Having a mix of different strengths and weaknesses will mean people can produce the same result by different means - or simply, Diff'rent Strokes For Diff'rent Folks. If we really narrow it down, in just about all sports-related tasks your performance is going to depend on an optimum amount of strength and speed.
As I've beat into your head 1 million times and will continue to do so - for most movements the more force you can apply and the quicker you apply that force the greater your performance will be so that makes both of these qualities vitally important.
Now realize you can achieve success with a varying ratio of strength or speed.
Let's say: Strength X Speed=Your Performance
To determine your performance we give you a ranking based on your speed and strength.
A speed score of 5 multiplied by a strength score of 3 equals 15. (5x3=15)
A strength score of 5 multiplied by a speed score of 3 still equals 15. (5x3=15)
So we just flip-flop the strength and speed score and still get the same result. Different means of achieving the same performance.
Muscular vs Plyometric Dominance
Another way to analyze strength and speed is to look at what dominant type of muscle function most influences each one. In a pure strength movement like a 1rm squat or bench press, movement is generated nearly completely by the muscle fibers, which is why the strongest people tend to have very large muscles, short limbs and short tendons.
For a movement requiring nearly pure speed, like sprinting the last half of a 100-meter dash, movement is generated nearly completely by the tendons and other non-muscular plyometric or reactive elements that simply transfer energy like a rubber band. This is why the fastest and quickest people tend not to have the largest muscles even though power and maximal force production is important to these athletes as well but the way they get that power is a little different.
The balance between muscular strength and plyometric strength we can call your static-spring balance or static-spring proficiency.
Balance between your muscular strength and plyometric abilities
If I've confused you here all you have to do is think of the static-spring effect as nothing more than a spring. Static can be likened to the stiffness of a spring, or muscular strength, whereas spring can be likened to the springiness of the spring and plyometric ability of your muscles and tendons. Any given activity will require a varying balance between the 2, static and spring.
Obviously a powerlifter is going to require more static ability than a sprinter because of the loads employed. He will need a heavier and less compressable spring due to the nature of his sport. Imagine trying to squat 600-plus pounds having legs that function like a pogo stick!
Although the powerlifter still needs a lot of stiffness, he's still going to require a certain degree of plyometric ability otherwise he's going to be too slow in his movement performance and won't have any spring to assist him in blasting up a heavy load.
A sprinter is obviously going to require a lot of spring-like ability but also needs substantial static strength ability in order to generate force and overcome his bodyweight at the start of the sprint - and be able to absorb the force that is created everytime his foot strikes the ground as he accelerates and achieves top speed. If he didn't have the necessary strength his foot would collapse with every footstrike. A rough ride indeed.
The Key - Optimization
An optimization of your static-spring proficiency is going to be important for you and the ratio is going to be different for everyone depending on the sport and individualities.
This is a series of charts that will better illustrate this. These examples may not be 100 percent technically correct but I think they'll do the job. What follows is a series of 4 lines and if you look at them each refers to a certain quality. These include:
- Movement performance characteristics (faster vs slower)
- Muscular system dominance (static strength vs plyometric spring or tendons and connective tissue vs muscles)
- Training methods (plyometrics vs Heavy weight training)
- Loading (bodyweight vs heavy loading)
- Movement examples (sprinting, high jumping, lifting)
To the far left of each line is where speed and plyometric (spring-like) ability is dominant and to the far right of each line is where muscular strength is going to be dominant.
Movement Performance Characteristics:
Muscular System Dominance:
plyometrics(pure elastic)<---------->isometric(pure muscle)
TSP=Top Speed Sprint
LJ= Long Jump
VJ= Vertical Jump
SA= Sprint Acceleration
OL= Olympic Lifting Movements
ISO= Isometric Strength
You can see that a top speed sprint requires:
- Zero loading
- Faster movement performance
- More speed than strength
- More reactive(spring) contribution than muscular (static)
Whereas a maximal powerlift requires:
- 100% loading
- Slower movement performance
- More strength than speed
- More muscular(static) contribution than reactive (spring)
Different Ratios For Different People
Now it should be obvious that depending on your sport you will need to have a different ratio of each quality. Obviously if you're a powerlifter you need more static-strength then a sprinter or high jumper.
If you're a sprinter you need more plyometric ability than a lifter. What isn't so clear is that regardless of your sport, your individualities will cause you to have varying levels of speed,strength, elastic function and muscular function. Which qualities are stronger for you will vary, but you want to provide the optimum balance to enhance your progress.
Now, see how sprint acceleration (SA) and vertical jumping ability (VJ) lie just about smack dab in the middle?
