September 27, 2016
This isn’t a science article.
Really, it isn’t. There won’t be any numbers, formulas, or statistical data to that will bore you to death. I promise.
What this article is about, actually, is a concept folks intuitively know of. It’s the relationship between force and velocity. What’s cool about it though, is that it’s a straight-forward concept that you can apply to your training.
Suppose an athlete wanted to test his strength through a 1-rep maximum deadlift. A 1-rep max test evaluates how much weight one can lift for one repetition. It serves as a valuable tool to measure muscular strength and, in our society, leads many to post Instagram videos with way too many hashtags.
Now how much velocity do you figure this athlete will have during the lift? Will it be fast? Slow? Somewhere in the middle? You already know the answer. If the weight lifted is truly the maximum amount he can lift in one repetition, he will move quite slowly.
If we were to graph this, we would put the deadlift in the position below. We have high force but low velocity. For our purposes, we can consider force to be weight or mass.
We can add the 100-meter sprint to the graph as well. We have low force but high velocity.
On the final graph, we can place the snatch right here.
- Absolute Strength. These are your bodybuilders, powerlifters, and probably the majority of the general fitness population. People in this camp lift weights, sure, but they generally stick with training protocols that involve your standard 1-12 reps, drop sets, supersets, burnouts, and then at some point test the waters by performing a strength test to see just how much they can lift.
- Absolute Speed: Here we have your sprinters, throwers, jumpers, and your general “cardio” crowd. Moving only their bodyweight, they are afforded the ability to move as quickly as they well please. You may not even have people who perform resistance training on any level in this category.
When you hit a plateau, it’s time to change where and how much you are working on a particular area of the f-v curve, and thus providing the body with a new stimulus.
Suppose I take a client who wants to improve her 1-rep max back squat. After listening to her I find that she has spent her whole life training in the absolute strength camp. What I might do early on is take her out of that and move down the curve into the Strength/Speed and Speed/Strength area. This means introducing Olympic Weightlifting, squat jumps, med ball tosses, and explosive pushups, and plyometric training. She has no experience before this point, and thus the new stimulus along an untrained area of the f-v curve leaves a large room for new adaptation. This can help her back squat because these adaptations then bleed over into adjacent segments due to the shift of the f-v curve. In terms of physiological stimuli, we're talking about higher rate-coding for the nervous system, Type II motor unit recruitment, and development of the stretch-shortening cycle. After a few weeks of training, I may take the same client back to the Absolute Strength realm to see how things looked. Clearly other factors need to be considered, but my money is that she would see improvements in her back squat.
The point I'm making is that training in the Strength/Speed & Speed/Strength segment can lead to improvements in both Absolute Strength and Absolute Speed. Likewise, if a client spends their training sessions only on Speed/Strength and then dips into Absolute Strength or Absolute Speed, it is likely they will see improvements in the Speed/Strength segment.
So, training to cover all segments of the f-v curve is a sound approach to achieving a higher level of performance in strength, power, and speed.
Speaking directly to sports performance, I typically train to cover the f-v curve during an athlete’s off-season program. I’ll start a program in the Absolute Strength spectrum, which pairs nicely with a general hypertrophy program using foundational movements. As the weeks progress we will still dabble with Absolute Strength, but we’ll advance down the f-v curve, implementing more Olympic-style Weightlifting, squat jumps, and plyometrics. Finally, as we get closer to the start of pre-season, we finish with speed, change of direction, and agility drills.
So consider changing it up, work on a different area of the f-v curve for a few weeks and see how your body changes. I’m sure you’ll be surprised how quickly your body can adapt towards the new stimulus.