Distinctions of Speed and Force Expression

Training for explosiveness, power training, and speed training oftentimes are used interchangeably, but after looking at these training are closely, you realize these are different attributes and training for one does not necessarily mean you are training for all of them.  In the world of track, speed is king.  But when you compare the speed of the 100m dash to the 400m hurdles, are you comparing the same thing? Not necessarily. This article dives into the distinctions of speed and expressions of force.

When people talk about explosiveness in sports, they are really talking about a term called rate of force development.  This concept has been exemplified by Hakkinen’s classic study (1985) showing a quicker production of strength after a strength training.

Although athletes training for rate of force development might not be as strong as powerlifters, they can use 80% of their strength faster than a power lifter can use 70%.  If this concept is applied to a stride, sprinters are able to apply higher force to the ground and remain on the ground for minimal time.  This means they will either accelerate faster or maintain a faster speed.  In other sporting events it means a basketball player doesn’t have to preload a jump as long or a thrower can transfer the leg strength to the shot put quicker (throwing it further).

When training to improve rate of force development, it’s usually best to:

  • 1st. Develop leg strength
  • 2nd. Focus on speed of movement

(JM McBride 1999D Baker 2001MH Stone 2003).

Power is easy to get mixed up with rate of force development because power = force x velocity (measured in Watts).  At initial glance this equation may look like the same thing as explosiveness as we usually describe explosiveness as ‘fast strength’.  What is not so obvious is that power can be used to describe strength/any amount of time.  For example, an endurance cyclist can ride at 300 Watts for HOURS.  This cyclist is producing a relatively high amount of power, but it is expressed over such a long time that we would not consider him explosive.  An easy way to make the distinction between power and explosiveness is to ask two different questions:

  1. “How much force can you produce at a given velocity?” (Power)
  2. “How much time is needed to achieve high amounts of force?” (Rate of force development)

Understanding this distinction between power and explosiveness does not mean power is irrelevant or should not be trained.  A high rate of force development (explosiveness) is related to an athletes peak power ability (peak power is achieved with maximal speed movements near 30% 1RM; Haff, 2012).

Training for peak power often uses exercises like medicine ball throws/slams, Olympic lifts with light weights, and plyometrics.  Athletes who have trained for peak power can improve rate of force development (Haff, 2005) but a mixed strength and velocity approach is best for sport optimization (Harris, 2000).

Speed training in sport often deals with the mechanics of a movement and predominately sprinting.  Sprinting ability is critical in most sports, but is often assumed either you are slow or you are fast.  What is not discussed is the capacity of improvement for speed.  Much of the improvement in sprinting comes from increasing stride frequency and the force vector quantity (direction and magnitude of force; Weyand, 2000).  Stride frequency improvements first come from learning how to sprint.  This involves learning how to quickly turn sprinting muscles on and off and synchronize the legs like pistons in a motor engine (Young, 2014).

However, the trump card for speed is the force vector quantity relative to body weight (Weyand, 2000). Stated another way:

  1. How hard is your foot striking the ground? (Force)
  2. How much force is produced relative to your body weight?
  3. Is the foot strike propelling you STRAIGHT FORWARD? (Direction)

When your foot strikes the ground it produces a ground reaction force.  If your foot is landing directly under your center of gravity you will have an optimal force direction.  If your ground reaction force is large relative to your body weight, you will be able to accelerate fast and maintain a faster speed.

It’s important to know that heavier athletes (lineman, throwers, etc.) are striking the ground with more force than traditional sprinters, but the sprinters are applying more force/body weight and that is why they are faster.  Top sprinters (or even fast athletes) are able to strike the ground with a lot of force due to:

  1. Their joint angles at ground contact are optimal for muscle strength production.
  2. Their ability to quickly absorb force (ie. They do not collapse after striking the ground hard).
  3. Utilizing the stretch shortening cycle (Young, 2015).

