I received a question the other day regarding an athlete and his need to perform either more strength work or more explosive work when it pertained to his pitching mechanics and how fast he threw. His main concern came with which area would best improve his velocity. I briefly touched on his question on twitter, but I wanted to expand upon it and fully explain not only what qualities are involved in ballistic movements (I will explain what makes a movement ballistic briefly), but how you can train these qualities and combine them to improve the overall output of your ballistic movement (whatever it may be). Essentially, force (strength), velocity and speed-strength (power) are the three main characteristics that are present in ballistic movements, and you can train all of them in the weight room!
What is a Ballistic Movement?
First and foremost, I want to give everyone a full understanding of a ballistic movement. The following are some characteristics unique to ballistic movements.
Essentially, consider a ballistic movement one in which the muscles fire and contract at rapid and forceful rates to produce a movement that only lasts seconds. You can see ballistic movements in almost all sports.
Now that you know what ballistic movements involve, let us discuss the three components that are involved in producing/building them.
Producing Force (Strength)
The base of all movements involves force production rooted in strength. Simply put, how much energy can you apply into a stable surface or movement? Think of force as your horsepower (I will get to this with a car analogy in a bit). As we know, force is officially determined as a product of mass and acceleration. However, in this sense we are simply going to think of force as overall strength. Think of a squat. The more force you can place into the ground (stable surface) the more weight you can lift.
To think of velocity, I will use a basic example. The force-velocity profile of an athlete involves how much of their power output is a result of strength or simply the reactiveness of their ligaments and tendons and how rapid they move (stretch shortening cycle). If you applied this thought to a vertical jump, a force dependent athlete would achieve most of their vertical jump height via strength, or how much energy they could apply into the ground. A velocity dependent athlete would achieve a great deal of their jump height due to the reactiveness of their tendons and ligaments and how fast they could load and unload. This is a characteristic dependent upon speed with no resistance.
The way I like to think about power is that it is a measure of speed x strength. Basically, how fast can you display your strength? You are able to place a great deal of energy into the ground on a sprint, for example, but are you able to display that force over and over again as fast as possible without sacrificing the strength portion? Your tendons and ligaments are able to load and fire rapidly, but can they uphold those same qualities when a great deal of strength is involved to produce a tremendous amount of energy (force)? This phenomenon is known as rate of force development. Usain Bolt is able to exert upwards of six times his bodyweight into the ground with any given stride. However, if that was the only quality involved in elite speed there would be a long list of power lifters with crazy squats giving him a literal run for his money. What also makes him blazing fast is not only his form (leg stiffness, vertical stiffness etc.), but that he can maintain that force exerting ability while rapidly re-producing it over and over. Think of it this way: he can place a great deal of energy into the ground with each stride, but he is also very adept at repeating that same cycle at an extremely fast rate.
The Car Analogy
To basically tie this all together, I want to give an example involving a car. You have seen it before. A car with 600 horsepower cannot go 0-60 mph as fast as a car that only has 400 horsepower. One may have more raw force producing ability, but the other is better at displaying less force faster and thus is faster overall. Consider all of the qualities we have gone over above in this manner:
How Can You Train These Qualities?
This part will be the most cut and dry and plain and simple portion of this article. You now have a good understanding of each of the qualities that come together to produce power movements, but need to know how you can work at improving them in a general capacity (weight room/strength and speed training) setting.
Now that you understand these qualities and how you can improve them, it is fairly easy to see that you need an even balance of proficiency in all of these in order to improve your overall output in ballistic movements. Now, go get to work!
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Gerry DeFilippo: ISSA CPT- CPPS, AAPS. Founder/Owner: Challenger Strength.