderate weight against their shins, as if performing a deadlift or barbell row. With a braced core and knees bent, the exerciser will subsequently raise the barbell to their shoulders in a single explosive movement, extending their entire posterior chain and swinging the barbell upwards with great acceleration. 

Care must be taken while performing this in order to avoid injury, either from striking one’s own chin with the barbell or by placing their feet improperly and otherwise losing their balance.

clean and jerk

The first portion of the movement otherwise referred to as the clean, now complete, the exerciser will then perform another explosive chain of movements that raise the barbell as high as possible overhead, pushing the deltoids and various joints in the arms to their full extension. 

The primary driver behind this second movement (the jerk) is that of the legs, which will first descend before rapidly jumping upwards, thrusting the barbell and the exerciser several inches into the air.

The clean and jerk is a rather difficult exercise to perform without prior experience or a coach trained in the Olympic style of weightlifting, and as such should be performed with an empty bar beforehand in order to practice the proper form.

Weighted Sled Drives

Weighted sled drives, otherwise known as the sled push, is a power and endurance hybrid exercise that utilizes the entire bodily muscular structure to exert a significant amount of force against a specialized piece of gym equipment referred to as a “sled”.

The sled is essentially a mobile weight rack that may be loaded with the exerciser's desired weight before being pushed across a smooth or carpeted surface. Owing to the position that pushing the sled requires, nearly every muscle group in the human body is activated while performing this exercise, not only providing excellent power-type training but also endurance training, of both the cardiac and neuromuscular kind.

In order to perform the sled push or weighted sled drive, all that is required is to load the sled with a low amount of weight before placing the exerciser’s hands against the upright handles in either a neutral or supinated position, depending on their individual preference.

weighted sled drives

Leaning forward at the waist and maintaining a straight back, the exerciser will subsequently drive one foot forward and exert as much force as possible throughout their entire body, quite literally pushing the sled forward. The exact speed at which the exerciser should drive the sled depends entirely on the prescribed intensity of their workout routine.

The individual form for this exercise differs between each person’s biomechanics, and should be performed in such a way that the exerciser is comfortable yet still maintaining a straight spinal cord and a fully engaged core. 

References

1. Steven J. Fleck & Kraemer, William J., 'Complex Training, or Contrast Loading' in Designing Resistance Training Programmes, Leeds: Human Kinetics

2. Henwood TR, Taaffe DR. “Improved physical performance in older adults undertaking a short-term programme of high-velocity resistance training”. Gerontology. 2005;51(2):108-15.

3. Sharkey, Brian J. & Gaskill, Steven E. 'Preload and Elastic Recoil' in Fitness and Health, Champaign:Human Kinetics, 2007

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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