-Remember your last Doctor’s visit when the Doctor hit your knee with the rubber hammer?  That is the stretch shortening cycle and fast athletes use it to run faster.

So what does this have to do with explosiveness and power?

Speed training has shown to improve power both vertically (Markovic, 2007) and horizontally (Lockie, 2012); therefore, improving your ability to maintain force at higher speeds.

The synchronization of speed training can enable an athlete to reach higher forces in shorter amounts of time (Bellon, 2016).  This results in explosiveness improvements.

Finally, the importance of strength has been honored in previous articles (Shea, 2017Shea 2017) but not formally discussed here.  Strength is a very important prerequisite to the capacity of improvement in all the variables listed above.

Philosophy of Explosive Training

The importance of strength for explosiveness is very high.  Strength is a vehicle for speed/explosiveness.

Strength is dependent on:

  1. Recruitment and frequency of type 2 muscle fiber recruitment
  2. Coordination
  3. Size of muscle fibers (and therefore weight of muscle fibers)

The philosophy at Athlete Physics is to maximize strength improvements through recruitment and coordination of muscle fibers.

 

 

 

Talking to numerous coaches and reading many webpages makes me believe a cloud of confusion and misinformation surrounds explosiveness training.  First, the physical attributes involved in explosiveness are largely genetic. Not all of us are designed to be as quick as Jordan Burroughs or John Smith. The muscle fiber type and speed of central nervous system (CNS) are genetically determined.  Both of these components of physiology are critical for explosiveness.  However, training can shift a slow twitch muscle fiber to act like a fast twitch muscle fiber and speed up the CNS.  While we cannot control our genetics, we can control our training. The right program will stress and exert muscles and the nervous system in ways that make them contract faster and more forcefully.

 

How to train for Explosiveness

Before every rep of power training maximal concentration is needed with the intention of moving as explosively as possible.  Athletes need to be relatively fresh before training for power and should stop a set or session if power output begins to diminish.  Before explosive training sessions, wrestlers need to be physiologically fresh.  A well rested CNS can send more powerful and more frequent impulses to muscles increasing explosiveness.

^ I think this can be a huge obstacle for wrestlers and wrestling coaches.  Stubbornness is a good think in a wrestling match, but when it comes to training sometimes less is more.  In the case of power training sessions, a wrestler might not feel like they completed a hard workout.  This should be a function of entering the session relatively recovered and the session not being too taxing.

 

Losing Explosiveness

Attempting to train for power and explosiveness while fatigued is counter-productive.  Training these attributes is best applied early in the training session and when the athlete is well rested (Joe Friel, 2007).  Another component of losing developed explosiveness can be easily described with the saying “If you don’t use it, you lose it”, meaning you worked hard to improve explosiveness, but if you stop training for explosiveness, your improvements in explosiveness are the first to be lost.  This is occurs because the nervous system no longer “remembers” how to work fast.  This being said it is important to continue to train for strength and explosiveness even after improvement has been detected.

 

Last Bit on Training for Explosiveness

Personally, I remember training for explosiveness in high school and not having a good plan.  I had read some articles stating the rep ranges from 2-6 are best for training for power.  So when I decided to lift with the purpose of becoming more explosive, I had the mindset that I needed to do the most work in order to improve. Always completing 6 reps; EVERY SET, NO EXCEPTIONS.  Sometimes I felt I did not get a great workout because I was not sore. This is not the mindset to have while training for explosiveness or even training for that matter.   Most days after training for explosiveness, you will not be sore.  This is okay because less is more when training for explosiveness.  One of the guiding principles at Athlete Physics is to do the least amount of work (and spend the least amount of time) to get the most improvement.

Speed and Muscle Architecture

Explosiveness and speed are two of the most sought after training attributes in sports (Rhea 2009). Historically, these attributes have been thought of as genetically predetermined (Bourne 2009). However, as coaches and scientists better understand how training changes athletes at a cellular level, athletes have greater capacity to adopt improvements from all areas of training (speed, strength, endurance).

