Learning how to use the force-velocity curve is a one-way ticket to “powerville.”
In other words, it’s how you become stronger than the person that’s 20 lbs heavier than you but faster than the person who’s 20 lbs lighter than you.
You can think of it as a middle linebacker.
An athlete that has to take on linemen 50+ lbs heavier than them, but still run with backs and receivers that are 30 + lbs lighter.
Today, I’m going to show you a simple 5 step process to make that happen, but first, let me ask you two questions:
It’s wild the number of times I have conversations with athletes who are PUMPED about hitting a big squat PR, but then become depressed when they see no improvement in things like a vertical jump, 10-yard acceleration or 40-yard dash.
In fact, I can vividly remember this happening to me in college.
I was a senior, and we were testing out of our fall training. I led things off with a big squat and bench PR (something like 435 squat and 315 bench at 190 lbs), and immediately assumed this meant improvement across the board…
I had no doubt in my mind that because I had gotten stronger, my vertical, broad jump and 60-yard dash had to have also gotten better.
But then I tested them. And they went nowhere.
My vertical remained at 33,” and my 60 remained at 6.7 seconds.
Ever since this moment, I’ve had immense respect for the difference between strength, power, and athleticism, and the number one principle that helped tie it all together was the force-velocity curve.
I realized early on (thanks to being a bookworm and having great mentors) that simple manipulation of the force-velocity curve was the key to building powerful athletes. And for that reason, I’ve had a lot of success helping athletes run faster, jump higher, and throw harder.
I’ve written this post to take you behind the scenes on the proven 5 step process that I’ve used for years to help athletes get powerful using the force-velocity curve. No more getting stronger without improving your athleticism.
By the end of this article, you’ll have a complete roadmap for powering up to level 9000 and performing like a middle linebacker.
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According to physics → power = force x velocity
You can be the strongest human on the planet, but if you don’t bring velocity to the table, you’ll be as powerful as a wet paper towel.
That’s not to say you don’t need to be strong because you do.
Think of it this way…
Let’s say you have two cups of iced coffee. Cup 1 can hold 8 oz of coffee, and Cup 2 can hold 16 oz of coffee.
I want you to think of the size of the cup as your strength base or your ability to generate force. The larger the cup, the more force you can generate, and thus the stronger you are.
Now let’s add in the rate component of our equation - velocity.
And I want you to think of velocity as how fast you can pour coffee out of the cup.
Beautiful, we now have our two players in place - strength (size of the cup) and velocity (rate of pour). And in order to be powerful, you must bring both the table.
Hopefully, you can visualize how one without the other won’t help you become a more powerful athlete. A huge cup with a slow pour rate or a small cup with a fast pour rate gets you nowhere. You need both.
More specifically, you need a large strength base first, but once that’s in place, it’s about learning to tap into that strength base at higher and higher velocities.
This is where many athletes and coaches miss the boat because they continue to chase strength above all else. Once a foundation of strength is in place (which is athlete and sport dependent), the attention must turn to velocity.
For example, if you have a running back that can easily squat 500 lbs, is it really worth getting him stronger? You can find a more in-depth conversation on power development for athletes here.
Since power is the love child of force and velocity, it should make sense that the area under the force-velocity curve is a proxy for power.
In the graphic below, the area under the curve is represented by the white filled in region.
Let’s make sure you are oriented with the graph before we continue.
The Y-axis is force, and the X-axis is velocity. As you move up the Y axis, you are becoming more force biased. As you move to the right on the X-axis, you are becoming more velocity biased.
The major point to keep in mind is that you develop maximal force at low velocities, and you develop maximal velocity at low forces. An easy analogy is that you can only develop so much force when lifting a pencil off the ground.
Importantly, there’s no way around this relationship, and it’s part of the problem with continually chasing strength. In order to get as strong as possible, you must generate as much force as possible. But in order to generate maximal force, you must decrease velocity or learn to move slower.
Here’s an easy example.
Consider points A, B, and C on the below graph.
Point A is similar to a squat at 90% of your 1 rep max. Force is high, but velocity is low. You can only move 90% of your 1 rep max so fast.
Point B is similar to a squat at 70% of your 1 rep max. Force is lower (because external load has decreased), but velocity is now higher.
Point C is similar to a squat at 50% of your rep max. You can move 50% pretty damn fast, but you can’t generate much force in doing so.
Each of these points has its place in training because if you want to be a more powerful athlete, your job is simple: push the curve out and to the right. And you do that by working up and down the curve. Do things that are force biased (point A), do things in the middle (point B), and do things that are velocity biased (point C).
Over time, that will cause the force-velocity curve to shift out and to the right. Like this:
By increasing the area under the curve (white + green), you have now become a more powerful athlete.
If you want to take this a step further, focus on filling the empty bucket. Have force-biased athletes work on velocity and have velocity-biased athlete’s work on force. You can find a more detailed post on force vs. velocity biased athletes here.
Any movement can be placed on the force-velocity curve once you understand the basic relationship we just outlined above:
While this relationship is straightforward with weight on a bar, I want to focus on jumps, sprints, and throws because they are not utilized nearly enough for power development. In fact, my athlete’s don’t touch Olympic lifts because they don’t need to. I can get the same (if not better) adaptation in power by understanding how to place jumps, sprints, and throws on the force-velocity curve.
Importantly, once you place a movement on the force-velocity curve, it becomes easy to move up and down the curve for that specific movement, thus allowing you to increase the area under the curve.
Let’s look at three examples, and we’ll refer back to this graphic while we do so:
Example 1: Vertical Jump
Example 2: Sprints
Example 3: Throw
It’s important to address one other element that I haven’t touched on yet: the stretch reflex. And here’s how to tie it in with the force and velocity biased principals:
Once you’ve chosen your target movement and understand the exercises that fall above and below it on the curve, you simply start at the top and work down over time.
Here are some examples.
If you don’t have a section in your training days earmarked for power development, then it won’t happen.
I place mine at the beginning of the session immediately after the warm-up and agility work to ensure the athlete is fresh enough to work at max output.
My apex athlete training template looks like this if you want to steal it.
You can also layout your training week to have an entire day devoted to power development, but that gets more complex. So, just focus on implementing a consistent power block in your daily training.
While becoming a powerful athlete is hard work (and largely determined by genetics), the principals, protocols, and heuristics underlying the programming are relatively simple.
And I hope I’ve laid out an easy 5 step process today that you can start using immediately.
Like all topics, there are layers of complexity to power development that I didn’t touch on today. We essentially unwrapped the first layer of the onion.
If you’d like to go deeper, then I think this book on power development from my friends Ty Terrell and Tony Giuliano is the best thing going.
Now it’s your turn to use the force-velocity to become a powerful athlete. And if you have any questions, feel free to post them in our free community forum here.
James Cerbie is the founder and head coach at Rebel Performance. He can be found lifting, drinking coffee, roaming in the mountains, reading research, or watching superhero movies. He occasionally posts on Instagram as well.