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Baseball is an explosive sport where things happen fast and hard. This requires massive amounts of power, and finding the best methods to get our athletes there is our number one priority. This article will review the basics of how athletes generate power. I believe thinking about training to increase power can be a game changer in programming.
Developing strength, speed and explosiveness in athletes is pure physics. Applying these traits to basic anatomical attributes can get a bit complicated, but at the end of the day, it's all about Force, Velocity and Power. So let's talk some basic science before we get into how to train with velocity-based training (VBT) in follow-up articles.
What are Force, Velocity and Power? Let's review each.
The equation for force is expressed as follows:
Mass * Acceleration
All movement is initiated and driven by force. This makes it the most important quality to focus on when training for power. The good news is that along with being the most important trait, it is also the most trainable.
Strength training, which requires the muscles to produce force against an external resistance, is really the common name for force training. However, since there is a time component (acceleration) present in the force equation, the greatest amount of weight able to be lifted may not always be the ideal intensity to utilize. More weight takes longer to move. By its very nature, your one-rep max won't see the bar move very fast at all.
Finding the sweet spot between intensity and time to completion is where using a device such as a GymAware, Tendo or PUSH unit can be a huge help. These tools measure acceleration and force output, helping eliminate a lot of the guesswork. It helps by telling us if an athlete is using the optimum weight in order to maximize the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) and produce the greatest peak force, so programming can be adjusted accordingly. More force is achieved by getting stronger, but obsessing over your max strength isn't necessarily the best way to build more force.
The equation for velocity can be expressed as follows:
Distance / Time
Simply put, velocity is the amount of distance traveled in relation to the amount of time it took to do it. Miles per hour is perhaps the most common measure of velocity. Velocity is directly related to how much force an athlete can produce (strength), as well as how quickly they can produce it (elasticity). For example, if I throw a baseball to the plate at 50% intensity, I'm not putting much force into the ball. That is reflected in the velocity at which the ball arrives at the plate. However, if I throw the ball full throttle (peak force) it will obviously travel at a much higher velocity. The main takeaway here is that the velocity at which an athlete moves his body or an implement (ball, racket, etc.) is a direct product of their ability to produce force and use the SSC.
Many "velocity-driven" athletes rely on the SSC to create most of their power. These athletes need to maintain those elastic qualities while focusing on bringing up the force side of the equation with a good dose of strength training in order to reach their individual sweet spot to produce more power.
Let's get into Power, which is basically the rate at which Force is applied over a distance. It can be expressed in two ways as follows:
(Force * Distance) / Time
Force * Velocity
Traditional strength training increases our ability to apply a maximum amount of force, which takes care of the top half of that first equation. But for power to be maximized, the time component (bottom portion) must also be optimized. This is the aim of power training – to reduce the amount of time it takes to apply a set amount of force over a specific distance.
More isn't always better. The amount of force an athlete produces can decline as the movement gets faster if the amount of weight drops too far, or vice versa. Somewhere between these two extremes is an optimal point (I call it the "sweet spot").
For power development, get this—the sweet spot is different for every athlete! There's no neat tidy equation that works for every athlete.
When training to specifically optimize power, being skewed too far one way or the other away from this sweet spot can have a negative effect on results. This explains why an athlete can be exceptionally strong, but lack significant power. If they are unable to express much of their strength in a short period of time and over a relevant distance, they're not all that powerful. Likewise, an exceptionally elastic athlete can move really fast, but they can lack power if they don't have the strength to match it.
Now you understand the bare essentials of velocity-based training. In future articles, we'll discuss how to take this knowledge and use it to create better, more effective programming for athletes.
Photo Credit: Stevica Mrdja/iStock
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