A study published in 2000 (Abe et al.) comparing muscle architecture of elite sprinters vs. elite long-distance runners showed that sprinters had longer muscle fascicles (bundles of muscle fibers). Muscle architecture refers to the shape and structure of muscles. The two main components of muscle architecture are pennation angle and fascicle length. Both components are important for fast movements and until recently were thought to be genetically determined and not trainable. Pennation angle- Refers to the angle that the muscle fibers run across the Y-axis. Smaller pennation angles are better for explosive movements. The biceps brachii and gastrocnemius (calf muscle) have opposite pennation angles due to the nearly zero degree angle of biceps and large pennation angle of the gastrocnemius.

Large pennation angle
Large pennation angle

 

 

 

 

 

Think of the hip joint. A large pennation angle of the gluteus maximus muscle will run horizontally across the hip joint. A small pennation angle will run vertically with the hip joint. If you are still having difficulty imaging this refer to the pictures below.

Small pennation angle
Small pennation angle

 

 

 

 

 

As demonstrated above, you see that a smaller pennation angle has a larger Y-axis component. This larger Y-axis component applied to the hip produces more hip extension (propulsion)/unit of concentric contraction. This small pennation angle means an athlete will move their leg faster no matter the muscle fiber type.

With any type of resistance training an increase in pennation angle will happen. This is good for strength but not good for speed. Eccentric training has been shown to minimally increase pennation angle while simultaneously increase strength (Douglas 2017). Concentric training has been shown to increase pennation angle to a high degree when also improving strength (Franchi 2014).

What does this mean in the real world?

It means that concentric training is really good for powerlifters who lift a lot weight very slow, but at a certain point may impede speed adaptations. Understand this does not mean you should not train concentrically. This is where the art of coaching comes into play.

The other component of muscle architecture is fascicle length. Fascicle length is the length of a bundle of muscle fibers. Short muscle fascicles are slower and long muscle fascicles are fast. The more contractile units (sarcomeres) you have in a fascicle the longer it becomes, thus improving speed. Eccentric training can increase the number of sarcomeres in a muscle fascicle and therefore, increase the speed a muscle can move.

Muscle fiber
Muscle fiber before eccentric training

 

More Eccentric Benefits

Eccentric training increases leg stiffness which is the ability of the legs to act like springs. This ability improves vertical impulse forces and ground contact times, both are critical for sprinting ability (Douglas 2017). Motor unit firing speed also increases after eccentric training, this allows an athlete to use fast twitch muscles faster (Douglas 2017).

More sarcomeres generated after eccentric training

 

 

 

How to train eccentrically

Understand heavier loaded eccentric lifts will require assistance; band assisted lifts are useful with these highly stressful workloads. Plyometric movements also count as eccentric training and can be used with lighter weights such as medicine balls or body weight plyometrics. Do not go overboard with plyometrics. Many coaches end up using them as conditioning, this is not the purpose of plyometrics and is counterproductive in developing explosiveness.

When to train eccentrically?

This is where the art of coaching comes into play. Considering these two things it’s up to you.  Your team or athlete needs to have enough time in between competition and eccentric training session in order to recover and compete at a high level. It may be up to 5-6 months before the benefits of eccentric training are completely realized your athlete needs to be at a high enough training level in order to tolerate and improve from eccentric training.

Key paper on this topic:

Chronic Adaptations to Eccentric Training A Systematic Review

Why Would Russian Wrestler’s Dope?

In the fallout of the extensive state sponsored Russian doping events, it leaves the wrestling fan base to wonder “How expansive is doping in Russian wrestling?” and if so “Which doping strategies would they use?”.  While I do not know the answer to the first question, I can speculate on doping strategies benefiting wrestling.  Although, these Russian athletes are not the only athletes doping, nor is wrestling completely clean of doping.  Dr. H. Lee Sweeney of the University of Pennsylvania (gene therapy expert), has been quoted “No matter what I say to them about gene doping being dangerous and experimental, it doesn’t slow them down-they just keep pushing.”

