Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Explosive Training Theory

During my days as an NCAA athlete (volleyball player), I took part in some explosive training, as per coaches' and trainer's orders. Some of these were plyometrics and some were resembling game movements ("sports specific").

Some of the plyometric exercises we used were lateral box push offs, depth jumps, and split squat jumps. You can see examples of those and other plyometrics here. Sports-specific exercises include a basketball player shooting with a weighted basketball or a pitcher mimicking a pitching motion, but with a dumbbell in his hand instead of a baseball. For volleyball, we performed squat jumps.

Regardless of the exercise, explosive training is performed to increase an athlete's power during competition. The reasoning seems logical: train fast to be fast, and train fast to work and improve your fast twitch muscle fibers (which are the fibers that produce the most strength and power). However, this theory is flawed:
  1. Fast twitch muscle fibers are named after the rate at which they fatigue, not the rate at which they contract. In other words, your fast twitch fibers are the quickest to become tired, whereas the slow twitch fibers have the most endurance...hence the names.
  2. During any muscular effort, the fibers are recruited in a specific order. That order is: slow twitch fibers first, and fast twitch fibers second (if necessary). There is no way to skip ahead or just use the fast twitch.
  3. Involvement of the fast twitch muscle fibers is intensity dependent, not speed dependent. If the level of muscle intensity is high enough, then the fast twitch fibers will be involved. Slow, intense exercises involve the fast twitch muscle fibers as well as fast exercises, if not better. Therefore, your ability to increase strength and power for athletic competitions is dependent on your ability to train intensely (Two side notes: to me, high intensity strength training is defined by the weight which you use. If the weight is light, it doesn't matter how tired you are at the end of the set: it's not high intensity. Training intensely is a combination of heavy resistance and effort. Picking a challenging weight and then stopping several reps shy of your true physical limit doesn't satisfy what your muscles need to improve, let alone fight the aging process that most of us face. Specifically, I define a challenging weight as one that you cannot lift beyond 100 seconds.).
  4. The injury risk is high for exercises performed fast, especially those with added resistance. A few posts ago, I linked to a study where 71 powerlifters tallied 1,126 days of missed training over 17 months due to injuries. Powerlifting is a classic example of explosive training. Due to the high amount of acceleration, excessive force is involved in explosive training, especially for someone who is not extremely proficient at performing each exercise.
  5. Finally, weighted movements that mimic sports actions can actually slow down the athlete when in a game. While a batter thinks he is going to fool his senses into acting faster by swinging two bats in the on-deck circle, he is actually teaching his body to swing slower.
There are two simple ways to improve athletic performance: practice your craft more often (which will improve your proficiency in the necessary movements and abilities), and strength train in a controlled manner, with a challenging resistance, until you are completely fatigued on each exercise. Perform your athletic drills/simulations everyday if possible, and perform the strength training two or three times per week.

Other matters to briefly address:
  • I have had many people email me with various quick training and diet questions. If you would like to me to answer a question of yours in length as part of a blog entry or have a desired topic for a blog, please feel free to suggest (spreuss40@yahoo.com). Your name won't be mentioned in the post if you want to remain anonymous.
  • Health-Actualization subscriber and horror fiction writer Andrew Terech is releasing his new story in a new format, via blog entries on his site, Chronicles of Horror. If you enjoy horror movies or fiction writing, you will likely enjoy Terech's work.

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