How to Strength Train for Speed and Power

Proper technique in weight training and conditioning is critical and the coach or other professionally trained supervisor must watch over all activities performed by the athletes.

Multiple time Olympic Lifting Head Coach for Team USA, Roger Nielsen covers the proper teaching progression for the power clean.

Proper training programs include teaching progressions with lower weights until the technique is safe to execute with more training loads. Using the teaching methods from 

The best lifting exercises to achieve explosive strength are the olympic lifts. The snatch, clean and jerk and assorted variations are the cornerstone of high level speed and power programs.

For track and field, weightlifting is a must for the speed and power events. These events include the shot put, discus throw, hammer throw, javelin throw, long jump, triple jump, pole vault, high jump, 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters and 800 meters. The decathlon and heptathlon are also considered a speed and power events, since all the events except the 1500m run for men are in the speed and power category.

Strength training programs deliver physical and physiological strategies to enhance the athletic capabilities to maximize performance. Programming is designed based on scientifically proven training principles and theories from interdisciplinary research to improve the musculoskeletal system, the neuromuscular system, metabolic energy systems and other physiological and physical needs.

Strength training programs blend several types of movements using a combination of barbells, dumbbells, functional equipment and bodyweight movements. All the training methods used need to have a purpose and need to be systematically organized to maximize competition performance.

Strength training programs now have fewer distinctions between strength, conditioning and specialized skill development, however, all training methods have one common purpose; to optimize athletic performance when it matters most.

The speed and power events require speed, strength and technique, all three qualities can be improved with proper strength training. Because of the short duration to develop high rates of force in the speed and power events, maximum force values cannot be generated in competition. Training with less resistance will develop force rapidly, training with high levels of resistance will produce force more slowly. By combining different ranges of speed and resistance into a training program, power can be maximized.

In the speed and power events, high intensity maximal strength training generates the capacity to create high levels of force and improve athletic performance by increasing the strength levels of larger muscle groups.

Maximal concentric efforts from lifting heavier weights can enhance the rate of force development and will elicit an increase in rapid force capacity during muscle contractions (Maffiuletti, et al. 2016). However, maximal strength should not be overemphasized in workouts, other than training the shot put.

In addition to traditional strength training movements, improving sport specific qualities with exercises that emphasize specific force or specific speed are important for optimal performance in the speed and power events.

In the speed and power events, all movements are performed under .250 seconds, including the shot put, therefore, the rate of force development is more important than maximal force in training. For success in explosive sporting movements “the rate of force development rather than maximal strength itself is a deciding factor” (Zatsiorsky & Kraemer, 2006 p. 157). 

Maximal Efforts and Dynamic Efforts

Alternating between maximal power efforts and dynamic power efforts within a microcycle can develop initial rate of force development and high rates of force production. Front loading maximal and submaximal training early in the week and dynamic power efforts or reactive strength later in the week is a common approach during the season for speed and power events.

Compatibility Training

Matching abilities within a session or training cycle is an important part of proper training program design. Knowing what to train and what other types of movements best match will provide a solid framework for outlining workout sessions.

In the sprints and jumps, explosive exercises such as olympic lifting should be performed on speed or jumping days. Exercises that require more resistance and maximal force are paired with speed days or other intensive workouts. 

In the throwing events, the three main components of training are strength, speed and technique. Although all three elements are developed concurrently within a microcycle, each session should have a central theme to improve one specific component. For example, a strength based theme session would involve throwing heavier implements for specific strength and traditional strength training exercises like the squat and bench variations to develop maximal power or maximal strength.

Strength training methods for track and field athletes focus on neuromuscular factors, not hypertrophy.  The force of the muscle contraction and the velocity of the muscle contraction are both important in track and field events, training the neuromuscular system properly will produce an impulse with high levels of force in the shortest time possible.

Since force and velocity are inversely related, different methods are required to optimize each variable. Effective strength training will optimize timing, magnitude of force, power, force development in movements that will impact sports performance.

