by DAVE MIKEL, as published by Viva Loudoun

Year in and year out the one common misconception athletes, their parents and often times many coaches have is that working out and lifting weights will make them slower, stiffer and more muscle bound. In my 15+ years as a professional, collegiate and high school strength & conditioning coach there has always been the consistent correlation that the fastest or quickest athletes were also the most powerful athletes. Those individuals who could jump the farthest and highest were also the fastest running backs, most explosive point guards, best sprinters, most dominating and explosive outside hitters, or pitchers with the most consistent velocity in the game! The NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL players who can accelerate the fastest are most often the ones who can successfully explode with submaximal training loads in exercises such as the squat jump or power squat.  Agility, quickness and speed are definitely synonymous with the rate of performing work, or in other words, power.

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The most important variable an athlete should work to improve is something known as rate of force development. Simply put, this is the initial acceleration when you start to run or jump. Improving the skill of the movement is the first step in training rate of force development. Any qualified and certified strength coach must first teach an athlete how to properly squat and recruit their posterior chain, glutes and hamstrings which are needed in most athletic movements (running, jumping, landing and stopping). At Performance Edge we constantly see young athletes who are not able to properly use their own body to their competitive advantage because their techniques in athletic movements are lacking and underdeveloped. Once the individual athlete becomes proficient at controlling his/her body weight, then we can move into higher level training. Quite often aspiring athletes try to progress too quickly and attempt to perform technical and complex weight training exercises, such as Olympic lifting, before demonstrating proper postural control.

Once quality biomechanical movements have been obtained through properly demonstrated and cued coaching, a solid foundation of strength development is crucial prior to developing power. Numerous scientific research studies published by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the American College of Sports Medicine point to a clear correlation between absolute strength and power development in young inexperienced athletes. I often try to equate to parents how not developing strength for a young athlete prior to working on plyometric, speed and agility movements would be as unrealistic as building a fancy penthouse on top of a skyscraper, and then putting very little time and materials into the buildings foundation. It will look good for a while but ultimately you will be looking at some very serious problems down the road. The bottom line is, if you strengthen your lower body, you will become more powerful.

Once strength is increased, each individual athlete must learn how to train with the intent to move or accelerate weight training loads. As indicated above power is a product of force x velocity. If you wish to become more powerful, you must intend to move weight as fast as possible regardless of whether or not the load is heavy or light. Therefore, if you are squatting with a heavy weight, you must try to move the bar up as fast as possible even though the movement speed of the bar might be slow. Your intention to move the weight quickly elicits the neuromuscular response of those muscle fiber types (a.k.a. fast twitch fibers) making them more powerful. Being more focused on every repetition performed is crucial to your power gains. Without the intent to move more explosively you are just working on strength and/or conditioning!

After training with heavier weights and consciously intending to explode concentrically (contracting or shortening the muscle) a more specific methodology of power enhancement may be needed to continually progress more capable or higher level athletes to the next level. Many young aspiring athletes are often not prepared for what is instore for them physically, if they are fortunate enough to attain a collegiate athletic scholarship. Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 1.59.00 PMThe volume and intensity of a collegiate strength training program, coupled with the complexity of the playbook, work load and ever increasing competition often leads to unforeseen and unfortunate injuries. As a result, the strength coach must analyze the sport and determine the specific muscular contractions, necessary energy systems, and applicable workloads needed for success and development. The needs of a lineman (tremendous starting power), and that of a volleyball or basketball player (great reactive strength) differ, therefore having them constantly train with the same loads and volume would not be beneficial to their specific needs.

Power development is not the same for all sports. Based on a force velocity curve represented above and below in Figures A and B, the max strength to strength-speed relationship is much more important for a lineman vs. the speed-strength to max speed relationship for that of an outside hitter, point guard or receiver with regard to their individual 1 rep max strength. There is a higher force produced compared to the velocity attained in playing a lineman in football than there would be for a 100 meter sprinter. The velocity of the sprinter would greatly exceed that of the lineman because the force needed to move a lighter weight requires less force and more force is required to move opposing lineman. Both need power, but each need a specific type of power. Whatever the specific requirement, training must then follow to improve those particular qualities of the individual, sport and position. Specificity of training, science based programing, along with certified and experienced coaching is essential to development and results!

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 1.59.11 PMA final and often forgotten element of power development is the component of deceleration. Think of a volleyball player who is rushing up preparing to receive a set, as they approach their take off point momentum is trying to carry them into the net and over the line. If they have the ability to quickly stop and redirect their downward and forward momentum in the opposite direction they will have more success in producing lift (jumping) and hitting the ball toward its intended destination. Training the ability to quickly stop momentum (depth drop; lateral push squat, etc.), in coached biomechanically safe positions, is important in a variety of sports and activities. Learning how to decelerate quickly and reverse direction will increase vertical jump height as well as cutting ability. 

Achieving your best takes more than just being active and staying fit. Find a quality sports training program that focuses on your specific needs as an individual, the sport you are playing, or plan to play, and also what position or event you compete. Not all programs are the same and if you want results quality does not come in a can. Always remember, you get what you pay for!

By: David F. Mikel, CEO, Performance Director – Performance Edge

Champions are made in the off-season!