Strength vs. Power (What’s the Difference?)

The terms “strength” and “power” often get used interchangeably in online fitness content. The problem being…they’re not interchangeable. These two terms are actually different styles of training with two different styles of programming attached to both.

I think the main confusion comes from the sport of “Power”-lifting, which is ironically a strength based sport…not power. The term power is literally in the name so many individuals start associating the strength style training of powerlifting as training for power.

Weightlifting is actually a far more deserving sport for the title of “power”-lifting as it does encompass the tenants involved in power style training.

So what are the actual differences between strength and power? Here’s what you need to know.

1. What is “Strength”? 

The term “strength” refers to an athletes ability to generate force. That’s it.

There is no time component to strength, therefore “stronger” individuals are simply those who can develop more force, regardless of the time it takes them to do so.

This is why the sport of “power”-lifting, would actually be better fit being called strengthlifting. Because the athletes of powerlifting are using the absolute maximal load that their body can handle in the squat, bench, and deadlift, the speed of these lifts is typically quite slow.

So while they are generating a lot of force, they aren’t generating that force quickly making these lifts a poor example of power style training.

2. Why Train for Strength

Training for strength is a great way to train for life.

Most of your activities in daily life, carrying groceries, holding a child, and just basic human movement are strength movements. There’s very few normal activities you’ll find yourself doing day to day that need to be completed “as quickly as possible” as seen with power movements.

By increasing your overall strength levels you are basically increasing your day to day well-being.

From a sport aspect, training for strength also allows you to train with the highest load. Because there is no time component for strength, load can be increased to max levels. In a power specific program this would not be possible as the increase in load will inevitably lead to a decrease in speed, meaning a decrease in power.

3. What is “Power”?

Power takes into account strength, but also involves how quickly a movement was performed.

Power can be seen as the amount of work completed divided by the time it took to complete the work (work being: force multiplied by displacement). Put practically you could derive the power of an athlete by looking at the work completed (the load on the bar) multiplied by how far the athlete moved the bar (displacement) divided by the time it took to complete.

Because higher power involves higher levels of speed, you won’t see quite as much load utilized in power style training relative to strength training.

Weightlifting (the clean and jerk and the snatch) as well as plyometrics (box jumps, power skips, etc.) are great examples of power as athletes have to generate a high degree of force in a short period of time to complete the movements at a high level.

4. Why Train for Power

Power tends to be a discipline more dominantly focused on by athletes.

This is why you’ll see so many collegiate level strength and conditioning programs focusing on the olympic lifts like the clean and jerk, as well as plyometric exercises.

Power is often a commonly needed attribute across multiple sports. Sprinters need to be able to generate force quickly off the line, offensive and defensive lines clashing in football can often be decided by who the more powerful athlete is, and sports like baseball and tennis require fast force generation to swing the equipment bearing arm.

While maybe not so common in day to day life, there’s few areas where increased power won’t result in increased performance for most athletes.

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.