02. Experts Corner

The Truth About Athletic Power

April 28, 2021

I'm proud of my four sons. Two achieved incredible things in Olympic Weightlifting, breaking a number of British U23 and schoolboy records, and two played for Manchester United's First Team and Reserves. All of them have become exceptional coaches in their fields. However it's Shaun, the youngest, who epitomizes something I've always believed about 'power' - it's much less about brawn and strength, and more about speed and agility. There's a video here of him launching almost twice his bodyweight from the floor into the air.

Power Versus Strength

Most people might think it looks like raw strength, but in fact it's dominantly explosive power where speed is absolutely critical. Surprisingly, if you suddenly removed the bar mid-lift he would literally shoot up into the air! In fact, one of the training exercises my lads did early on was two footed jumps onto mats from standing – launching up onto a pile stacked neck high!

With those sorts of forces, you need agility and skill to make sure every muscle and joint channel that power in the most bio-mechanically efficient way. When it comes to Olympic Weightlifters, it's better to think of their closest athletic contemporaries being gymnasts rather than strongmen.

I took what I learned from coaching Olympic Weight-Lifting at the international level, and applied it to my sons' football careers. The results? They earned their places at the world's biggest sports club, and it was primarily through physical prowess, rather than talent. This stood out to the coaches at Manchester United, as well as 'the boss' Sir Alex Ferguson, which is why they hired me at a time when strength and conditioning was virtually non-existent in the Premier League. Carrying the baton, my eldest son Michael Clegg, is now the First Team's strength and power coach.

The Ronaldo Example

Building up power was something I focused on a lot with Cristiano Ronaldo in daily training during his meteoric 6-year rise with the club. You can see in this slow-motion video the sheer power he has developed over his career, jumping off one foot with phenomenal height while mid-sprint.

A true athlete in every sense of the word, and unlike most other pro soccer players, Ronaldo would obsessively practice every move and every skill to the Nth degree. In this way he epitomizes athletic power, combining dynamic muscular ability with extremely precise motor-skills.

The Takeaway

The key point here? The truth about power for performance development, is that athletes need strength combined with speed and agility, far more than raw strength. For example, with a typical pro football player, it's not about giving them an extra 5 or 10kilos of muscle weight to lug 10km around a pitch - it's about increasing their body's physical outputs in ways that can be applied explosively, efficiently, and consistently, to the demands on the field.

As power development coach at Manchester United for 11 years, I met a lot of top strength and conditioning coaches. This wasn't only in the EPL, but also in sports like the NFL while on tours with the club around the USA. What I found was a myth that power comes from primarily from strength, and with that, too much emphasis on building up muscle, rather than a focused understanding on how it actually relates to performance on the field.

It's much better to think of athletes the way engineers think about Formula 1 - power-to-weight ratio efficiency! What I learned over decades of coaching my lads, is that you can increase power a hell of a lot of with the same body mass.

If you're interested to find out more insights from what I learned coaching Cristiano Ronaldo, you can also read my previous blog.

Mastering Performance the Ronaldo Way

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