Power Development, Part V: Ballistic Training

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Deceleration is important in power development. In a one rep max lift, as much as 24 percent of the lift time is spent decelerating, or slowing down, the movement. For a lift at 80 percent max, deceleration can increase to as much as 52 percent.

Ballistic training virtually eliminates deceleration. Ballistic exercises are accelerative, high velocity movements that involve actually projecting the body [or an object] into space.

A research study found that performing an exercise with resistance of 30 percent of a one rep max not only produced the greatest increase in force but also resulted in the greatest increase in maximal mechanical power.

Med balls and other light implements can offer up to 15 percent resistance, which still provides valuable ballistic training. They are a great starting point. When first using ballistic movements, begin with med balls and low percentage loads. Progress toward 30 percent loads with more advanced lifts such as Jump Squats and Bench Throws.

Ballistic movements help develop power—as long as you use common sense to ensure your safety. Here are four good upper and lower body ballistic exercises to perform:

  • Bench Med Ball Throws
  • Jump Squats
  • Overhead Med Ball Throws
  • Med Ball Chest Passes

Bench Med Ball Throws
This exercise requires some equipment. The easiest and safest way to perform it is on a utility bench without arm supports.

  • Sit on the bench with a partner or coach nearby
  • Hold a med ball near your chest, then—in an explosive manner—push the ball up in a chest press motion as quickly and forcefully as possible
  • Once the ball is released into the air, your partner grabs it, thus slowing it down, and drops it back into your outstretched arms
  • Lower the med ball to chest and repeat for the desired reps

Use caution the first time you perform this exercise. Start off with a light ball, and slow the movement down until both you and your partner are comfortable with tossing and catching—and are performing the exercise correctly.

Jump Squats
This exercise can be performed with a barbell, dumbbells or a weighted vest.

  • Begin with feet slightly wider than shoulder width and hands behind head
  • Squat to full or quarter depth, depending on exercise goal
  • Explosively jump straight up
  • With control, land fully on both feet with hips back and chest and head up

This is a great exercise with or without weight. Don't use too much weight, though. Focus on landing properly for each rep.

Overhead Med Ball Throw
Use this exercise for its ability to promote hip extension.

  • Stand tall holding a med ball overhead
  • Squat and with straight arms, touch the ball to the ground
  • Explode up and propel the ball overhead and backward as far as possible
  • If indoors, allow for enough ceiling height to make explosive throws

Med Ball Chest Pass
This is a great upper body explosive exercise.

  • Stand tall holding the med ball overhead
  • Squat and with straight arms, touch the ball to the ground
  • Explode up and out, propelling the ball forward as far as possible using a chest pass motion

Previous posts:
Power Development, Part I
Power Development, Part II
Power Development, Part III
Power Development, Part IV

Kiel Holman is the executive director of Church of Iron in Indianapolis, where he also serves as throws coach for Lawrence Central High School. Certified by the CSCS, USAW, CrossFit L1 and USATF L1, he has worked with NFL defensive back Rashad Barksdale and UFC fighters Chris Lytle, Matt Mitrione and Jake O'Brien; and he has been a speaker at several coaching events, including USA Track and Field Elite Coach's Camp, IATCCC State Clinic, National Throws Conference and Anderson University. Holman graduated from Ball State University, where he played four years of Division I baseball.

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