When Brandon Slay won his Olympic  gold medal in 2000, he did so after his opponent Alexander Leipoid of Germany tested positive for exogenous testosterone.  More recently, for the 2016 Olympics, Russian flyweight silver medalist boxer Misha Aloian tested positive for a stimulant tuaminoheptane and Romanian bronze medalist weightlifter Gabriel Sincraian tested positive for exogenous testosterone.  Both of these sports are similar to wrestling in respective ways and their doping methods can be applied in wrestling.

The effects of stimulants similar to tuaminoheptane can benefit athletes by increased alertness, diminished fatigue and increased cardiovascular activation (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland).  Just as warming up prior to practice or competition prepares the body, stimulants can also prepare the body by increasing the excitation of muscles, increasing sweat response, decreasing appetite, increasing fight or flight response and increasing blood flow (oxygen) to muscles (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland).  The former of these responses can benefit anaerobic dependent sports; like wrestling, while the later are more critical in reaching maximum endurance performance.

In the case of Gabriel Sincraian, you might be asking; why would a wrestler who needs to make weight want to use steroids?

The answer lies in:

  1. Recovery from training
  2. Increased strength: mass ratio
  3. Improved endurance

“People think doping is for lazy people who want to avoid hard work. That might be true in some cases, but in mine, as with many riders I knew, it was precisely the opposite. EPO granted the ability to suffer more; to push yourself farther and harder than you’d ever imagined, in both training and racing.”-Tyler Hamilton

The reason anabolic steroids are effective is they promote greater recovery from training, allowing higher volume and greater intensity of training.

This concept is explained in the ESPN 30/30 documentary 0.79* on Ben Johnson; the 1988 original gold medal winner of the 100m dash.  It was reported in between his bronze medal finish in 1984 and 1988 Ben Johnson started doping with testosterone.  Dr. Robert Voy of the USOC sports medicine department (1983-1989) described the ability to train maximally 2x/day while doping with testosterone compared to 1x/3 days without doping.

Improvements in speed, power and strength come from training and recovery from training (University of Alabama).  Increased recovery capacity is what makes doping with testosterone so effective.  The increased recovery allows athletes to work harder and perform more work.

Increased muscle building and muscle recovery is what enables testosterone activity to improve recovery, strength and body composition.  Understand, muscles are always in a flux between building up and breaking down (Gatorade Sports Science Institute).  After a hard training session muscle breakdown  will be higher (University of Texas-Galveston).

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-11-25-00-amscreen-shot-2017-02-19-at-11-25-55-amWith increased testosterone activity, athletes can increase muscle building activity (University of Rochester).  When muscles are building and recovering they use more calories (University of Rochester).  The calories burned during muscle recovery and building helps an athlete lose body fat, maintain muscle, and therefore improve his/her strength to mass ratio (Maastricht University).screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-11-31-07-amThe muscle building actions of testosterone are increased when testosterone interacts with androgen receptors of cells; without this interaction increasing your testosterone will not have much effect on “improved libido, performance, drive, and vitality!” that many testosterone boosters claim.

Lastly, increased testosterone activity will also increase production of erythropoietin (EPO).  If you follow any professional cycling you know that EPO is the drug of choice for these endurance athletes.  Erythropoietin is a hormone that increases red blood cell (RBC) production and RBC’s carry oxygen.  With increased RBC’s comes increased oxygen carrying capacity and oxygen carrying capacity = endurance.

One question that might remain as the reader is “How can I naturally increase testosterone? And how does endurance training affect testosterone?

Increasing testosterone can be accomplished by manipulating your weight training (Systematic Review):

  • Utilize large muscles (i.e. quad muscles, gluteus, latissimus)
  • Use heavier loads (80-95% 1RM)
  • Moderate – High volume (≥ 3 sets)
  • Shorter rest intervals (60 – 90 seconds)
  • Use rest days

How does endurance training affect testosterone?

