The powerful athlete

Updated: Nov 15, 2018

In 1781, the story goes, James Watt needed to convince skeptics to buy his new invention - a steam engine - instead of relying on their horses for farm work. To prove how amazing his new machine was, he came up with a way to measure just how powerful a typical horse is when turning a grindstone in a mill - and named it: Horsepower. His new steam engine could do the work of 35 horses. 35 Horsepower.

In modern days, when we think of horsepower, we immediately think of cars. Given two nearly identical cars the one with more horsepower will get from 0 to 60 mph faster and have a higher top speed. Certain models of a Ford Mustang can do the work of 700 horses. My family’s Prius - a mere 121...

This is pretty easy to understand when comparing cars, but humans are not that much different. In the momentary dash of a flat-out sprint, the average cyclist can eke out a single horsepower. Pro pedalers can generate twice that. But by improving your maximal power output - even slightly - you’ll find you can accelerate faster and reach notably higher top speeds. This holds true in running, cycling, swimming, rowing, swinging or any sport movement you can think of. Athletes who possess power are able to combine elements of speed and strength to quickly blow by an opponent. So take a moment to think about the power you are bringing to your sport. Is your current training helping to build you into someone with horsepower like a Mustang … or someone more like my family’s Prius?

In sports like sprinting, runners are very powerful, but usually for short bursts. At Performance Strength Lab, we also work extensively with ultra endurance athletes. Long distance endurance events require power, but power that is developed in an intentional manner, so it is easily converted into muscular endurance. For example, one of our athletes who is currently training for a marathon was recently able to increase her power just enough to increase her running stride by 1 cm. One. That’s it. That sounds like such a small gain, but given that a runner performs 50,000 strides during a marathon, this slight power improvement positions her to finish almost two minutes faster than in her last race. Sometimes two minutes is all it takes to qualify for Boston. Also, as they say, at some point all marathon runners have to sprint to the finish line. And who will cross the finish line first? The runner with more “horsepower”.

At Performance Strength Lab we believe power is the great equalizer in sports. It lies at the intersection of speed and strength and in turn, we have observed first hand how increases in power improve our athletes’ abilities. With every athlete that I have the opportunity to work with, my goal is to improve their ability to produce power in their chosen sport - whether that is for running, cycling, swimming, golf or field sports - while remaining injury free.

Our power-focused training approach accomplishes exactly this. Our athletes cycle through select movements that research shows increase power, without increasing risk of injury, all with a deep understanding of which movements will directly improve our athletes’ sports-specific performance. We are able to incorporate non-traditional tools, which not only keep it fresh and fun, but also have the added benefit of improving motor control. Athletes that train using our approach notice improvements in power and motor control as soon as 4-6 weeks into their training.

In September our next block of power-focused training is kicking off. We’re excited to see our athletes become even more powerful before the end of the year - to see them build their horsepower and continue on their journey towards being the Mustang-version of themselves. We’re headed there. Are you coming?

Written By Coach Joe Beckerley owner of Performance Strength Lab. A high performance gym based out of Santee, California where he offers his expertise in strength and conditioning, nutrition and training for endurance events. Coach Beckerley holds a bachelors degree in Instructional Technology, is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, USA Triathlon L2 Coach, USA Weightlifting L2 Advanced Sports Performance Coach, Ironman Coach and a Youth Fitness and Nutrition Specialist. contact him directly at

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