Objectives of Strength Training

  • Increase maximal strength (force production independent of time)
  • Increase speed (initial rate of force production)
  • Increase power (strength and speed)
  • Improve event specific abilities (strength and speed)
  • Improve general muscular strength


Terms to Know For Speed and Power

  • Strength is the ability of the neuromuscular system to produce force including (sub-maximal, maximal and relative strength)
  • Rate of Force Development (RFD) is the rate at which muscular force can be applied
  • Peak Rate of Force Development (PRFD) is associated with explosive strength and is related to the ability to accelerate objects including body mass
  • Power – Rate of doing work
  • Work = Force x Distance
  • Peak Power – Highest instantaneous power value found over a range of motion
  • Plyometrics activities are an eccentric contraction followed immediately by a rapid concentric action

Season Planning

During the early phases of training, the volume starts higher and intensity is lower. As the athlete moves toward the competitive season, training volumes are decreased as intensity is increased. A similar approach is taken with running, jumping, and throwing volume and intensity for the speed and power events in track and field.

Training Cycle 1

Linear periodization is used to start a new macrocycle to develop muscular endurance with general preparation exercises, specific preparation exercises and simple specific development exercises are used in the first training cycle, which last 3-6 weeks. Initial performance is improved during the first training cycle because of cooperation between muscles and technical improvements as the body adapts to a new stimulus.

Next Training Cycles

After the first cycle is complete, a new cycle is started, training shifts to higher intensity movements and more sport specific training with more complex exercises. Strength training will focus on power (strength and speed based) and complex specific development exercises for several training cycles (6-12 weeks). Strength improvement is a result of training at higher intensity and adding more complex specific exercises.

After multiple weeks of power development (speed and strength) training will shift to focus on maximal strength and submaximal power efforts. High intensity training with lower repetitions and more sets in the pressing movements, squats and olympic lifting will increase power output and strength. High force output will be the focus on the program twice a week with two additional training sessions to develop other needs such as reactive strength or strength endurance can be included. Maximal strength training is only recommended for 3-4 weeks because of the extreme intensity of training.

Coaching Point: a single maximal strength training session can be added every third or fourth week to stimulate a neural response in more powerful athletes. 

Peak Phase

During the peak phase, reducing the training volume by 50-60% while maintaining intensity is important. Eliminating high intensity plyometrics and intensive medicine ball throws before a major meet is recommended. Moderate to heavy resistance for submaximal power including the bench press or power clean (not squats) can be used if the volume and intensity is relatively low (3x3 at 75%) up to 48 hours prior to a championship event.

Sprinters and jumpers should submaximal power based exercises at 75-80% once a week along with dynamic power based exercises at 50-70% for speed once a week.

Throwers need to train at submaximal efforts (70-85%) and maximal power efforts (85%+) once a week in olympic lifting exercises and pressing movements and submaximal efforts (70-85%)  in the squats. Dynamic power efforts at 50-70% in olympic, lifting, presses and squats should be performed once week during the peak phase for the throwing events.

Sample Program Plan from Damon Davis at Auburn University

  • Dynamic Warm-Up General to Specific Warm-Up
  • Olympic Variation Lift (snatch, clean, jerk)
  • Ground Based Multi-Joint Leg Exercise (squat or pull)
  • Posterior Chain Lower Body Exercise (RDL, Glute/Ham, Good mornings)
  • Pressing Exercise (bench, incline, push press)
  • Posterior Chain Upper Body Exercise (Pull-ups, Bent-Rows, Inverted Rows)
  • Core Work (MB throws, rotational work, linear abdominals)

Strength Training Review

Strength training is only one aspect of an athlete’s program, however, the entire training session must have continuity. Track and field practice and strength training sessions must develop similar qualities such as speed, strength or endurance independently. The accumulation of well-timed specific training with purpose will result in optimal athletic performance.

The objective of strength training for track and field athletes will optimize the qualities related to muscular development needed for maximum performance. 



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