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A Tale of Two Athletes: Unlock the Keys to Explosive Power - Part 1

Mar 01, 2020

To become a truly powerful athlete capable of producing massive amounts of force, you need to train for it. Learn how to find your Explosive Strength Deficit, fill it accordingly, and dominate on the field or court. 

As a lanky, skinny, “springy” guy growing up, I was always fast and able to jump.  It’s in my genes. My uncle was the first 7 ft high jumper on the east coast back in the late 60’s, and my dad was a 6’9” high jumper.  I first dunked as a freshman in high school, and my first basket in my college career was an “and 1” dunk on the opposing centers head.

Shortly after that “and 1”, I tore up my knee and needed surgery.  I rehabbed all summer, lifted like a maniac (because that’s all I could do) and when I returned to play, I was jumping higher than pre-surgery.  I was enamored with continuing to get strong, with hopes I would eventually touch the top of the backboard if I just kept training. As I progressed in the S&C field I realized why my jumping abilities improved so much after that summer of training.

Kangaroo and Gorillas

“Fill the empty buckets”

-Mike Boyle, Functional Strength Coach 7

 Fast forward a few years post undergrad, and post-surgery, I interned at Defranco’s in Wyckoff, New Jersey.  One of the S&C coaches, Mike Guadango’s prerequisite was to read Charlie Francis’ work before I was allowed in the gym.  While I didn’t appreciate the work as much as I do now, one thing that stuck out to me was the description of the different types of sprinters:

  1. The sculpted, power/powerful athlete (Ben Johnson)
  2. A lankier, longer athlete (Donovan Bailey) 

Francis described both somatotypes as having different advantages based on their body’s levers and natural predispositions.  The “Power” athlete usually had much stronger starts, being able to break inertia and come out of the blocks quicker. The “Lankier” athlete who wasn’t as powerful out of the blocks, was a stronger sprinter in the later stages and was built more for speed endurance.  He spoke about breaking up and specializing training for the 2 types of sprinters, and I loved the concept of bucketing athletes into different training approaches based on their strengths and weaknesses as an athlete. 

This lesson stayed with me, and presented itself again when I read and watched Tony Giuliano and Ty Terrell’s “Force and Power” book and presentation.  The seminar was about applications of Velocity Based Training (VBT) with their athletes. The best, and simplest classifications of athletes I’ve seen was their categorization of “Kangaroos” and “Gorillas”. It just made sense. Clearly, Kangaroos have plenty of spring and were explosive in nature, while Gorillas were beasts with an abundance of raw strength. 

These two resources helped me realize why I had been able to jump higher after getting stronger during my training/rehabbing.  I had filled my strength deficit, while maintaining my “springiness”.  I didn’t inherently change the athlete I was, but I brought up the lagging static strength I needed to become more powerful on the court.    After all, if we look at the formula for power, it is P=F*V, but my starting equation looked much higher in velocity:

    Force                         Velocity                        Power 

…but then transitioned to the below after I maintained my Velocity properties but improved my Force production.

          Force                           Velocity                              Power 


Overall, my POWER improved.  This should be the goal of most S&C programs in my opinion.  It is usually the athlete who is most powerful that dominates.  Think of a thunderous dunk from Lebron on a fast break (with lift off at 6’9, 260#), GGG’s explosive knockout power (producing 2100+ N at 28.5 MPH hand speed), Chara’s 108 mph slap shot, Coco Gauff’s 118 MPH serve (as a 15-year-old!), or any other freakish displays of power in sports.

This full circle lesson has really helped me dial in my approach to coaching different athletes, and helped me build more robust athletes with plenty of power on their field or court.

“May the Force” Be With Your Athlete

“What is not often appreciated is the fact that resistance training is really force training….” 

-Mel Siff, Supertraining

Before I talk about how to assess what kind of athlete is standing in front of you, I think it is important to first remember what we are looking at with athletes for the most part is their ability to generate and absorb FORCE (F=m*a).  A lot of coaches get caught up in chasing strength numbers, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  However, the numbers game should be a means to an end, not necessarily the end in and of itself.  

As opposed to a strength athlete whose 1 RM should probably be where they express the highest amount of force, a field or court sport athlete has a huge constraint in relation to force production, which is TIME.  This time component is why strength and load alone are not a sufficient stimulus for the athlete. Developing the rate at which you can produce force is paramount in a team sport setting.

There are 2 ways to improve force production: 

  • Increase Fmm
    1. Maximum maximorum force, aka highest amount of force production in the most ideal conditions (no time constraints)
  • Decrease Explosive Strength Deficit (ESD)
    1. The difference between Fmm and Fm (Max Force) represented as a percentage, or how quickly one can generate force:

Essentially, you can either 1) Increase the maximum possible force an athlete could generate, or 2) you could manipulate the rate at which they express their force (close the ESD gap). 

How to Assess Your Athletes' Explosive Strength Deficit

“Every athlete must work on all training components; it is only the relative volumes that must be adjusted based on body type and build.”

-Charlie Francis, Key Concepts

How do you determine what kind of athlete is standing in front of you?  You can create a relative load-velocity profile for the athlete if you have a velocity reader such as GymAware or a Push band.  If you don’t have access to one of these however, the easiest way to assess the athlete’s force production capabilities is to compare their Counter Movement (CM) and Non-Counter Movement (NCM) jumps. This is looking at the athlete’s Starting Strength (force dominant) vs their Explosive Strength (velocity dominant).  With contributions of about 10-15% from the Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC), the CM jump should be higher.  

So, if an athlete’s numbers are far apart, or over the 10-15% mark, they would be considered a Velocity Based athlete (VBA). However, if the difference in jump height is less than 10-15% (usually about 2 inches), the athlete is a Force Based Athlete (FBA) and needs to work on their reactive abilities.  

Here is an example of the assessment: Vertical Jump Assessment- NonCounter Movement (NCM) vs Counter Movement (CM)

While I believe the lower body jump assessment will probably give you the best overall picture of the athlete in front of you, you can also perform a similar upper body assessment with a med ball throw variation. Treat this the same as the lower body; 1 NCM throw to get rid of any stretch reflex followed by 1 CM throw.  I would suggest standardizing the throw by using the same weight (usually 8 pounds) and having the athlete stay with the back against a wall in a seated position. This approach may be useful for the coaches who prescribe to the “Strength train the lower, bodybuild the upper '' approach to see how they’re progressing with upper body lifts.

Here is an example of the assessment: Seated Medball Throw Assessment- NCM vs CM

Summary:

  • Power is king in field and court sports athletes.
  • Identify how an athlete produces their force, and provide them with enough stimulus of the lagging quality to bring up their overall power production (without fundamentally changing what kind of athlete they are).
  • Force can be improved by increasing the overall force capabilities of the athlete (Fmm) or by improving the rate at which they produce it.
  • If the Explosive Strength Deficit (ESD) is small (meaning the numbers are close together), the athlete is a FBA, and the emphasis in training should be placed on plyometrics and speed-strength, improving the rate at which they develop force.  
  • If the ESD is large (meaning the numbers are far apart) the athlete is a VBA, and the emphasis in training should be placed on hypertrophy and strength, improving their potential to generate maximal force.

In Part 2, I’ll describe programming and progressions for the VBA's, and Part 3 will discuss the FBA's and the differences in programming for those athletes.

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.

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