What you need to know if the goal is to increase strength and power!

In previous blog entries I have discussed how strength and power are necessary components of any sport.  All sports have a particular requirement or X factor of power needed to perform at an optimum level.  This performance is also influenced by biomechanical issues as well as cardiovascular capabilities. We will only be discussing strength and power training in this entry.



What is strength?  Strength in its simplest form is your ability to generate a force.  If you put your hands against a wall and push as hard as you can you are generating a maximum force.  The greater the force production the slower the velocity of movement will be.  If the wall starts to move when you are pushing against it your force production diminishes as the wall moves.  The faster the movement the less force is being produced.  Therefore maximum strength is dependent on not only your ability to generate a force, but also the direction of the force, velocity, and the time you generate the force within.  When I talk about direction I am referring more too concentric vs eccentric vs isometric movements.  In other words are you performing negatives (eccentric) positive (concentric) or a hold (isometric).


Force Velocity Relationship: All of these different directions influence the force that is being produced.  When velocity is lower force production can be increased and when velocity is high force production diminishes.  There is an optimum level where velocity and force production come together to obtain maximum power. 


A golfer looks at club head speed, tennis player at the speed of the racket.  As the speed increases the ball travels longer or faster.  In golf, the speed of the club is based on the back swing which creates an eccentric load on the muscles engaged and then a concentric muscle action as the club approaches the ball.  The club speed is influenced by a number of different factors.  One of the main factors in the absolute speed of the club is the change from eccentric to concentric when the swing goes from back swing to forward swing. This also applies to tennis when changing from back swing to fore swing.    If the muscles involved in the swing have a high speed contraction with maximum force the club will be accelerating at a greater rate.  If the transition is slower the club will be producing less power because the velocity during the time of transition until hitting the ball is not as rapid.  So one must evaluate what the necessary force and velocity is needed to generate the optimum power. This force comes up from the ground through the feet and into the kinetic chain that will then transfer to the movement for the most desired result.    Now, what can make golf and tennis so difficult is the athlete must be able to regulate the power with a high degree of accuracy in order to adjust for different distances and placement.  It is one thing to give it all you can, but a completely different skill to be able to fine tune the power.  In golf different clubs help in this process.  If not you would only need one club.  Of course executing at a percentage of maximum power multiple times is what will win games.  In cycling the muscle contraction is all concentric.  There is not a negative or isometric hold.  The cyclist can determine power output by shifting the gear to create greater force production.  The cyclist will determine at what velocity satisfies the need for power most efficiently.   The cyclist recognizes that if too many matches are burned early on they will not be able to call upon that power when it may be needed most.  So cycling becomes a game of conservation of energy and not just going hard to impress. 


Rate of Force Development (RFD) is an important concept in sport and where a lot of time is spent when developing training strategy.  If you think about the physics of moving a mass then a greater RFD would produce greater movement of a mass.  In sport that mass is your body in multi-directions.  This translates into better first step, vertical jump, lateral movement and ability to produce power.  Most of this power comes from the hips and your ground force reaction.

So how does understanding this help you with your training?  If you understand the basic concepts of force production, RFD and how it applies to your sport you can better develop a strategy that will produce the greatest improvement in your strength and conditioning. 

For example, at Sirens and Titans we will utilize a Versa pulley to help us develop power in all planes of movement.  The video above demonstrates a power exercise with velocity and force being measured by the Versapulley in a readout.   This plane of movement is common in sport but harder to get proper loading because of the direction of movement and gravity. 


In summary:

So a number of questions have to be answered when developing the strategy for training an athlete.  What is the baseline of RFD and maximum force production?  This will dictate the overload in the training and where the most time should be spent.  Overload can be looked at in the volume of work, intensity of work and how often the work is being completed. 

Where is the greatest inefficiency in addressing maximum force production and RFD? Is the gap in production of power laterally, forward, backward, up?  When we talk about sport specific, what are the speeds of force production necessary to win at the elite level of a particular sport?   Is the velocity needed more after an initial movement or from a velocity of zero?  This concept is as important as understanding the different planes of power needed. 

For example, at Sirens and Titans we will utilize a Versa pulley to help us develop power laterally.  This plane of movement is common in sport but harder to get proper loading because of the direction of movement and gravity. 

So strength and power are a major component of your training, but first you must understand what it really means to your sport before developing your training strategy and tactics. 


Truth in Fitness,

Jacques DeVore, CSCS