  • Increases in testosterone will not be as large in endurance work compared to weight training.
  • Interval training is better at increasing testosterone than long-distance endurance training (University of North Carolina).

Rules on muscle building:

  • Only the muscle fibers used in training can adapt to the training.
  • The more muscle fibers you use, the more muscle adaptation you can get.

Scientific 2nd Half- The Know-How of Hormones

Because testosterone is a sex hormone it will have both anabolic (tissue building) and androgenic (male development) effects.  When doping with testosterone, athletes can be more specific towards greater tissue building vs. male development effects.

The function of hormones or “steroids” is the most misunderstood and overused concept in human physiology.  The word steroid implies that the hormone can penetrate  cell walls (remember those phospholipid bilayer’s from 10th grade?) and communicate directly to the cell nucleus to start transcribing DNA (transcription of DNA can change cell function i.e. strength, size, speed). screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-10-20-12-amThe other class of hormones are called non-steroid hormones, these hormones  cannot penetrate cell membranes (i.e. the fight-or-flight hormones).  The non-steroid hormones bind to receptors on the cell surface, which starts a cascade of signaling molecules to communicate with the cell nucleus.screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-2-20-51-pmUnderstand training, adaptation, and improvement are not completely dependent on testosterone.  There are many aspects to sports and sport performance, testosterone is one piece of the entire performance puzzle.

Priming for Practice

Priming for Practice

Warming up for a wrestling practice should be different than warming up for cross country, basketball or a weight session.  A warm-up should focus on reducing injury, increasing flexibility, improving performance, and be specific for that training session.

Stretching in a warm-up

A cloud of confusion exists over static stretching, dynamic stretching and their relationship with flexibility, power, and performance.  Much of this confusion likely has to due with

1. Tradition

2. Low quality data

3. Lack of scientific communication.  

Traditionally, coaches and PE teachers start class with static stretching or light aerobic work and subsequently static stretching.  People like to hold onto traditions and therefore, fall in love with “The way we’ve always done it!”.  The second wave of confusion has likely come from studies reporting decrements in performance after performing static stretching.  The good and bad aspects of static stretching studies is that they are easy to conduct and require minimal equipment.  This has led to many novice researchers conducting studies on static stretching in poorly controlled environments and without much insight of the mechanisms changing performance following the static or dynamic warm-up.  Understand, there is absolutely nothing wrong with undergraduate researchers performing these studies.  In fact, my first study investigated static vs. dynamic warm-up and I commend those early researchers.

However, in 2011 a systematic review (publication covering over 100 well-designed studies) was published summarizing static stretching helps with chronic improvements in range of motion (flexibility), but when static stretching is too long in duration or too intense prior to practice or competition, decreases in muscle power (force x velocity) are observed.  Therefore, if you want to static stretch prior to practice or competition keep it short and pain-free.  If you want to improve flexibility over the long-term, the best time to static stretch is separated from wrestling practice or competition.

Dynamic stretching entails a controlled movement through an active range of motion (Fletcher 2010) and has been shown to improve speed (Gelen 2009), strength (Bacurau 2009), increase flexibility levels similar to static stretching (Beedle 2007) and increase muscle activity (Herda 2008).

Understand, the right duration of dynamic stretching is needed to elicit increases in performance (Hough 2009; Ryan 2014).  This can break down to a 5 min jog, with  5-7 minutes of dynamic stretching.  If implemented correctly, It is rare that performance decrements are experienced after dynamic stretching, so in this regard it is superior than static stretching.  Dynamic stretching movements can include: sprint mechanic drills, active stretches, hurdle series, and calisthenics.  It is this author’s freedom to express the potential sprint mechanic drills can serve a wrestling.  Watch the start of Andre De Grasse or Justin Gatlin in the 100m dash (I purposefully did not include Usain Bolt because his start is very sloppy; however, he is able to dominant because he maintains his speed so well).  The position and shin angles of these sprinters is similar to the position and shin angles of a leg attack.  These sprinters are moving as fast as possible, wrestlers shoot leg attacks as fast as possible.  See where I am going with this?  There is much crossover from sprinting to wrestling, especially the acceleration portion of a sprint.

