We know that in sports, “speed kills”, and with intelligent programming you can add some spring to the step of your larger and more powerful Force Based Athletes.
Programming for the Force Based Athlete (FBA)
In Part 2 I described the Velocity Based Athlete (VBA), which includes a majority of the athletes you’ll see and work with in team sports. Most athletes are naturally that way, as most field and court sports demand that. Most athletes are a product of their sport and therefore most field and court sports demand them to be more velocity dominant.
However, you will see some bigger, typically stronger athletes who have difficulty utilizing their stretch shortening cycle (SSC) and are not as naturally springy or elastic. Think of the bigger positions in sports like interior linemen in football, your (old school) centers in basketball, and even some non-field and court sports athletes like water polo or ice hockey who’s playing surface doesn’t require the same physics of force or elastic qualities. Realistically however, any position on any team could have a FBA. It’s purely based on the athlete.
The most important thing to remember is we are not inherently trying to change who the athlete is because the sport and position will dictate what they need to be successful. By providing the right stimulus to develop some of their lagging performance qualities, we can help the athlete be more successful on the field or court.
Some traditional qualities about FBAs include:
- Are naturally more force dominant through muscular efforts.
- They can “grind” reps at lower velocities because this is where they live on the F-V curve.
- Have difficulty utilizing their elastic qualities efficiently.
With that said, the goals and methods utilized when programming for a VBA are:
|Velocity Based Athlete (VBA)|
|Increase rate of force development.||Plyometrics|
|Build elastic qualities and tissue pliability||Submax Method (Speed-Strength emphasis)|
While we may be dealing with an athlete who lives on a different side of the F-V curve than the VBA, we don’t completely rewrite the book on training for them. Think of the “80/20” rule, 80% of the training will look very similar, while 20% will be specific to the type of athlete (VBA vs FBA). There are still a lot of similarities in the programs; both will still progress from soft to hard starts, working acceleration early to max speed late, similar plyometric progressions, same order of strength blocks, and moving from capacity to power in their conditioning work. The examples and methods provided are more the nuances of programming and things to consider when working with an FBA.
Phase I: Accumulation
Again, Phase I is the Volume Block (“Accumulation”) where we are laying the foundation for the rest of the training cycle. For our FBA, we are attempting to increase speed and elastic qualities to improve rate of force development (as opposed to the VBA who we would hypertrophy muscles and tendons to improve muscular efforts). The methods used attempt to make the athlete less stiff, and teach them timing and rhythm to utilize their SSC more effectively.
Phase 1 – Volume Block
Preparatory (A Series)
Soft Start Acceleration
(Long GCT) Plyos:
Cardiac Output, Tempos (Cyclic), HICT
Speed: When thinking soft starts types for the FBA, different initiations that allow the athlete to develop some elastic qualities can work really well even early in the off-season. A really simple way to start that works nicely early in the off-season is implementing the A Series. The A Series is used to teach rhythm, coordination of the arms and legs, and can be used to condition the lower leg of the athlete, all in a controlled environment. Some basics include the A March, A Skip, and A Run. There are a few other variations you could implement, but for simplicity sake those will work wonders even for advanced athletes’ technique.
For build ups (video example provided below), these are a good way to still work actual speed training while controlling intensity of the efforts by limiting the distance. The initiation of the sprint is where you can sprinkle in some elastic work for the FBA. Think of different skips, leaps, and hops into a sprint (donkey kick starts, skips to sprints, even A Skips/Runs into Build ups). This appeases the principle of soft start to hard start as a progression as well.
Power: When thinking Power in the FBA, Aerobic Plyos are a great foundational method for the FBA. They are a low level plyo which work on elastic qualities, and durability of the lower leg. Aerobic Plyos, are again taken from Joel Jamieson’s work, involve multiple submax efforts of about 10-15 reps, followed by a brief rest (about 10-30 sec), for anywhere from 5-12+ mins. One of the most overlooked tools in the weight room that I love using is a jump rope. It requires no space, is dirt cheap, and checks all the boxes for teaching an FBA how to be elastic. Other methods would include multiple hops or jumps over small hurdles, or rebound med ball throws or plyo push ups for the upper body.
Also, when programming more traditional plyometrics, utilizing a Counter Movement (CM) initiation allows the athlete to take advantage of the SSC. This is different from the VBA Non-Counter Movement (NCM) initiation where we are attempting to teach that athlete how to overcome inertia with a more muscular effort.
