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Power gym training for athletes

Les Archer explains how to train for power and provides some example exercises.

When visiting a gym, one will find many an athlete doing all sorts of exercises with all kinds of reps and sets. The question is, why are you going to the gym and why are you doing resistance training? When power is your goal, training should be as follows:

Training goal Load Reps Sets Rest Between Sets
1 rep 80-90% 1 - 2 3 - 5 2 - 3 min
Multiple reps 75-85% 3 - 5 3 - 5 2 - 4 min

Important to note here is the rest. Many athletes train by rushing the program. This is pointless as it takes 2 to 5 minutes for the neural system to recover from what has just been done. Power training and speed training depends on optimal neural recruitment for maximal performance. Therefore you would train maximally by working according to the recovery time. If you rest for less than the two minutes, the session will become just another endurance or hypertrophy session, and little power gains will be made.

Training for power means taxing the neuromuscular system, and with the prescribed rest, the system will have recovered sufficiently to perform another 'fast' action. Remember it important to have a fast action. Therefore, make sure the weights that you choose allow you to move it fast. Moving a lighter weight 0.5 sec faster, than a 10kg heavier weight 0.5 sec slower, will result in less power developed. See the Rationale section below.

The power exercises

These exercises are often referred to as explosive, core or total body exercises. Muscles involved are the following: gluteal, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, core area muscles, calves, shoulders, upper shoulder, upper back and upper arms.

  1. Clean (power clean or hang clean)
  2. Snatch
  3. Push press or push jerk
  4. ½ squat

These are, by far the most explosive exercises an athlete could do in the gym.

Advanced power gym training

The above mentioned are the traditional methods. Following here are a few modified exercises of the more traditional exercises and are only to be tried with athletes that have mastered the traditional exercises and have a good general strength base.

Squat and vertical jump

After completing a set of 3 to 5 reps of half squats, immediately do 1 to 3 reps of tuck jumps or vertical jumps. This can also be done with lunge jumps with weights followed by lunge jumps without weights.

Squat jumps

With the bar on the shoulders or dumbbells in your hands do 3 to 5 reps of ½ squat jumps. Make sure you stabilize to help keep your balance. If unsure and not confident, perform this exercise on the seated leg press machine or the hack squat machine.

Bench press throw

With this exercise, make sure you have two spotters, one on each side of the bar. Choose a weight of between 30 to 50% 1RM. Lower the bar and push it back up by exploding with it and try to throw it and with the help of the spotters, catch it again. This is a hazardous exercise, but very useful. If uncertain, do the bench press followed by a plyometric push up (start in a push-up position. Lower your body slowly and push off as fast as possible to lift your hands off the surface and 'catch' yourself before you land on your face by landing on your hands again) or do a few medicine ball throws.


The secret of power training in the gym is not to move big weights but the speed of movement with lighter weights.

Power is all about Watt output. So, if you are a female athlete weighing 60kg, and you lift a 30kg weight into a snatch end position of 1.95m up from the ground in a time of 6.2 sec, and you are doing three reps. Your Watt output will be calculated as follows:

Determine the WEIGHT of the bar (N=Newtons), WORK (Joules) and POWER (Watts):

  • Weight = 9.8m/s² X 30kg = 294 N
  • Work = 294 N X 1.95m X 3 = 1719.9 J (1720 J)
  • Power = 1720J / 6.2 sec = 277 Watt output

Now consider the same athlete doing the same exercise but using a weight of 40kg x 3 reps in a time of 9.5 sec. (Logically one would think that there should be a more significant Watt output)

  • Weight = 9.8m/s² X 40kg = 392 N
  • Work = 392N X 1.95M X 3 = 2293 J
  • Power = 2293 J / 9.5 sec = 241 Watt output. (36 Watt output less)

If, however, you could lift the 40kg in less time, your Watt output will improve and thus your power. In physics, power is precisely defined as 'the time rate of doing work'. Although the word strength is often associated with slow speeds and power with high speeds of movement, both reflect the ability to exert force at a given speed.

Science tells us exactly how to train for power. I find it amazing that in this modern day and age, some coaches and athletes persist with lifting heavy weights, which is good but, not having the athletes recover sufficiently blows the mind. Or having athletes perform 3 to 5 sets with repetitions anywhere between 12 and 20 is beyond me.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • ARCHER, L. (2005) Power gym training for athletes. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 19 / February), p. 9-10

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • ARCHER, L. (2005) Power gym training for athletes [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Les Archer is a track and field coach in South Africa with experience from schools to the Olympics specialising in sprints and long jump. He is also the current strength and conditioning coach for the Golden Lions rugby union in South Africa.