Muscular Strength vs. Power: Why You Need Both and How to Measure Them

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Most sports require strength, power, and muscular endurance.
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Strength and power are sometimes used interchangeably, but though they're similar, there are distinctions when you say someone is strong vs. powerful. Understanding the difference between strength and power can help you select exercises and strategies to achieve your fitness goals.

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While excelling in some sports requires a greater proportion of one type of muscular ability, most sports require all three. Your ability to move weight, move it with speed and continue moving it for extended periods of time will help you be a better all-around athlete.

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Strength, power and endurance are all forms of muscular ability. Strength is the ability to move heavy weight, power is the ability to move weight with speed, and endurance is the ability to perform many repetitions.

Strength Is Force Against Resistance

Muscular strength is defined as the ability of your nervous and muscular systems to produce enough force in your connective tissues and muscles to move an external force, such as weight or your body against gravity.

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Strength and power are often confused, but the main difference is speed, according to ExRx.net. Unlike power, strength requires no quick movements to produce force and is instead expressed by slower, controlled movements.

For example, a strong person may take 3 to 5 seconds to stand up during a barbell squat, but a powerful person can stand back up in 1 second. The most common sports where strength is required include weightlifting, football, wrestling, boxing, track and field and rowing.

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Strength can be measured based on the amount of weight lifted for a single rep. This is referred to as a one-rep max, or 1RM. Upper-body and lower-body strength are measured separately. Strength tests include the bench press for upper body, the squat for lower body and the deadlift for lower back and leg assessments.

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Relative strength is a measure of strength based on body size, expressed by a ratio of weight lifted to body weight. For example, if two people lifted the same weight, the person who weighs less has greater relative strength.

Power Is Speed Plus Strength

Adding a dose of speed to strength can make you feel like superhero performing superhuman feats. But simply being strong doesn't always translate to being powerful. According to Sports Fitness Advisor, you can be exceptionally strong, but if you cannot contract your muscles quickly, then you're not powerful.

The muscular power definition is explosiveness, the ability to move weight with speed, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). For example, a strong lower body can do a heavy squat slowly, but it can't necessarily generate the power to do the same lift with speed. The definition of power is producing the greatest amount of force in the shortest possible time.

With the exception of powerlifting, most power exercises — vertical jumps, lateral hops, kettlebell swings and more — are performed repetitively to improve speed, stamina and reflexes. Common power sports include Olympic weightlifting, track and field, boxing, football and ice hockey.

Endurance Is Strength Over Time

To explain the relationship between muscular strength and endurance, think of it like this: Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to exert sub-maximal force against resistance for an extended period of time. Often, the resistance is the body itself. The measurement of muscular endurance is based on the number of reps performed.

But endurance is specific to the assessment. That means the ability to perform upper-body exercises many times is separate from the ability to perform lower-body or ab exercises many times. Tests for muscular endurance include push-ups, pull-ups and dips for the upper body and sit-ups for the abs. Lower-body endurance can be assessed with squats.

Endurance sports include distance cycling and running, track and field, swimming, skiing and rowing.

Sets and Reps Based on Goals

Training is specific to your goals, per the ACE. The number of sets, reps and speed will vary between strength, power and endurance training.

Building strength requires progressive overload (gradually increasing the amount of resistance) at a higher weight and lower reps, performed with control. Aim for 2 to 6 sets of 1 to 5 reps with a lifting intensity of 85 to 100 percent of your 1RM, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Take longer rest periods between sets — 2 to 5 minutes — to give your muscles a chance to recover and prepare for the next set.

Power training is similar to strength training, but the speed is increased and there's less rest between sets. You'll perform explosive movements geared to specific skill development.

You may also use supersets or circuits, which are a series of 2 to 5 muscular strength and power moves performed back-to-back. A general goal is 3 to 5 sets of 1 to 3 reps at 80 to 85 percent of your 1RM.

Endurance training is based on progressively increasing the time you do an exercise. Workouts consist of lower weights and higher reps, typically 3 sets of 15 to 25 reps at 20 to 70 percent of your 1RM. Shorter rest periods between sets — 30 to 60 seconds — increase fatigue levels for the next set and help improve your endurance over time.

Train Strength, Power and Endurance

Strength training alone can only get you so far in maximizing your athletic abilities. While you can build strength without higher power training, you're less likely to gain power with only strength training. So if you're doing activities that require quick bursts of energy (sprinting, HIIT, etc.), you should combine muscular strength and power training.

In a June 2007 study in ​Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise​, researchers found that subjects who performed 12 weeks of power and strength training had greater improvements in jump height and more power output in jump squats than those who just did strength training.

But training is also sport-specific, not one-size-fits-all. Your individual training program should reflect the weight and rep demands of your sport or fitness goals. It can be helpful to consult a coach or personal trainer to get help assessing your strength, power and endurance. They can also help you set reasonable goals and provide you with a training plan for reaching them.

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