Making Gains in Strength, Power, and Speed Using the Force-Velocity Curve

 ̴ 700 words, 5-7 minute read

So an athlete wants to get better at their sport, they feel like they need to get stronger and faster but aren’t really sure how to go about it. Well the majority of athlete’s would suffer the same conundrum at some point, if not their whole career! A simple and effective way to look at optimising training is to use the force-velocity curve to train the physical quality required most (whether it be strength, power, and/or speed).

The force-velocity curve represents the inverse relationship between force and velocity, i.e. it shows the velocity at which a given weight will be lifted. The goal of training is to shift this curve up and to the right in order to maximise strength, power, and speed.

Picture credit: breakingmuscle.com

Maximal Strength

At the top of the curve lies maximal strength, this is where high-intensity lifts will be performed typically at a slow speed. So around about a 1-3 repetition maximum or 90%+ of 1RM. This is where athletes would spend most of their time when they are looking to peak their strength (such as a powerlifter preparing for a meet, or athlete nearing the end of a max strength phase etc.). Training maximal strength will help to shift the curve to the right more so than up, however in novice athletes who lack the base levels of strength required, training for maximal strength will shift the curve right AND up.

Strength-Speed

Just under maximal strength comes strength-speed. This is where I like to spend most of my time with athletes when training them to get stronger. For this section of the curve the weights lifted will typically be between 75-90% of 1RM, and lifted at a good velocity with no grinding out reps. This intensity range is great for honing technique and developing a sound base level of strength.

Power

Power is the area of the curve where power output is maximised. The intensity range is typically 40-60% of 1RM when lifting on standard barbell compound lifts, but this is also the area where the Olympic lifts and their derivatives come in to play! I tend to use the Olympic lift derivatives rather than actual Olympic lifts with athletes (however this argument is a whole other blog post which I shall get to later) to maximise power output. Repetitions here should be kept low (less than 5) to keep fatigue to a minimum. This is also the area on the force-velocity curve in which the dynamic effort method comes in to play, however unless you have a strong base level of strength (2xBW squat and deadlift, 1.5xBW bench press) there is no need to include it in your programming.

Speed-Strength

Developing the speed-strength portion of the curve if often associated with loaded jumps and ballistic exercises, throws, and resisted sprints. Speed-strength exercises will commonly be performed at a light intensity (10-30%) to maximise the speed of movement. Again the aim should be to keep the time/reps for each set low to allow for maximum power output.

Speed

This area of the curve is trained using exercises that are at a low intensity of 10% or less. Common exercises that will be performed here are sprints, plyometrics, and bodyweight ballistic movements, Training this area of the curve will help to shift it in the upwards direction.

Summing Up

It is important to train all areas of the force-velocity curve to maximise performance, and neglecting one area or attempting to train all areas at once (in most cases, but not all), can significantly impact the performance outcome through maladaptation. Therefore a proper periodised training program must be incorporated that uses phases specifically targeting 1-2 areas of the curve in each training phase.

An appropriate assessment of the athlete’s physical qualities is required to gauge an understanding of what they need most, for those of a lower training age and lower levels of strength, look to spend most of your time in the speed strength portion of the curve. For athletes of a higher training age and well-developed levels of strength, aim to maximise power and speed output.

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