Whether you’re a sprinter or play a sport that requires you to move quickly across a court or field, improving your explosive strength will improve you as an athlete.
The measure of explosive strength is known as your rate of force development (RFD) – that’s how quickly you can produce force. An athlete that can reach peak force quickly is an athlete that is giving themselves every opportunity to be successful – they can typically jump higher, sprint faster or get to a ball before their opponent.
Whatever your sport, structuring your training to allow you to focus on different areas of strength will maximise your potential. That’s why it’s beneficial to understand and adopt the different strength training styles that athletes use to get an edge over their competition.
Absolute strength is the maximum amount of load lifted in one effort, regardless of bodyweight. While absolute strength is essential for many athletes, gains in this style of training may require an increase in bodyweight, because mass is required to move mass. And for some athletes, like a basketball or AFL player, or a fighter in a particular weight division, this can be detrimental to performance.
It’s also important to consider the taxing impact on our nervous system from training with maximum loads for a long time.
When it comes to movement-based athletes, like a tennis player, relative strength reigns supreme – that’s the maximum load lifted, relative to bodyweight.
Before exploring more advanced styles of strength training, it’s important to focus on the journey of building a strong foundation. ‘How strong’ is different for everyone, but a good benchmark for males is a 1RM (that’s one repetition maximum) squat and deadlift at approximately 1.5 x bodyweight, and 1RM bench press at 1 x bodyweight. For females, approximately 1RM squat and deadlift at 1 x bodyweight, and 1RM bench press at 0.75 x bodyweight.
To train strength-speed an athlete will move a relatively heavy load as fast as possible. Depending on their training history and muscle fibre development, the load will range between 55 and 75% of their 1RM.
In addition to the amount of weight lifted, an athlete may also measure the speed at which the bar is travelling. This is known as bar velocity, and is measured with devices such as the Push Arm Band and GymAware. To make improvements in this area, an athlete may aim for a bar velocity of 0.45 to 0.75 metres per second (m/s).
When aiming to improve bar speed, it’s common to be tempted to produce power at all cost – losing correct form and range of motion in the exercise. That’s why it’s important to prioritise good form and range over repetitions.
Speed-strength requires an athlete to lift a medium to light load (approx. 30-50% of their 1RM) extremely quickly (0.9 to 1.2 m/s). Olympic lifts or their variations, such as a power clean or hang snatch, can do a great job of developing speed-strength.
Speed-strength is a skill like any other – practice makes perfect. Athletes that have trained for movement and power, like AFL players, may have the ability to generate a high amount of force naturally. Whereas athletes that have trained in a more traditional manner using slow controlled tempos on the weights floor may struggle to accelerate even light loads, quickly.
With lighter loads, both speed-strength and strength-speed training is less dangerous than using maximal loads (when performed correctly) and requires less recovery time between sessions so you can train more often