HOW TO TRAIN
Your strength will improve as a result of creating high-tension levels in the muscle, which is directly related to the training method employed. Your ability to generate maximum strength depends on the size of the muscle involved, the capacity to recruit or use your fast twitch muscle fibers, and the ability to coordinate all of your muscles involved into action. The ability to recruit your fast twitch fibers depends on training content, in which heavy loads and explosive power training should dominate. Improving your muscle coordination and synchronization depends on learning, which means performing many reps of the same exercise.
High-tension levels in the muscle are necessary to create increased levels of force and strength. So how does one go about creating a lot of tension in the muscles and thus improve force output? The answer is simple. Lift a moderately heavy to heavy load in good form with as much force as you can muster! When lifting a heavy load, even though you might be pushing as hard and as fast as you can, the weight probably won’t move all that fast. Each muscle cell has to contract forcefully for fairly long periods of time, therefore your muscle cells are subject to greater amounts of tension which is necessary to create strength. Lifting a lighter load with more speed doesn’t subject the muscle cells to the prolonged levels of high tension, so, although useful for increasing other aspects of performance like increased rate of force development, won’t have near the effect of heavy weights at creating maximum levels of useable strength and force.
Won’t Getting Bigger Muscles Slow Me Down?
If any of you out there are worried about becoming overly “muscular” or getting too big from weight training, first I might ask what are you worried about? Don’t you know the opposite sex loves hard bodies?! All kidding aside you definitely don’t have to develop huge bodies and large muscles to become significantly stronger. Research shows that strength training methods typically bring a 3:1 ratio of strength vs. muscle mass increase. This means if your body mass increases 10%, your strength should increase 30%, which makes your gains purely functional.
Say you weigh 150 lbs right now and can squat 200 lbs. Your bodyweight is 75% of your squat. Let’s say you gain 15 lbs of bodyweight bringing you to 165 lbs while at the same time your squat increases to 260 lbs. Now your bodyweight is only 63% of your squat! This means your relative strength, or strength per pound of bodyweight, has improved substantially and your performance will also improve dramatically. The take home point is to not be afraid of gaining muscular bodyweight.
Can’t I get Too Strong?
Remember that the vertical jump occurs in about .2 seconds and it takes at least .4 seconds to develop maximal force. Up to a certain point strength is beneficial for power development. However, if you were to do nothing but train for maximum strength for months or years on end there will come a time when your bodyweight and strength increases above and beyond the speed at which you can apply useable force.
This is why it’s important to pay attention to your strength per pound of bodyweight or relative strength. So you may ask, “What is the point that additional strength per pound of bodyweight is of no use for vertical jump improvement?” This will vary from person to person and depends on many factors, the biggest probably being your plyometric capacity in comparison to your maximal strength. Fortunately, there are tests to determine this, which I’ll share in later posts.
One simple thing you can do is pay attention to how quickly you can move heavy loads. You want to be able to lift relatively fast and explosively with a relatively high % of your maximum strength. To give you an idea, Fred Hatfield set a world record squat of over 1000 lbs. What’s really amazing is his squat attempt took him less than 3 seconds to complete from start to finish. With that kind of explosiveness it’s no wonder he at one time had a vertical jump around 40 inches even without any specific training for it! You should be able to complete your maximum lifts in 4 seconds or less from start to finish. If it takes you longer then that any extra strength you gain won’t be very useful when performing a high-speed maneuver like a jump.
To make it easier we can say that strength training can be detrimental to your performance when:
1. Increases in strength fail to yield improvements in leaping performance
2. When strength increases are only achieved through a large increase in body weight and hence do not increase the power to bodyweight ratio.
3. When the training frequency required for an increase in strength compromises the time needed for sport specific activity.
4. When extra strength can only be gained by increasing the duration of a max lift above ~4 seconds.
We can also do a strength analysis of some of the most powerful and explosive athletes around, sprinters. Upper level sprinters are universally very strong for their bodyweight. In fact, at bodyweights anywhere from 160 to 200 lbs they will routinely squat a minimum of 400 lbs on up to 600 lbs! With this knowledge it’s probably safe to say that unless you’re squatting 2.5 to 3 times or more your bodyweight you could still benefit from increased strength!