Unleash your training Jedi – understanding force and the force / velocity curve

This week’s article is going to take a closer look at the force / velocity curve, and how it relates to athletic development from a physical preparation standpoint. Specifically, how does it relate to developing strength and power. Understanding the force / velocity relationship is crucial for athletic development and is a big factor within programme design. With that in mind, let’s dive into it.

The first thing we need to do is differentiate between force production, and rate of force development (RFD). Force production, specifically maximal production is simply how much total force can you produce in a given movement. Examples of a high force exercises would

be a 1rm back squat, 1rm deadlifts etc. Essentially, movements which are bloody heavy and are somewhat slow in nature.

RFD is slightly different and looks at how quickly you can produce force. For athletic populations, the goal is to develop RFD so that they can run faster, jump higher, make a bigger hit etc. Ballistic & plyometric movements (If the athlete is capable) are movements which are underpinned by RFD. The quicker you are at developing force, the more powerful you will be.

At this point, you may be thinking that all S&C training should be focused on developing RFD, which isn’t an illogical conclusion however it is not quite as straightforward as that. RFD is limited by the total force that the body can produce. If you are weak, the amount of total force you can produce will be piss poor,and it won't matter a damn how quickly you can produce it as there is naff all there to actually produce.

Looking at the force velocity curve, you can see from the post training line that the aim is to improve across the whole continuum, not just one particular end. However, from your testing battery your coach will be able to determine if you need to improve / focus on a particular area. For example, if you are able to produce high forces, but you are not powerful, then you will be working more toward the velocity end of the spectrum.

From the continuum, you can see how the force velocity curve can be manipulated to elicit adaptation. How this will look within a programme will be dictated by number of factors such as periodisation model used, stage of season, training session aim etc, however a typical training session will “surf the curve”. What this means, is there will be exercises along the continuum implemented. An example session may be:

"Traditional" training example

Power clean – Moderate force, moderate velocity

3rm squats – High force, low velocity

Medicine ball slams with a light ball – High velocity, low force

These may be performed as separate exercises, which is fine. The force velocity curve can also be manipulated with contrast training, where there are 2-4 exercises performed in a super set manner, at varying ends of the force velocity curve. An example of contrast training might be:

Contrast training example

1a – heavy back squat (80-92% 1rm) (High force, low velocity)

1b – Jump squats (20-40% back squat 1rm) (moderate force, moderate velocity)

1c – overspeed (band assisted) countermovement jump (Low force, high velocity)

Both contrast training and a more “traditional” approach to manipulating the force / velocity curve have their merits. It should also be noted these are not the only methods to improve strength / power in athletes. The phrase “many roads lead to Rome” springs to mind here, as there are numerous other methods which can be utilised. Regardless what method is used, the principle remains the same in that exercises used will be a manipulation of the force / velocity curve in one manner or another. Overall, by improving strength and power, you are improving yourself as an athlete from a physical preparation perspective, which should translate into your sport. Ultimately, these attributes are crucial for all athlete’s, which is why it is one of the main aims of strength and conditioning.

Until next time,

Stay safe, stay strong


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