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 develop maximum force during a squat exercise, but the foot-ground contact time in sprinting is around 90msec so 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 together (complex training) results in greater Type IIb recruitment and consequently greater improvements in power and rate of force development.
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 so that 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 just 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 sets of the weights exercise with a recovery of 60 seconds/set. This is followed by a three-minute rest 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. 6 squats, 6 drop jumps, 3 minutes rest, 6 squats, 6 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 year's experience to increase the running speed of his athletes.
Speed is considered to be the combination of two factors - stride rate and stride length. Greater 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 in turn has increased body weight. What we ideally require in our runner is high power to weight ratio. The objective of Barry's program is to increase strength with minimal gain in bulk thereby achieving a high power to weight ratio.
The program is conducted on 3 consecutive days each week.
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