Here in part 2, former TV Gladiator and record-breaking GB pole vaulter Kate Staples continues to look at the notions of strength, speed and power and their impact on athletic performance.

The Force-Velocity curve

The shot putt vs punch and the ‘pushing the sprinter’ examples in Part 1, show that the greater the speed of movement the less time we have to develop force. The result of this is that our strength at higher velocities is lower.

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Strength is usually defined in terms of maximums, but clearly strength can only truly be defined in relation to the speed at which it is applied.

This means that a person’s ability to apply force will be determined by the speed at which it is applied. Strength at speed is known as ‘power.’ We will get to that!

Individual sport performance

For every individual, we can draw a curve on a graph which accurately charts their ability to develop force at a variety of speeds.

Powerlifting curve

A powerlifter whose training is all about lifting maximum weights with no regard for actual speed of movement, has great ability to generate huge forces at incredibly slow speeds but would be less adept at rapid movement.

Javelin curve

A javelin thrower, however, trains just to apply as much force as possible and as quickly as possible, to a light object (adult male javelin weighs 0.8kg).

performance fitness_4It takes time to generate maximum force and an object which is hard to move, such as those with a greater mass, gives us more time to apply force.

So a javelin thrower’s primary goal is to train to enhance their ability to apply force as quickly as possible.  And by reducing this time through appropriate training (and doing so in tandem with great technique) they will be able to propel the javelin even further.

These two examples show that these abilities are attainable through training and therefore it is a fact that we can alter our own personal force/velocity curves with specific, targeted and smart training.

Learn to train smarter

There’s a great saying in coaching circles – ‘Train slow, be slow’.

It is fair to say that there are more sporting and physical activity pursuits that are more closely related to the speed and power of throwing a javelin rather than the massive but slow efforts of grinding out a 400kg deadlift.

With this in mind, it therefore raises something of a head-scratching question over why so many athletes seemingly place a disproportionate emphasis on training exercises lifted from the pages of powerlifting or bodybuilding manuals?

If that is truly the case then it appears to be misguided and quite futile in terms of allowing them to excel at their specific discipline.

In Part 3 this approach is further explained by the next key concept – Explosive Strength Deficit.

Please come back tomorrow for the third and concluding part of this feature which has been looking at the actual meanings of strength, speed and power, their purposes, how they can be trained for and how they lead to great performance improvements. 

Connect here with Expert Kate Stapes.

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