Strength work has been shown to improve sports performance particularly for sprinters, jumpers and throwers, but it is not beneficial in developing rate of force - the speed with which force is achieved in a movement. It takes around 400msec to create maximum force during a squat exercise, but the foot-ground contact time in sprinting is around 90msec. Hence, there is not enough time to produce maximum force, and therefore it is the rate of force development that is important.
The Rate of force development
To develop the rate of force, the Type IIb muscle fibres need to be targeted, as these are ones that produce force most explosively allowing for maximum power. The types of exercises that develop the Type IIb fibres are:
Many athletes include plyometric exercises in their training programs and are well aware of the benefits. However, it is slightly less well known that the combination of traditional strength and plyometric exercises (complex training) results in greater Type IIb recruitment and, consequently, greater improvements in power and rate force development rate.
What is complex training?
Complex training is a workout comprising of a resistance exercise followed by a matched plyometric exercise, e.g.:
The logic behind these matched pairs of exercises is that the resistance work gets the central nervous system (CNS) into full action. More Type IIb fibres are available for the explosive exercise, hence a better training benefit.
Quality not Quantity
To get the best from these training workouts, you need to be physically fresh and motivated. Type IIb fibres are not magically recruited by doing the workout. You have to be focused on the exercises and perform them as explosively as possible. Try to avoid hard aerobic or anaerobic sessions for at least 48 hours before a complex session. Once a complex session has started, do not perform any static stretching exercises as this will relax the muscles and reduce force production potential. It is the quality of execution of each exercise that is important, not the quantity. To ensure quality is maintained, have the correct rest periods.
Complex Training Programs
A complex training program can be used in the general, specific and competition phases of training. The following are example workouts for each phase (Brandon 1999):
In this phase, the athlete should complete all weights exercise sets with a recovery of 60 seconds/set. A three-minute rest follows this before performing all sets of the matched plyometric exercise with a recovery of 90 seconds/set.
Note: 12RM - a weight which only allows you to complete a maximum of 12 repetitions of the exercise before you are fatigued
The plyometric exercises in the specific phase must be specific to your sport/event. The athlete conducts one set of the weights exercise followed immediately by one set of the Plyometric exercise. e.g. six squats, six drop jumps, three minutes rest, six squats, six drop jumps (with minimal recovery between the squats and drop jumps).
3 × 6 (12RM) means 3 sets of 6 repetitions using a load that would produce 12 repetitions max (RM)
The plyometric exercises in the competition phase must be specific to your sport/event. As in the specific phase of training, the athlete conducts one set of the weights exercise followed immediately by one set of the plyometric exercise.
2 × 4 (8RM) means 2 sets of 4 repetitions using a load that would produce 8 repetitions max (RM)
Training program for speed improvement
The following program was devised by Barry Ross, a USA track and field coach with 25 years of experience to increase his athletes' running speed.
Speed is considered to be the combination of two factors - stride rate and stride length. Higher forces increase the stride length and decrease the contact time so stride rate increases. To improve these factors, coaches have focused on developing leg strength that has increased body weight. What we ideally require in our runner is high power to weight ratio. Barry's program's objective is to increase strength with minimal gain in bulk, thereby achieving a high power to weight ratio.
The program is conducted on three consecutive days each week.
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