One of the great dangers in coaching a group of athletes in the same sport is the tendency to stick them all in the same box. If they play X, then they need Y. The problem is, however, you can have two athletes who perform roughly the same on the court, but come about those abilities in two completely different ways. What is important to remember in training for sport is that power output is the main goal – power is the ability of the body to produce force quickly.
One of the things that amazes me the most is that people usually seek an increase in power output by chasing speed increases first. They start to perform plyometrics and modified Olympic lifts in the hope these movements will add to their speed and therefore increase their power. Wouldn’t it be better to actually know if you’d benefit more from gains in strength or speed first, and then create a training plan that helps you achieve exactly that?
In the book Supertraining, Mel Siff explains the concept of the strength deficit as, “ …defined as the difference between maximum strength produced in a given action and absolute strength of which the athlete is capable in that same action.”
What makes this important is that the difference between maximum strength produced and absolute strength can be identified under different speeds and loads. For instance, if there is a large noticeable difference between jumping with the knees slightly flexed and jumping preceded by a dip, you would seek out ballistic and shock methods of training, such as plyometrics. If there is a small difference, however, you’d be better off choosing strength and hypertrophy training with loads ranging from 5RM-8RM and using methods such as CAT (Compensatory Acceleration Training). The main factors to keep in mind, though, even after you have done a self-test, is that your training plan should be in line with the demands of your sport. In sports that have little external load – sprinting, jumping, even baseball pitching – training to increase rapidity of movement is vital.
The difficulty in testing some of these differences is that “absolute” strength is lab-tested by inducing electric shock into the muscles to see how much force can be generated! I don’t know about you, but my general health and fitness plan doesn’t involve being subjected to voluntary electrical shock (which is precisely why I will never do a Tough Mudder). So how can we test this?
A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research came up with a far cheaper and easier way to measure these deficits. By using a jump mat and variously weighted squat jumps, researchers were able to identify the deficits. Using a device similar to a Smith Machine, which only allowed movement in the vertical plane, subjects were tested on their jump heights without the need to balance, so a reasonably accurate test of peak power was conducted.
The researchers findings showed that the same deficits could be seen as described in Siff’s original writings. Athletes who tested poorly on low load jumps (body weight plus 20%) were found to be in need of ballistic training, while those who tested poorly on high load jumps (body weight plus 60%) were in need of extra maximal strength work.
This is a great reason why cookie cutter plans found on the Internet often lead to mediocre results. With a one-size-fits-all plan there is no way to tell if the athlete is in need of speed-strength work or maximal strength work, and only by working on their individual weakness can they really achieve great performance.