The foundation of athleticism is based around one tool; the stretch shortening cycle (SSC). By storing energy in other soft tissue and activating the nervous system to a greater degree, this neuromuscular process allows us to exceed the results of using just muscles alone. There are really 2 choices within this process, short or long. Do you need to have quicker reactions over a shorter distance, or is the goal to cover a large span at the expense of longer loading? Better yet, do you know which process needs to be improved for your performance?
2 Graphs from our force plate with 2 similar jump height results, but different means of achievement. The figure on the left is through the long SSC, figure on the right is the short SSC.
These questions are not new to the performance training realm; coaches have been debating for years on these avenues, generally classifying movements as hip or knee dominant. But movement classification goes beyond joint preferences, and should focus on the most important parameter, the time of movement. After all, this temporal variable, short or long, is the biggest determinant of your performance, whether it is sprinting, jumping, or even displacement from a very angry predator (see Sparta Point 1/5/12).
The first tool is the short SSC, which is usually less than .25 seconds. Great examples are a quick rebound in basketball or block jump for volleyball. The shared characteristic is that these movements both involve jumping off of 2 feet to allow a shorter reaction time. Genetically, these athletes tend to have higher fast twitch muscle content, and utilize total body stiffness. Remember that stiffness is not a bad thing; it actually allows you to resist injuries and increase power by transmitting force quicker into the ground, or improve GRF (see Sparta Point 8/30/11).
The second tool is the long SSC, which is seen more in single leg explosive movements like a dunk or an approach jump. Another example is the stopping to change direction or the initial part of a sprint, also known as acceleration (see Sparta Point 11/3/10). This tool emphasizes muscular compliance, or the ability for this soft tissue to stretch, to allow more time for greater involvement from the Central Nervous System.
We all have both tools in some regard, but differentiating your need becomes more difficult as you become more trained. We use a force plate to analyze GRF, finding athletes that are better in short SSC have higher EXPLODE, while long SSC types have great DRIVE. The goal is to have equal abilities on each tool, as you never know what tool that the game or battle will require.
Without a force plate, differentiation can be done, albeit more subjectively. Short SSC athletes will have better 40 yard or 60 yard sprint times, relative to their acceleration time at 10 yards, and volleyball players will perform better on the block. On the other hand, rotation movements like hitting or pitching involve longer SSC movements.
The solution is similar to most of our recommendations; do what you need not what you like. Are you good at single leg movements like acceleration or the approach jump? Then work on quicker training exercises like the Hang Clean and Push Press seen below.
Better at quick movements? Endure those single leg lifts and stability exercises that you dread so much.
So find a way to balance your SSC tools, you’ll need both the short and long to win.