Posted by J. Fallhowe, CSCS

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Feb 1, 2016 10:40:23 AM

The ability to make game changing plays is a characteristic that all coaches look for in an athlete. We watch elite pro athletes excel at the highest level and we draw conclusions about the physical characteristics that allow them to dominate their sport. A running backs massive and strong arms and legs must help him break through arm tackles, right?... but, there are a lot of athletes and gym goers with massive arms and legs who aren't playing on Sundays. Setting skill aside, what is it that separates an elite athlete from the average athlete? 




Force production is maximized when an athlete squats a max load and sets a one rep max (1RM) personal best. When an athlete is testing or training to build strength, maximizing force production is the main goal. However, the rate at which the athlete is generating force is not necessarily taken into account. From an athletic training standpoint improving force production is a key part of a training protocol. As we saw in Sprint Training | Will Training Heavy Make You Slow? maximum force production helps recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers and fast-twitch fibers are better for athletes competing in anaerobic events like football, track and field, etc.  

Powerlifters are very good at maximum force production, which is why they're able to put up such impressive numbers in the Squat, Bench and Deadlift, but is maximum force production what ultimately determines explosive athletic performance?

As we'll see the total amount of force that an athlete produces is not what ultimately sets elite athletes apart from average athletes on the field. Sure, leading the team in the weight room is something to be proud of, but making sure it translates to the field is the whole purpose of training in the first place! 



I recently finished an amazing book call Triphasic Training by Cal Dietz, the head strength and conditioning coach at the University of Minnesota. In the book, he discusses working with two shot-putters, who on paper appeared to be identical. They were the same height and weight and had the same max bench press numbers (Max bench is relevant, because it's highly correlated to shot distance for throwers). Yet, one of his throwers was significantly better than the other. So, what was it that set the elite thrower apart from the average thrower?



Coach Dietz had access to force plates and wanted to test the athletes rate of force development (RFD). Now, RFD is exactly what it sounds like - how quickly an athlete is able to generate force. Coach Dietz knew that his athletes had similar maximum force profiles, but did they differ in the rate at which they were able to create force?

You guessed it, they were! The shot putter with more impressive distance numbers also had a higher rate of force production i.e. he was able to generate more force, more quickly. This honestly is nothing new, the Soviets had already discovered this in the 1960's, but what Coach Dietz discovered from this experiment significantly contributed to how athletes should train to increase speed and power.



When Coach Dietz looked at the results of the study, he noticed something interesting. Not only was the elite shot-putter able to produce more force more quickly, but he was also able to absorb more force more quickly as well.



The graph above shows the visual difference between the two athletes. The rate and amount of force that an athlete is able to absorb is directly correlated to the amount of force that an athlete is able to produce. Additionally, you can see there are three phases to this graph. First is the eccentric ability to absorb force. Second, is an isometric contraction, where explosive energy is stored and ultimately harnessed. Third is the concentric or explosive phase of the movement. Training these three phases has been labeled as "Triphasic Training" by strength and conditioning coaches Cal Dietz and Ben Peterson.



Break down every athletic movement. They all begin with an eccentric movement. When an athlete jumps, her quads and glutes eccentrically lengthen just before take off (1). 



Most training programs focus on creating force quickly, but are missing two key ingredients for athletic success. The first is eccentrically absorbing force, and the second is isometrically absorbing force. Omitting these elements from a training program will make an athlete less effective at concentrically generating force quickly.



How do you train to absorb force? If you're a SpeedBot blog reader, GHD or app user, you're already know the answer to this, you just might not realize it yet! If you take a look at our progressions and programming for building speed and power, we're prescriptive about introducing various exercises to help athletes work through the three phases of explosive power development!  Let's look at a quick example:



We love glute ham raises because they help athletes develop durable, strong and powerful hamstrings that are ultimately more resistant to injury and help propel athletes down the field. Here's a a high level view of how we break down our training protocols using glute ham raise as an example, to cover the all triphasic aspects of athletic movement. 

Glute Ham Raise (Hybrid Glute Ham Raise) Foundational (Base Strength) Focus on building strength (concentric) through a full range of motion
Isometric Glute Ham Raise Isometric Focus on building strength at specific joint angles, specifically greater joint angles where injury occurs
Weighted Glute Ham Raise  Foundational (Strength) Focus on continuing to increase strength. Changing load stimulus
Altitude Drop Glute Ham Raise Eccentric Develops athletes ability to absorb force at greater degree of knee extension.
Rebound Glute Ham Raise *Reactive Trains athlete to eccentrically and isometrically absorb force and generate force quickly. 

We consider Reactive movements to encompass all elements of the triphasic method i.e. they focus on a absorbing force eccentrically and isometrically, as well as generating force concentrically.



The table above lays out very general training blocks. Glute Ham Raise (Hybrid Glute Ham Raise) & Isometric GHR would therefore be a part of your initial training block (mesocycle). Weighted Glute Ham Raise would be a part of training block (mesocycle) 1/2, depending on the athlete, and so on. 

The table above shows how an athlete could work through specific variations of the glute ham raise to build strength and then explosive power using the triphasic method. 



You can find video demonstrations of these exercises HERE!



If we evaluate dynamic athletic movements, they happen in fractions of a second. Ideally, our goal should not only be to increase the amount of force produced but the rate at which an athlete is able to generate force. Training athletes like powerlifters or bodybuilders will not assist them with building explosive physical adaptations that lead to success of the playing field. 



Developing durable, strong and powerful hamstrings is probably the most overlooked aspect of speed development in athletic training today? Team SpeedBot has written and amazing eBook on hamstring training, that's guaranteed to bring your sprint training to the next level and btw, it's probably the best hamstring training eBook every written ;)



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Topics: Geek Speak - Improving Performance




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