Strength: For the FBA, strength work will usually be their bread and butter. The goal of the first block does not change for the FBA from the VBA (submax, prep tissue for the following blocks). TUT should still be prioritized. One method I really like to implement is ? Sets. These involve an open-ended amount of sets (usually capped at 8-12 sets) and is based on the athlete’s ability to produced quality sets that day. Since these athletes can probably handle more total volume of strength work, this will ensure only quality amount of work is completed, and allows the FBA to express some of their strengths of being able to grind (putting an athlete in a position to succeed is never a bad thing…).
Conditioning: With the VBA we would typically add a little resistance to stimulate a more muscular effort, however for the FBA this is another opportunity to work on their elastic qualities. Not always, but the FBA may be the bigger, heavier athletes you work with. In this instance, they may need some regular low-level Cardiac Output work over an extended time period. These would be your athletes who have a RHR higher than 60 BPM.
If, they are below that threshold, I like to throw in Tempos and HICT work 1-3 x’s week. I typically prioritize cyclic efforts here, as it stimulates more of the elastic qualities we are after. This could simply be Tempo Runs out on the field (soft surface>hard surface), or Basement Tempos. Distances should cover 30-50 yds, and total distance for the day depends on the sport and position of the athlete but should probably be around 700-1200 yds/day.
HICT work builds the athletes endurance of the fast twitch fibers and can be modified to fit a FBA vs the VBA. We spoke of the benefits for the VBA having to overcome inertia for each rep. You can get a little creative here when working with FBAs by prioritizing speed>force (still engages type II fibers) which allows us to continue with the theme of building the elastic qualities and rate of force development.
Phase II: Intensfication
Phase II is our Force Block (“Intensification”). Again, we are building off of the base built in Phase I and shift our focus primarily to maximizing the force production. All the traditional parts of training will progress in intensity and drop volume, all while attempting to maximize the goal of building rate of force production and elastic qualities in the FBA.
The biggest thing to consider this block is watching the total volume of sprints and jumps. Because we are working on the elastic qualities, most of the training blocks (speed, power, conditioning) may incorporate more ground contact reps. For bigger athletes, this may be much more strenuous than for the lighter athletes (250 lb+ lineman vs 175 lb point guard). Stick to the lower end of volume for each block.
Phase II – Force Block
|Emphasize Coupling Phase
Double Contact (DC) Initiation
Speed: Following the principle of soft to hard starts is the same progression for FBA as it is for VBAs. Again, because these athletes may be the bigger and heavier positions, a lower volume may be more appropriate then when dealing with the VBA. With that said, I really like Loaded Sprints for FBA. We don’t want to load up the sled so much that it messes with the athlete’s technique or slows them down too much. Based on work by JB Morin and Cam Josse, we typically don’t want to slow the athlete down slower than 150% of their best time. So, if an athlete runs a 1.5 10 yd, you’d work them up to a weight that slows them down to 2.25 10 yd. As a very general rule, this usually works out to be about 4-4.2 sec for 20s, and 2-2.2 sec for 10s.
Power: Including jump and throw combination exercises can work elastic strength into the athlete’s routine. Because the athlete has to overcome the added weight of the medicine ball before jumping, this drives forces higher with slightly longer GCT times that fit into the Force block’s principle goals. Typically, the jumps will build velocity and, culminating in a max effort throw. To get rid of so many ground contacts if working with a larger athlete, a coach can have a single jump to throw combination with a DC initiation to have the athlete work on using the SSC, building the elastic qualities we are after.
Strength: FBAs will dominate in strength during the Force block. So, to make sure that we continue to address velocity qualities to set up for a strong finish in Block 3, we can utilize Chains in the FBA’s program as well. Chains still accommodate mass in the F equation (F=m*a) which is perfect for VBAs, but they also allow the FBA to work on velocity qualities out of the bottom portion of the movement where the chain unloads.
It essentially turns the movement into a controlled ballistic effort. Typically, with ballistic movements the athlete is all gas pedal and no brakes, and projects an object out into space (ex. Throwing a medicine ball). The physics with ballistic efforts are slightly different than a traditional lift. In a traditional lift, a large portion of the concentric portion of the lift involves a “braking” portion to prevent the weight or implement from going flying. As the chain comes back into play as the athlete comes out of the hole, the chains act as the brakes for the athlete. This allows them to drive up with maximal velocity and produces peak force production at lockout.
