Improving Athletic Performance Beyond Peak Strength: Part 2

Part 1 discusses the role strength plays in maximizing other physical qualities like speed and power, and lays the foundation for how players can improve their performance when they reach their genetic strength limits. Part 2, below, follows up with specific strategies on how to improve an athletes rate of force development, the secret to unlocking more power and speed in elite players.

Strategies for Improving ROFD

Rate of force development differs slightly from power in that power, by definition (Power = Force X Distance/Time), necessitates movement. In contrast, rate of force development encompasses the ability to generate force rapidly, even without external movement. For example, when players battle for possession in the corner, they often push against an opponent who does not move to any significant degree. Whether these efforts are proactive (you pushing up against them) or reactive (you responding to them pushing up against you), the player who is able to generate a high level of force quicker will likely gain optimal body possession and likely control of the puck. This is just one example of the expression of ROFD in environments that don’t involve much movement. Movement-based examples are drastically more prevalent. These include things like first-step quickness, transitional speed, shot release, and shooting power, among others. Naturally, these things can have a powerful (pun intended) impact on a player’s performance.

When training to improve ROFD, it’s important to understand that these adaptations are largely (although not entirely) neural, and that the intention to generate force quickly is more important than the actual speed of movement. When you intend (read: try) to move quickly, the recruitment threshold for high force producing motor units drops. This essentially allows you to develop higher levels of force sooner by bringing more and bigger neuromuscular hands on deck. This concept is key, because it means that ROFD can be improved even with the use of near-maximal loads, which will necessarily slow down the actual movement (as load increases, speed of movement decreases).

With that understood, here are 4 effective strategies to help maximize ROFD:

1) Train for power in low load, high velocity ranges (med ball throws, lower load Olympic lift variations, plyometrics, linear, lateral, and transitional speed exercises, lower load traditional lifting exercises, etc.)

2) Train for power in high load, relatively lower velocity ranges (higher load Olympic lift variations, sled drags variations, resisted linear, lateral, and transitional speed exercises, etc.

3) Intend to move through the concentric phase (typically the “up” phase of an exercise) of exercises as quickly as possible, every rep.

4) Train isometrically in weak ranges of motion of specific movements, and intend to develop force as quickly as possible.

Of these, the first three are the most practical and easiest to transition to as a quality hockey training program should already include components of speed, power in different load ranges, and more traditional strength training exercises. While it is appropriate to slightly shift a greater relative volume of work within the program to this aim, it’s important to recognize that these strategies require maximum efforts, which typically require low rep ranges (e.g. 1-6), complete rest, and only as many sets as the player can perform maximally (not just with maximum effort, but with actual maximum power/ROFD). This is difficult to monitor in isometric exercises, but players can use a Tendo unit to monitor bar speed to help determine drop-off in traditional lifting exercises, and stop watchers or electronic timers to monitor performance in sprint/sled work. An alternative, and likely more practical option, is to simply err on the side of lower volumes of work.

Maximal neural efforts place a high load on the nervous system, which takes time to recover and adapt. Throughout this process, it’s important that the athlete implements these principles strategically, and doesn’t overdue other neurologically taxing work (e.g. extremely high load or high speed efforts) within a given training cycle.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. If you want more examples of great ways to develop speed, power, and rate of force development, subscribe to my youtube channels here: Hockey Training Coach & Endeavor Sports Performance

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