Sports performance: Why is Strength and Rate of Force Development Essential to Run Fast, Jump High, Throw Hard, and Hit Far?

By Dr. John R. Mishock, PT, DPT, DC

When watching professional athletes play their sport, we marvel at how they effortlessly hit a baseball over 400 feet, throw a baseball a 100 mph, jump over 40 inches to dunk a basketball, and run sub 4.2 sec on the football field. Advancements in strength and conditioning methodologies allow today’s athletes to optimize their neurological and muscle physiology, allowing an athlete to perform at their highest level, possibly reaching elite level status. (Cronin et al, 2005; Cormie et al., 2010). In this article, I will review why strength and rate of force development are critical to having explosive power that allows the athlete to run fast, jump high, throw hard, and hit far.

Muscle strength is the amount of force an individual can develop, either isometric (muscle contraction with no joint movement), concentric (muscle contraction reducing the joint angle), or eccentric (muscle contraction lengthening the joint angle). The rate of force development is how quickly an athlete can develop force. If the athlete can develop force quickly, this creates ballistic power. Ballistic power (jumping, sprinting, change-of-direction, throwing, and hitting) can be defined as the ability to accelerate body mass or object far in the shortest time possible. (Samozino et al., 2012)

The explosive power can be the differentiator between an average and elite-level athlete. High amounts of fast-twitch type II muscle (fast-twitch type IIa to type IIb) are critical to high force development and power. Fast-twitch type IIa is used to move a semi-heavy object. Fast-twitch type IIb is the largest fiber type used in all-out muscular effort (jumping, sprinting, throwing hard). Creating large amounts of type IIb muscle is the goal for athletes in explosive sports (basketball, baseball, football, soccer, lacrosse). Muscle type is based on genetics; however, some fast-twitch type IIa can be changed to fast-twitch type IIb through certain types of training. (Cronin and Sleivert, 2005).

A 10-week study assessed the impact of strength on the rate of force development. Athletes were tested to determine their baseline ability and trained using high weight, low repetition, and plyometric training. Force plates were used to measure the rate of force development. (Lachlan et al. June 2022)

What are the practical takeaways from this study?
1. The stronger athletes have a greater rate of force development; this highlights the importance of creating strength in the athlete during a periodized resistance training program. The off-season mesocycle should consist of low repetitions and high weight (80% 1 rep max). This formula creates the strength base before the sports-specific plyometric off-season training program.

2. Complex training (post-activation potential), the combination of weightlifting and plyometrics (loaded jumping), was very effective in enhancing the rate of force development. In the 10-week study, the training group did heavyweight lower body strengthening (squat, deadlift) followed by plyometric squat jumps. Complex training uses an intricate neurophysiological process increasing muscle fiber (motor units) recruitment and dampening the muscle mechanoreceptors (Golgi tendon Organ and muscle spindle) to create a training effect. For example, a back squat is performed, rest 90-120 seconds, then complete the box jump.

3. Maximal strength improved significantly with low repetition and higher weight (80% 1 rep max). There was also a greater conversion of fast twitch muscle type IIa to IIb.

4. Perform the exercise at high intensity pushing for near maximal repetitions (within two repetitions of concentric or volitional failure).

Dr. Mishock is one of only a few clinicians with doctorate level degrees in both physical therapy and chiropractic in the state of Pennsylvania.

He has authored two books; “Fundamental Training Principles: Essential Knowledge for Building the Elite Athlete”, and “The Rubber Arm; Using Science to Increase Pitch Control, Improve Velocity, and Prevent Elbow and Shoulder Injury” both can be bought on Amazon.

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