This means these movements are going to require approximately a 50/50 balance between the 2 extremes of strength and speed. The vertical jump is simple, but acceleration can be thought of as any maximal run out to around 40-50 yards/meters. In most sports the emphasis is on acceleration, not top speed.
In either of these tasks you are going to inherently have one side of the strength vs. speed continuum that is stronger and or weaker then the other so for optimal performance you should train where you are weak for overall balance. For one athlete this might be pure strength training.
For another athlete in the exact same sport this might be pure speed training. This is where the various strength deficit tests come in which I'll give an example of in just a second.
Regarding training methods you have pure plyometric at one end and pure isometric at the other end (pure speed vs pure strength). Isometric is obvious because it requires no movement whatsoever. Holding a maximal weight in place or pushing against an immoveable object are examples of isometric strength.
They involve nothing but pure muscular strength with zero contribution by the plyometric spring effect. At the other end, movements requiring pure speed are mostly generated by stretching and plyometric recoil of the muscle-tendon complex rather than strength of the individual muscle fibers.
All other movements and training methods fill in the gaps between those 2 extremes. Even traditional training with weights blends in isometric and plyometric movement with muscular and plyometric elements working together - the ratio determined by the load and the individual. Generally, the heavier the load the more muscle involved, the lighter the load and the higher the speed the more recoil or spring is involved.
How much of what type of training you will need will depend on where your sport lies on the continuum (speed vs strength/elastic vs muscular) and your individual static spring balance and which side is stronger or more developed than the other for you as an individual.
Examples Of Different Strokes For Different Folks
Now lets say that we have 2 athletes who we'll call athlete A and B. Each are the same size and weight and have exactly the same performance in the standing vertical jump, yet they achieve the same jump by different dominant strength qualities. Let's give an illustration of each and their performance in various tasks.
Vertical Jump: 35 inches
10 yard dash: 1.50 seconds
60 meter dash: 7.25 seconds
Squat: 350 lbs
Running jump: 37 inches
depth jump: 33 inches
Power clean: 255 lbs.
Vertical Jump: 35 inches
10-yard dash: 1.55 seconds
60-meter dash: 6.85 seconds
Squat: 250 lbs
Running Jump: 43 inches
Depth jump: 39 inches
Power clean: 185 lbs
If you analyze these performances closely and look at the chart up above it should become apparent that athlete A is relying more on his static strength ability to get him up in the air. He's strong, powerful, and explosive when it comes to applying muscular force. This is evidenced by his weight room strength, his power clean and his 10-yard dash times. However, as movement speed increases and prime movement generation switches to plyometric rather htna muscular his performance suffers.
Athlete B is relying more on his spring and plyometric ability which is illustrated by the opposite of athlete A. He demonstrates an improvement in relative performance the faster the speed of movement becomes.
To make further vertical jumping progress, Athlete A would be better off working with speed and dynamic exercises like plyometrics and lighter weight accelerated weight training to improve his speed and plyometric capacity and optimize his static spring abilities.
Athlete B needs the opposite approach. He needs to work on his basic strength while maintaining his plyometric capacities to optimize his static-spring abilities. He could do this through strength training a couple of times per week while maintaining his plyometric function, which he could do by playing his sport a couple of times per week.
Now here's another example. Let's say we have 2 powerlifters. Both of them are again the same size and bench press the same amount of weight. Let's take a look at their individual performances in some specific bench pressing tasks and see how they achieve the same result with different qualities:
Bench press: 400 lbs
Maximum load to achieve 3 reps in 3 seconds: 200 lbs (50%)
Bench press: 400 lbs
Maximum load to achieve 3 reps in 3 seconds: 280 lbs (70%)
Powerlifter A - Can bench press 3 reps in 3 seconds with 50% of his 1-rep max.
Powerlifter B - Can bench press 3 reps in 3 seconds with 70% of his 1-rep max.
Knowing this we know that powerlifter B is faster then powerlifter A and relies more on speed to achieve his maximum lift. To improve his performance he should train heavier with basic strength training and perhaps isometric training methods. He could of course perform heavy training and also perhaps even isometric training to really focus on his pure muscular strength.
Powerlifter B is slower and uses pure strength rather than explosiveness and speed to achieve his performance. He should work on becoming more explosive by mixing in more speed training in along with his strength training. He could spend half his workouts using 50-70% loads performed with low reps and great speed and acceleration ala Westside style.
These are just a few examples of how different folks use different strokes to achieve the desired result. Hopefully you will start to pay attention to your static-spring balance and learn to optimize the various qualities to achieve success in your sport.
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- Mel C. Siff, Yuri V. Verkhoshansky, "Supertraining" 1999.
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- King, Ian. "How To Write Strength Training Programs" King Sports International.
- Buchenholz, D."The Sports Book". Inno-Sport Publishing. 2004.