Post Activation Potentiation

Post activation potentiation (PAP) has been shown to improve explosiveness temporarily in highly-trained athletes but not in recreationally trained athletes (2003; 2005).  Many sport scientists have supported PAP via vertical jump, force plate squat jump performance (2003), horizontal jump (1996), sprinting (2005) showing increases in velocity, force, and therefore power.  PAP entails performing a near-maximal lift or maximal speed lift  for 1 – 5 sets and 1 – 5 reps, waiting 5 – 20 minutes and then performing power/explosive movements.  The window of post-activation may be open up to 4-6 hours as a study at the University of North Carolina (2012) found increases in power during an afternoon shot throw after a morning lifting session.  Understand, PAP may be better applied to shorter more explosive practices; with longer breaks between drill bouts; while athletes with more fast-twitch muscle fibers (think Jordan Burroughs) might benefit more from a PAP induced warm-up vs. an entire lifting session.

Screen Shot 2016-12-05 at 8.21.48 PM.pngThe Post-Activation Potentiation Scientific Know-How:

Many ideas explaining PAP are hypothesized including: increased recruitment of motor neurons (2008), increased spinal cord reflex stimulation (1985;2000) increased sensitivity of muscle fibers neurotransmitters or action potential ions (2005; 1985) or possibly improved coordination (1996); however, the the exact mechanism is not known.  The answer to PAP may take much time to answer because this mechanism likely occurs at molecular level and the funding for sports physiology is low.  

To this researcher’s knowledge, PAP has not been tested in a wrestling context so the following information is only supported through other modes of training.  However, in a study using D1 athletes at the University of Oregon (1996) horizontal jump performance improved after a dynamic warm-up combined with 5 sets of power snatch (68-77% of 1RM) resulted in increased horizontal jump performance.  If there is any lab test most similar to wrestling, it is a horizontal jump.  Therefore, coaches can use PAP as a warm-up for wrestling practices to improve explosiveness for each practice.  Think, if each practice is a little more explosive due to a PAP warm-up, how much can that extra explosiveness add up over the course of a season?  I do not know that answer, but I think the risk: reward ratio is certainly worth taking.  Post-activation potentiation can also be applied before conditioning and explosive lift days.  For example, if the conditioning session involves sprints with longer rest intervals or cycling sprints (2001) PAP has been shown to improve performance.  Again, think if every sprint conditioning session has a little more power and therefore speed; how much can that add up over the course of a season?

How to use PAP

screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-12-59-23-pm

Before practice begins do a very short (4-6 minutes) dynamic warm-up with the team and go right into lifts to induce PAP.  This would include: Squatting as fast as possible for 1 rep for 3 – 5 sets at 95% 1RM.   In almost all the studies looking at PAP a minimum of 5 minutes rest is needed after the lift, any shorter timeframe than 5 minutes, fatigue will likely compromise performance.   

Summary

Focus the first 6-12 minutes of practice on movements that reduce injury and improve flexibility and explosiveness.  The first 5 minutes can be spent on light aerobic work to improve blood flow and musculo-skeletal tissue compliance.  If you static stretch keep it short (>10 seconds/stretch & 2-4 minutes total stretching), pain-free, and involve multiple joints in one stretch.  Dynamic stretching can be used to improve skill, speed, flexibility, and explosiveness; regardless of training age.  Think about incorporating sprint mechanics into your warm-up.  Using PAP in strong and highly trained athletes can be a tool to maximize and improve explosiveness.  Final word, if you have found ways to warm-up for wrestling that improve performance USE IT! and spread the word! There are certainly aspects of performance that can elude scientists.