Improving Speed and Explosiveness for Power Sports

With the exception of the sport of power lifting, where the goal is to lift as much load as possible, regardless of the time it takes, an athlete’s performance in most other sports is determined by speed, power and explosiveness.  In sports such as football, hockey, basketball, track and field, etc. it is not enough to just be strong.  Athletes need to be able to produce high levels of force in a very short period of time.  In his book, ‘Supertraining,’ Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky refers to this as the “Rate of Force Development” (RFD) or “Rate of Tension Development” (RTD).

When training for any sport where speed and explosiveness are important, which as I previously mentioned is just about every sport, the end goal should always be an improvement in the rate at which an athlete can develop force or an increase in the RFD.  This sounds easier then it actually is.  This improvement in RFD can only be achieved through the proper periodization of both strength and speed phases through an off season training regimen.  This article will give an in-depth look at how to appropriately periodize an off season training regimen to improve speed, power and RFD.

As many people know, if you want to increase RFD you must be doing plyometrics, right? The truth is that although plyometrics can play an important role in athletic development, if those exercises are not performed properly and during the correct phase, they may have a detrimental effect on an athlete and their performance.  Starting at a young age, athletes are performing extremely high volumes of plyometric exercises often with out even knowing it.  For instance, one of the most ‘plyometric’ exercises an athlete can perform is sprinting (as measured by the amount of force it places on the body). Since many sports that young athletes play (i.e. soccer and basketball) consist of a high volume of sprinting, their bodies start adapting to the effects of plyometric exercises at a very early age.  Due to the fact that many sports have such a high volume of sprinting and jumping exercises (i.e. volleyball) it would seem logical that adding more jumping into the strength and conditioning program would be counterproductive, especially for a young athlete that has not yet built the strength through his/her soft tissue system (muscles and connective tissue) to withstand the force of plyometrics. Too commonly strength and conditioning coaches, personal trainers and sport specific coaches prescribe jumping exercises to young athletes in an effort to increase power however if the volume reaches a higher level than the individual can withstand the athlete can start to develop overuse injuries such as  patella tentonitis (jumpers knee), achillies tendonitis, or a host of other issues.  Coaches must keep in mind that power is defined as Force x Velocity (P=FxV).  An appropriate training program would dictate that an improvement in power will not only come from plyometric training to increase velocity, but also through the improvement in the athlete’s ability to develop force (aka strength).

In his book, ‘Periodization Training For Sport’, Tudor O. Bompa states “For speed sports, power represents a great source of speed improvement. A fast sprinter is also strong. High acceleration, fast limb movement and high frequency are possible when strong muscles contract quickly and powerfully.”  He then goes on to describe how improvement in a muscle’s, or group of muscles’, ability to produce force will have a direct improvement in power development.  Strength is the basis for all biomotor abilities (i.e. speed, power, explosiveness, endurance, etc.). Without an increase in strength, an athlete will only have the ability to develop so much power and speed before they hit their ceiling.  Through the proper implementation of strength training regimens and appropriate off season periodization a coach should focus on increasing their athlete’s strength first and foremost.  Once an improvement in maximal strength is achieved, the athlete then has a platform to transfer their gained strength into more fast contracting movements through the implementation of plyometric exercises.  As an athlete progresses closer to their competition season it would be prudent of the coach to add in ballistic movements such as jumping, bounding and sprinting to help improve the athlete’s RFD.  However prior to the ‘transformation phase’ the main goal of the coach and the athlete should be an increase in maximal strength.  Bottom line, just get strong!

By: Bobby DeThomasis

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