The Strength-Speed Continuum and Force-Velocity Curve For Sports Performance
One of the major things we’re big on here at Terre Haute Intensity Resistance and Sports Training (THIRST) is helping provide education to our athletes, parents, and coaches. This particular article is designed to help take a rather confusing concept, and put it in simple terms so that you can take something away from it and hopefully improve your sports performance.
What Is The Force-Velocity Curve?
While the force-velocity curve, and how speed and strength fall on that continuum may seem confusing, it’s rather simple.
On your Y-axis, we have Force (in Newtons) and on the X-axis we have Velocity (in meters per second) and their relationship we see when it comes to strength and speed. Think of throwing different weighted balls (like shot-put), and approximately how far you would throw them.
If we gave you a really heavy ball, say 100 pounds, chances are you aren’t throwing it very far. We give you a 50-pound ball, and it would go a little further. A 10-pound ball…much further. And then say a baseball…pretty dang far.
We just experienced the force-velocity curve. The 100-pound ball had slow velocity, but we had to overcome quite a bit of external force (100 pounds). For the baseball, our external force was pretty low (5 ounces), but our velocity was incredibly high.
When developing amazing athletes and their training programs, we need to utilize different parts of this curve to maximize performance.
In our example above, what would you do to improve your performance of throwing the balls?
Throw the baseball hundreds of times? Throw the 10 and 50 pound ball 20-30 times each? Throw the 100 pound ball as frequently as you could?
Chances are you realize you’ve got to get stronger so the 100 pound ball is no longer the heaviest you can throw.
Then why do parents think that getting stronger will make their child a worse athlete?!
What Is The Strength-Speed Continuum?
As you’ll notice in the image above, we also have some markers that mark where we are with absolute strength all the way down to absolute speed. Part of developing the best athlete we can is improving all markers along the force-velocity curve.
Training heavy works on improving absolute strength. Training between 30-80% helps us develop power. And training less than 30% only helps us develop speed.
So why would we want to train strength in sports, when our goal is to be faster?
In simple terms, we want to shift our force-velocity curve up and to the right. That will yield us a better performing athlete.
How Do We Use And Benefit From These?
As a strength and conditioning coach, I can tell you that regarding youth athletes, they are speeding too much time in the absolute speed portion of the strength-speed continuum. They are performing their sports at high velocities ALL the time. And rightfully so, when you’re actually performing the sport. The problem starts when an athlete looks to become better, and they enlist in more camps and skill development at a young age. This is just more absolute speed training..
Our strength-speed continuum is highly unbalanced. The athlete is focused on improving just the bottom portion of the force-velocity curve, and not the speed-strength, strength-speed, and absolute strength.
This is where getting in a proper strength and conditioning program and working with a respected sports performance staff. Improving strength and power will help shift the force-velocity curve up and to the right much quicker and effectively compared to attending speed and agility camps.
This is not saying that we neglect the speed component of training (because we certainly don’t!), but we need to give our athletes a heavy dose of what their training and sporting demands are missing. Implementing things like squats, deadlifts, rows, pressing variations, and lunging variations are things we have to perform in the weight-room. A great sports performance program will be sure to not only improve these movement qualities, but also implement them based upon time of year, athlete needs, sporting demands, and ensure they are what is best at the given time to not impede recovery from practice and competition.
Implementation and Sample Exercises
Now that we have this information in front of us, let’s see some sample exercises and how it can be implemented in a strength and conditioning program.
This is where we produce maximal force and loads would be at 90% or higher. At THIRST, we DO NOT one-rep max our athletes, but for our high school athletes, we will get into the 90% range here and there.
| Sample Exercises We Use: SSB Box Squat, Floor Press, Swiss Bar Bench Press, Sumo Deadlift, Pin Pulls
This particular quality shows more strength aspects than speed (hence why ‘strength’ comes first). This is where we begin to tap a bit into that power range. Most loads are going to be in the 80-90% range. We’re focusing on moving heavy loads fast, for short periods of time.
| Sample Exercises We Use: Olympic Variants (Snatch Pulls, Clean Pulls, Pulls From Blocks, Jerks)
For this area of the curve, this is deemed when we can create the most force output in the least amount of time. Loads here can vary quite a bit, being anywhere from 30-80% of a one-rep max.
| Sample Exercises We Use: Olympic Variants (Hang Clean, Clean From Deck, Push Press) Dynamic Effort Squat/Bench Press/Deadlift Variants, KB Swings
Just like our strength-speed part of the continuum, this is the opposite, where we have more speed qualities versus strength qualities. This will generally use 30-60% of one-rep maximum loads.
| Sample Exercises We Use: Counter Movement Jumps (Single Leg Hurdle Jumps, Heiden Broad Jumps, Cannon-Ball Chasers), Med Ball Throws, Weighted Jumps, Resisted Sprints, Prowler Pushes
This is where we are moving incredibly faster. Most athletes are spending their time here in practice and competition. These are where we are using less than 30% of one-rep max.
| Sample Exercises We Use: Hops, Box Jumps, Bounds, Sprints, Band Assisted Jumps
Coach Brandon has also put a video up of him discussing the strength-speed continuum and the force velocity-curve. Watch the video below to see how we implement this specifically at THIRST.
The force-velocity curve and strength-speed continuum are aspects of sports performance and strength and conditioning that coaches use to help improve athletic qualities. Most youth athletes are spending majority of their time shifted towards one part of the spectrum, and adding in a strength and conditioning component can help easily improve performance. Ultimately what we want from athletes is to improve speed and rate of force development, and strength training is a part of that equation. Speed training and sport practice alone can only take an athlete so far. Understanding the force-velocity curve can help you and your child/athlete better understand how to improve athletic ability.
Feeling confused? Have questions? Did we blow your mind with something? Let us know in the comments section.