I learned recently while re-reading through Mark Lauren’s book that, in regards to physical strength, the two words strength and power, which often seem to be used rather interchangeably to mean the same thing when saying something like, “He’s really strong” or “He’s pretty powerful”, do not have the same definitions. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, considering that there are lot of words we technically use incorrectly without realizing it. As a kid I used to say, “I’m anxious about X thing” to express extreme excitement. But I digress.
Muscular strength apparently refers to one’s ability to move a weight through a certain distance, like maybe grabbing onto the chin up bar and pulling your entire body weight to the chin up position. It requires a certain amount of muscular strength to do that even once just, and if you and your friend can each only only do it once, then both of you have the same muscular strength. And obviously, you can have varying personal degrees of muscular strength throughout your body if, say, you only ever focus on upper body strength during workouts and have twigs for legs. Power is a little different. Power is determined by how fast you can move that weight while doing something like a chin up. So if you and your friend again can each only do one rep of a chinup, but you can do it faster than your friend, then you have more power than your friend while having equal strength.
I feel that when we work out, many of us already focus on developing both power and strength without even realizing it. The two just kind of go hand in hand and occur naturally, an example being when the person holding your feet for situps is urging you to do them faster. I find that actually knowing the difference between the two is very empowering. I can now decide when designing a workout whether I want to specifically focus on building one or the other, or both.
For strength focus, you can intentionally slow the movements down below your normal pace, placing emphasis on the down movement, and suddenly those 10 reps you used to bang out no problem will become significantly more difficult. This will help increase strength because it will feel like you are lifting more weight, and as a result you will have to work harder than normal to complete the same amount of reps. Focusing on developing power seems to often involve, but not exclusively, doing movements in an explosive fashion. What I mean by that is rather that just going down and back up like normal, when you come up you are exerting enough power to launch yourself up into the air. This can be with all kinds of exercises, and be easily modified for varying degrees of difficulty. Here’s an example of an exercise I have been doing lately, called Toyotas, that helps develop explosive power in the legs. All you do is go down into the squat position, place your hands on the floor, and then throw your hands up over your head while jumping as high as you can.
So, there you have it; strength vs. power. This information is of course nothing new, but if you were like me and did not know the difference until now, I am glad to say you have been enlightened. And you can now begin looking into this more in depth to learn more about it, should you feel intrigued.