Email Question

A few days back I got a question in an email from student and thought I would tackle the issue on our readers mind. 

“How would you best develop speed/power/explosion?”

The question is very general when it comes to training.   In this sense I have to answer it very general.  With a more specific question, we can develop a more specific plan to attack speed, speed-strength, strength-speed, power, explosion, etc.  My problem with the phrase “power” is that it doesn’t necessarily convey any parameters.  Power in what?  Power can be increasing a fastball from 89mph to 92mph.  The pitchers power has increased.  I’ve alo seen an example once of an 80 year old man walking up a flight of stairs 1 second quicker than he previously had done.  This would also be an increase in power, wouldn’t it.  So without giving the meaning “power” any parameters it makes it difficult to define how and what your increasing. 

When most people think of explosion or power they immediately think of olympic lifts.  While olympic lifts do have the ability to increase “power” there are many other options available, and sometimes better options in my opinion.  Again in a general sense, the olympic lifts will help to increase “power” in novice and intermediate athletes.  As athletes climb the ladder of sporting ability, improvements in speed, power, etc must become more specific to the dynamics of the athletes skill and/or event.   Many people believe that sprinting and the olympic lifts have a high correlation and that improving your clean will directly improve your 40 yd dash.  When we truly look at their correlation we find it isn’t as it seems.  With novice and even some intermediate athletes there is a correlation, but as sporting proficiency increases the correlation ceases to exist.  High level sprinting usually equates to movement around 7 meter per second, while the olympic lifts average around 1.25 meters per second.  Nothing in the weight room ever comes close to the speed reached, and angular velocities of body segments reached during sprinting.  So when we compare something like olympic lifting to sprinting, they are separate motor qualities.  

For our rotational based sports such as golf, softball, and baseball, I like to be more specific to the movement patterns that dominate the sport.  These patterns are rotation movements in the transverse plane.  For this type of work we rely heavily on medicine ball throws and variations for increasing our “power.”  You can perform throws in a multitude of directions training the entire body.  Whether performing a backward overhead throw for triple extension of the ankle, knee, and hips, or using roped medicine ball swwings for core stiffness and stability, medballs have so many applications. 

As for the speed part of the questions, there is no better way to develop speed than to run fast.  Sprinting at 95-100% is by far the best method for developing pure speed.  No other activity requires the muscle elasticity, speed of contraction and relaxation, coordination of firing patterns, and so on as full speed work.  Not only is sprinting tops for speed development, but can also contribute to strength gains.  It’s a case of the chicken or the egg theory.  It’s hard to say which one comes first, but sprinting can and does have an effect on strength gains.  High speed work just like plyometrics in the next paragraph is extremely CNS taxing, so caution must always be used when it comes to training.  That’s also one of the main reasons speed work is such a powerful training stimulus to the human body. 

My last method for developing speed, power, and or explosion would be the inclusion of jump training, and plyometrics.  Make sure you note the difference in the two.  Jump training is simply that, jumping exercises and variations.  These take many different forms and can progress from introductory jumps, like box jumps, jumps in place, to more advanced jumps, such as repeat hurdle jumps, etc.  These are usually an introductory before plyometric training is introduced.  Plyometric expecises are a powerful eccentric contraction followed immediately by a concentric contraction.  The prior eccentric motion creates a stronger concentric contraction through elastic energy and the stretch reflex.   High level plyometrics are generally considered the strongest training stimulus on the nervous system, and therefore require expertise when programming.   They are powerful in their ability to increase power, but many coaches aren’t aware of their proper application.   These were developed for high level athletes in Eastern Bloc countries and were never meant to be done by young novice athletes.

Sorry for the rant.  When we talk about power it really helps to define what we’re talking about in the end.  I don’t necessarily use the word power because it is so encompassing.  It could refer to a myriad of things.  I refer to speed-strength, and strength-speed when I’m referring to “power” type motor qualities.   We’ll get into all that on another day though.

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