What Strength Do You Need?

December 8, 2010

One of the largest shared characteristics of sport is the ability to do something as fast as you can for as long as you can. Think about jumping as high as you can for a rebound, sprinting down the field for the ball, or any defensive movement that requires coverage of a large area. While all of these movements need to propel the body in a different direction, some vertically and some hovering along the ground, they all center on achieving maximal distance in the shortest amount of time. Variations of strength underlie this ability.

Strength is the ability to produce force on physical objects (i.e. make them or you move) through the use of muscles. Sports science research and our experience with athletes have centered on 3 major strength variations that we will call RATE, FORCE and TIME.

RATE is the ability to produce force quickly. This characteristic requires the body to be stiff and short, particularly during the loading period, like a block jump in volleyball or a quick step to react defensively.

The second variation, FORCE, is the ability to produce maximum force and is commonly referred to as acceleration. Once you have prepared for movement in a certain direction, continuing to use the muscles and finish this momentum is crucial to accelerating.

TIME is the third major component of strength and perhaps the hardest to grasp (see SpartaPoint 1/27/10) because to do something fast and for distance, it is hard to think about taking more time to do it. But the longer you exert force on an object, the more you can impart. Think about blocking in football, or the bat staying through “the zone” in baseball to hit the ball further.

At Sparta, we use a force plate to decipher and monitor these strength variations (see SpartaPoint 10/28/09), but there are ways to focus on these aspects on your own. You can even isolate the intended movement and break it up from there. For example, if you want to work on jumping, jump rope is a great way to increase your rate and quickness, leaping onto tall boxes will improve force (acceleration), and single leg jumps will require more time on the ground to improve your stability.

Don’t go in blind to your workouts, but look to target rate, force, or time in every movement. But if you’re competing against our athletes, just work on them all simultaneously because the broad approach is always the most efficient.

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