Is There Strong Enough?

 

There has always been a debate as to whether or not maximal strength is that important, how strong is strong enough, and if not max strength, then what?

It is well documented that increasing maximal strength causes positive adaptations in force output through a wide variety of loads. This carry over from maximal strength to higher velocities is most commonly noted when dealing with relatively untrained athletes. However, as the athlete raises their training state (base levels of strength), such carry over begins to diminish. The brings into question the efficiency of maximal strength training in higher trained athletes and whether or not it is the most beneficial type of training for their sporting performance.

Squat max strength is on the Y axis and the a unit of time is on the X axis. Example of diminishing returns on squat strength and time for improvement (Examples referenced below)

Assumptions

Lets assume you start training an untrained athlete who has an initial max squat of 100lbs. Lets also assume that for the sake of the example that squatting and vertical jump have a direct carry over. This means as the squat increases, so will the vertical jump proportionally. Lets also assume that the athlete is able to express 30% of his maximal squat strength in the vertical jump.

 

If the athlete can squat 100 lbs, then 30% of 100 pounds of force can be carried over to the vertical jump (30lbs).

 

You work with the athlete and over a relatively short period of time (1 unit of time) and you double his squat from 100lbs to 200lbs, which in turn doubles the athlete’s force output in the vertical jump.

 

Max Strength (200) * 30% = 60lbs of force. (1 unit of time for increase)

 

As we know, strength gains are not linear. As the athlete gets stronger, it becomes harder and harder for athlete to improve. In order to increase their strength you will have to invest more energy and more time.

Lets say you invest the time and energy to get them stronger and you have now improved their squat to 400lbs. This is a large increase, but obviously not impossible.

 

Max Strength (400) * 30% = 120lbs of force. (3 units of time to increase strength)

 

Their force producing capabilities have again doubled, but it took 3 times as long to increase him from 200 to 400 as it did to increase him from 100 to 200. Still a smart investment, however as the athlete continues to train the improvements in strength will take longer and longer.

 

The athlete continues to train and eventually you get them to squat 600lbs. It took a lot of time, focus, and energy, but you finally got the athlete there.

 

Fmax (600) * 30% = 180 of force (8 units of time to increase strength)

 

Now the athlete can produce 180lbs of force when they perform, the vertical jump. However, this is assuming that they have no increases in body mass. If the athlete does have an increase in body mass he will still be able to produce 180lb of force, but he will be moving a larger load (himself) and the carryover wont be the same. But for the sake of the example lets just assume that he has not increased his body mass at all since his 100lb squatting days. This is highly unlikely and probably not even possible, but for the sake of the example lets just except it.

Comparing Results

  • Fmax (100) –> (200) had an increase in 30lbs of force from 30- 60 and took 1 unit of time

 

  • Fmax (200) –> (400) had an increase in 60lbs of force from 60-120 and took 3 units of time

 

  • Fmax (400) –> (600) had an increase in 60lbs of force from 120-180 and took 8 units of time

 

So, your end result is an athlete who can produce 180 more pounds of force than he started with. This sounds great, but only if the assumptions above stay constant (which is not likely).

 

Now, lets assume that at the 400lb squat you decide to switch training up and focus more on speed of contraction, maximal intent, and rate of neural firing (rate of force development). When this becomes the focus you are attempting to increase the percentage of force he can express during his vertical jump instead of increasing the amount of force.

 

So, take the 400lb squatter who can produce 120lbs of force (30% of 1rm). Instead of trying to increase his force (you know at this point in his training it will take a lot of effort to see large improvements in maximal squat force), the focus shifts to increase rate of force development.

Example of High Velocity Training

(Optimizing the stretch shortening cycle: website in bio) @camjosse taking his athlete through a velocity dominant workout. Increasing contractile velocity is one of the many methods used to increase the effectiveness of the stretch shortening cycle (SSC). ••••••••••••••••••••••••• Improving contractile velocity is just one of the many mechanisms. Increasing velocity of movement can theoretically increase neural firing rate, speed of transition between eccentric to concentric, and actually increase the max velocity of the athlete (kind of like a velocity reserve) ••••••••••••••••••••••••• The SSC is a very complex mechanism. There are many factors that go in to optimizing it and by ignoring any of the lacking aspects you could be hindering you abilities. From increasing the neural outputs to improve elastic tissue utilization the SSC much more more complex than what may appear on paper.

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Now you invest 4 units of time to increase his rate of force development to 50% of is 1rm. This is half the time required to increase his squat from 400 to 600lbs. His ability to express force in his vertical jump goes from 30% of 400, which is 120 lbs to 50% of 400 which is 200lbs.

 

Now, in half the time that you would have spent attempting to increase the athlete’s squat to 600lbs, you have increased the athlete’s ability to express a higher percentage of his max force in the vertical jump.

 

  • Fmax (400) 30% –> 50% had an increase in 80lbs of force from 120-200 in 4 units of time

 

 

  • Fmax (400) –> (600) had an increase in 60lbs of force from 120-180 and took 8 units of time

 

 

This means, in just half the time you have already surpassed the expressible force gains that would have occurred if you had stuck with traditional strength training. Training rate of force production was far more efficient to train at this athlete’s stage of training than increasing maximal strength.

 

Application  

It is important to track, graph, mark, and note the athlete’s progress. In the early stages of training the most efficient form of training may be traditional strength training. You will see large increases in force producing abilities with little investment of time. However, as the athlete becomes stronger, maximal strength training may reach a point of diminishing returns. The athlete will have to invest more and more time and effort in their training to obtain the desired strength gains. However, by focusing more on developing rate of force development the athlete can be more efficient with their force producing abilities and the training will become much more effective.

 

When training athlete’s it is important to track progress in specific key performance indicators “KPIs”, that the coach feels has the greatest carry over. When the coach begins to see a trend of diminishing returns it may be wise not to switch exercises, but switch the way the exercise is trained. Because each athlete is different, it is important to track individual progress and make changes based on the individual and their progress or lack of.

 

KPI example

 

Are you using your performance indicators? Performance indicators are those metrics that a coach records to help understand how the athlete is progressing in their athletic development and sport preparation. These indicators are often 1 rep maxes, body weights, sprints, jumps etc… •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• One of the easiest ways to use your performance indicators is to test to see whether or not they are actually testing what you want (finding causation). A simple first step in causation process can be finding correlations. This can be done very easily in excel. From there, you can use these findings to help determine variables and metrics of causation (using a little more advanced statical methods). •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• If anyone out there would like help doing some of these basic steps towards finding correlations I would love to run the numbers for free (I am just interested in this kind of stuff and don't currently have a large quantity of info at hand to investigate). I can run some simple correlations and hopefully get you moving in the right direction. If interested feel free to message me for further details..

A post shared by Max Schmarzo (ATC/CSCS/MS) (@strong_by_science) on

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