Using the Force-Velocity Curve to Build Better Athletes

TAGS: joey bergles, force-velocity curve, strength increases, plyometrics, power

The force-velocity curve is one of the most important concepts to understand when aiming to increase athletic performance. Quickly summed up, the more force you apply, the less velocity is realized. Inversely, the more velocity that is realized, the less force is applied.

One of the goals of a sports performance program should be to shift the curve to the right. A shift means that the athlete can apply greater force at higher velocities, allowing him to run faster, jump higher, and be more powerful.

Periodization

The force-velocity curve can be broken down into five different segments—maximal strength, strength-speed, power, speed-strength, and speed. For a majority of athletes, improving upon their strength levels will help shift the curve to the right, as strength is the quality that affects all other qualities. Traditional linear periodization aims to hit each part of the curve in different blocks. So, for example, an athlete would spend four weeks on hypertrophy, then on strength, then on maximal strength, and then on power/speed/explosiveness. While there are many great things about linear periodization, the concept of focusing on just one quality at a time might not be the best or most efficient when you have a relatively short time span and want the most bang for your buck. For most sports, power and speed are two of the most important qualities. If you only have a twelve- to sixteen-week off-season for which to focus on training, do you really only want to spend four to eight weeks focusing on your most important qualities?

 

 

A modified conjugate system for athletes

When trying to improve upon athletic performance, hitting multiple points on the force-velocity curve will help shift a given athlete’s curve to the right. Using a modified conjugate system allows for multiple points on the curve to be targeted at the same time. One day targets strength-speed/power, another targets speed/speed-strength, and another targets maximal type strength. Using different types of exercises and loads within each given spectrum allows for different parts of the curve to be sub-targeted. It should be noted that when I talk about this system, I’m only talking about training the lower body. I realize that in sports like football, upper body strength and power are crucial. The system can be altered to incorporate the upper body as well.

Strength-speed:

Most traditional dynamic lower body lifting is done at around 60 percent. Even smaller percentages are used when the individual becomes more experienced and stronger. Working at around 60 percent doesn’t elicit a great enough stimulus for most athletes, as their nervous systems aren’t proficient enough. Instead, working at around 70–80 percent on the dynamic day and performing five to eight sets of two to three reps forces the athletes to use the full power of their nervous systems and musculature to move the weight as fast as possible. That’s the single goal—to move the weight as fast as humanely possible. Plyometrics or short sprints can be combined with the main lift to target the velocity portion of the curve. There are different ways to add a new stimulus to this day by changing the percentages used, waving the percentages, and changing the exercise. Back squats, front squats, and deadlift variations all work well.

Speed/speed-strength:

This day is solely about velocity of movement—plyometrics, speed work (both linear and lateral), and agility. Keep the focus on the velocity of movement. It works well when you continually progress your exercises. So, for example, do squat jumps for a couple weeks and then move to repeat squat jumps, box jumps, hurdle hops, hurdle hops to broad jumps, and so on. While velocity is still paramount, you can add things in that influence the amount of force and velocity that are being realized. Doing sled sprints with 10–15 percent of an athlete's body weight and performing jumps with some sort of relatively light resistance (vertimax, dumbbells, weight vest, barbell) and single-leg plyometrics will all require more force while giving up some velocity.

Maximal strength:

This day differs from a Westside maximal day. Generally, we work at 85–95 percent doing two to four reps. Personally, I don’t think it would be wise to have athletes perform true one-rep maxes every week. With less experienced lifters, the chances of an injury occurring are increased, and the athletes can tend to miss their depth on squats. There are some valid arguments to be made about this day, but I believe the most important thing an athlete does is play his sport. So I’m not comfortable taking the chance of increasing the likelihood of injury, which would mean the athlete couldn’t play or practice his sport. With that being said though, we will work up to performing two- to five-rep maxes, and we will complex it with some sort of jump. I do believe that being under a heavy load is one of the best things an athlete can be put through, as it requires a great deal of mental focus, mental toughness, and competitive drive, all of which are necessary to succeed not just on the playing field but also in life. Back squats, front squats, and deadlifts variations work well.

Putting it all together

This type of system works best on a four-day split, but it could be used with only three days. The first day, preferably Monday, is the strength-speed day. The second day, preferably Wednesday, is the speed/speed-strength day. The last day, preferably Friday, is the maximal strength day. With a system like this, it’s very important to analyze the amount of volume and accessory work that’s being performed. We’ll generally only perform one lower body accessory on day one. It’s usually either something to build the posterior chain or a single leg movement. The point is to cause stress but not enough so that the athlete isn't almost fully recovered for day two. On day two, make sure the velocity stays up. Once you see athletes start to get neurologically fatigued, cut them off. After their plyometrics/speed/agility work, I’ll usually add some type of sled work in as well. This allows for more work capacity to be built up. Because there isn’t much eccentric stress, it allows the body to recover for Friday.

When we do our sled exercises, we pick movements that focus on the frontal plane of motion, which allows us to build strength within this plane. With that being said, it’s crucial that the athletes have a day off or have a very easy day following this day. The neurological stress from this day would severely limit what could be accomplished on day three, the maximal strength day, if it were directly after the velocity day. Preferably, this day should be on a Friday. We’ll do our maximal strength exercises followed by a couple lower body accessories. Because the athletes will have Saturday and Sunday off, you can afford to throw more at them. Most of the time they should still be fine on Monday when you start the week over again.

Notes

Where do you put all the upper body/core/specialized exercises? If you have four days a week to train, put your upper body pushing day between days one and two, so Tuesdays. If you only have three days, you’ll have to adjust your volumes, but you could put it on day one or two. I deal with baseball players and, as such, they don’t need a lot of pushing strength for their sport. I still feel it’s necessary to train that movement under load with them, so Tuesdays are our pushing day. With regards to the back, I’m a huge fan of more frequency with pulling movements. Most athletes lack a lot of strength in the upper back, which is noticeable in their postures. We do some sort of pulling two to three times a week. It can be supersetted with the lower body accessories or the core work. The core/specialized exercises can be supersetted as well.

Because I work with baseball players, we also spend a lot of time focusing on rotational power, usually twice a week. We’ll do our rotational power days on our upper body push and max strength days. Our specialized exercises, which for baseball players is scapular/rotator cuff strength and stability, are placed in about twice a week and are supersetted with almost anything. Finally, it’s important that the general focuses of the days are intelligently organized. If the max day was performed on day one, it's too stressing on the body and the athletes aren't recovered enough for day two, thus the velocity you’re trying to train wouldn’t be realized. Also, being able to have the weekends off is very important for this system to work. Properly timed and managed deload weeks are also important.

Advantages

  • Allows multiple points of the force-velocity curve to be trained
  • Aims at improving power and speed
  • Allows multiple qualities to be trained throughout the periodization plan
  • Works well when given a short time span to produce results.

Disadvantages

  • Might be too advanced for some athletes, which could stunt their athletic and nervous system’s capabilities
  • Puts a lot of stress on the nervous system
  • Can be challenging and potentially inappropriate if poor sleeping habits and nutrition are factored in (I work with college athletes. Their eating and sleeping habits are horrible. They also practice five days a week. When you add these types of factors in, it can make this system challenging and potentially inappropriate).
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