Conditioning: The only real difference in the FBAs programming might include more High Resistance Intervals (HRI) then the VBA. However, instead of cranking up the resistance on a cardio machine, I would suggest a resisted run (if appropriate based on how much sprint and jump volume you already have in the program), specifically light sled drag sprints, hill sprints or incline (12-15%) manual treadmill sprints. The incline is more than enough to act as resistance for the FBA without messing with acceleration technique. Work for 5-6 seconds, recovering to about 70% of MHR. Set a certain work duration, and attempt to complete more rounds each week within the same time frame (10-15 min). Again, with bigger, heavier athletes or to monitor overall ground contacts stick to lower end of the volume.
Phase III: Realization
This is our Power Block (“Realization”). Time to put all the velocity and “bounce” we’ve been working on with the FBA to good use. By then end of the block you should have the same big, strong athlete with a little extra spring in the step, making them even more powerful and dangerous on the field or court!
Phase III – Power Block
|Minimal Coupling Time (Shortest GCT):
Continuous Initiation (CI)
Accommodating Resistance (Band Assist)
Drop off Sets (Watts)
Speed: Same as the VBA, increasing the distance to allow the athlete to experience some late acceleration and max velocities is key before going into season. It also provides the strongest stimulus to the athlete’s body, as max speed work is the most neurologically taxing. Using the 4 Zone In-and-Outs as well as Flying Sprints again fit nicely here. For a breakdown on those refer to Part 2 in the series. Again, the only difference will more than likely be the distance you set the athlete up with. Bigger athletes and positions will stay on the lower end of the volume.
Power: In an attempt to match GCT in this phase, minimizing time between the eccentric and concentric actions is key during the power section of training.
When programming power in the Power block for the FBA, one other method that can help an athlete develop the speed qualities would be Complex Sets. These are a combination of a heavy strength exercise followed by a light, plyometric based exercise. This elicits a Post Activation Potentiation (PAP), which creates a window of time following the weighted compound movement for an increased rate of force development.
Strength: The main difference between the VBA and FBAs Phase 3 would be in the strength work. The big method I got from Tony and Ty’s book was swapping the band resisted method in the VBA programming to a Band Assisted method in the FBAs programming.
The band assisted method would be prioritized over the resisted method for the FBA because of the nature in which we are trying to improve the FBA ability to generate force; speed. The band assist in the bottom of squat or bench movement would allow the athlete to hit higher than normal velocities in the movements. This can also be applied to body weight movements, such as band assisted jumps or push-ups.
Conditioning: Very similar to the VBA in which we would utilize Explosive Repeats, Cardiac Power Intervals, and Lactic Intervals.
- FBAs excel on the force side of the F-V Curve
- FBAs need more velocity development to shift their curves, without making them weak.
- Training between FBA and VBAs are not totally different, they just require different emphasis.
- Watch total ground contacts with FBA as they may be the bigger, heavier athletes, or an athlete who doesn’t have a traditional playing surface (swimming, ice hockey, etc.)
- Prioritize elastic qualities
- Phase I
- Tissue Prep Block
- Speed and elastic qualities
- Extensive efforts to build tissue tolerance and “spring”
- Phase II
- Force Block
- Highest amount of force production in training cycle
- Consider adding accommodating resistance (CHAINS) to help develop force production through a full range
- Takes away “braking” phase, allowing FBA to drive speed through entire ROM
- Phase III
- Peak Speed and Power Block
- Band assisted vs resisted in strength work, allowing FBA to drive rate of force development quicker vs without assistance
- Complex sets allow athletes to take advantage of PAP response, increasing rate of force development
About the Author
Keiran Halton MS, CSCS, CISSN
Keiran is a S&C coach based in Mamaroneck, NY, and works with clients looking to get stronger and train around pain to get back to activities they love to compete in. He also is the head S&C coach at Brunswick School in Greenwich, CT, where he oversees all of the high school’s athletic teams training programs. Keiran has been fortunate to have worked in some of the top performance facilities in the country which allowed him to work with some of the best athletes as well as learn from some of the most respected coaches in the industry. Keiran lives in CT with his fiancé and loves a good IPA, hiking, and hates repeat glycolytic sprints on the Air Dyne.