by: Kelly Baggett
Some guys got it and some guys don't. The it is the ability to display force. Force is what makes the athletic world go round and round and separates the men from the boys. You might think you're doing everything necessary to get it. But are you? Well maybe so and maybe not!
Let's start by answering a few questions:
What is force?
What is strength?
Is training for strength the same thing as training for force?
Muller indicated strength should be defined as the maximum force that can be exerted against an immovable resistance by a single contraction.
Now lets define force. Force is simply the exertion of physical power and can be expressed by the following equation:
Force= Mass x Acceleration
Force can be expressed when the mass is great and the acceleration is low, or when the acceleration is great and the mass is low.
Force= Mass x Acceleration
Force= Acceleration x Mass
Lifting a heavy weight is an example of the first. The mass of the load is high but the acceleration is low.
A bullet coming out of a rifle is an example of the 2nd. The mass of the bullet is low but the acceleration is very high.
Most consider training for strength synonymous with training for force but this is not necessarily true. Strength does require force but doesn't require much acceleration. In strength training, the force that you exert against the weight must be more then the resistance you’re pushing against. For example, if you're trying to lift 100 lbs then you must exert over 100 lbs of force to move the weight in the opposite direction. In strength training the "mass" part of the force equation is much greater then the "acceleration" side of the equation. So we can say that strength = mass x acceleration where the mass is great and the acceleration is low. Simple enough.
Realize that you can produce huge amounts of force regardless of whether you're pushing against resistance or not. In fact, the net force created by an unloaded movement can be greater than with a loaded movement. A pitch thrown by a major league pitcher has more absolute force at impact than a heavy lift, yet pitchers aren't known for their abilities to lift big weights and vice versa. Let me explain. Remember that Force=Mass x Acceleration. Once you understand this it becomes clear that there are 3 ways of maximizing force output.
A. Move heavy loads slowly (high mass factor)
B. Move light loads or no load with a lot of acceleration (high acceleration factor)
C. Move a moderate resistance with good acceleration. (equal amounts of mass and acceleration)
Now, guess what type of force is required in most athletic movements? If you guessed the "heightened acceleration" type you’re right!
Force expression can either be fast or it can be slow. If the development of force takes longer then .3 seconds the "Mass" part of the F=MA equation dominates and what most people call muscular strength is expressed, or enhanced by such training. If the force is developed quickly and supplied in high amplitude fashion the "acceleration" part of the equation dominates. If the quick movement requires a pre-stretch (rearing arm back to throw, bending down to jump, etc.) reactive force which involves pre-stretching of the tendons is going to be largely responsible for the end result rather than muscular strength.
In order to move big weights, the length of force application is long in comparison to most sporting movements, which are short in comparison. In movements lasting less than .3 seconds the rate that force is developed is the most important factor. When you combine excellent rate of force development with lots of acceleration and plenty of muscular horsepower, the result is a brief, yet very extreme display of force.
Don't Mess With These Guys
A 500 lb bench presser might be able to get ahold of you and wrench your head off but a professional boxer can knock your head off with a punch equal to approximately 3000 lbs of force in a single blow and this force is delivered in less then than one tenth of a second! Imagine trying to "push" a hole in the wall vs punching a hole in the wall. Which does more damage and why? The punch demonstrates far greater acceleration and net force. When Rocky Marciano was destroying all challengers the U.S. Testing Co. was asked to measure the power of his wallop. Its findings: "Marciano's knockout blow packs more explosive energy than an armour-piercing bullet and represents as much energy as would be required to spot lift 1000 pounds one foot off the ground!" That, my friend, is what force training is all about!
Even though you might not be a boxer, realize that each ground contact of a sprint creates force equivalent to 4-6 times your bodyweight. A vertical jump creates even more then that. Train yourself to put out more force and you'll run faster, jump higher, and perform better. Using strength to enhance your ability to demonstrate peak force will take you where you want to go.
Strength vs Force
Let me give you a personal example of the difference between strength and force. When I was in my teens I had the pleasure of belonging to a facility that had a gymnastics program, a martial arts program, and a lifting center. I spent significant time in all 3 different places and programs within the facility. My martial arts instructor was a former marine who defined toughness. He was raised on the streets of Harlem and after leaving the military he became a police officer and martial arts expert. This guy was capable of "taking the fight" out of anyone who ever crossed him. He could put his head or hands through a stack of bricks without thinking about it. His movements were so sharp, powerful, and precise that just practicing self-defense maneuvers with him would leave one feeling like a helpless rag doll. Imagine going against a machine capable of moving at the speed of light and with enough power to send you flying with the touch of a fingertip.
In the gymnastics portion of the facility one of the instructors was a former Olympic caliber gymnast who was also capable of some amazing things. He could practically stand in place and do a series of double back flips. He could land in a handstand off of a run-up and without bending his arms bounce up on mats nearly 3 feet off the ground – landing on his hands. He was capable of doing all kinds of explosive tricks that would leave audiences mesmerized.
Both these guys were awesome athletes and you would think they would be very strong as well. What's really funny is the amount of weight they were capable of moving in the weight room was very paltry in comparison to the way they performed. In fact, their strength levels in the weight room were actually very supbar by commonly accepted standards. You've probably noticed the same thing in many other athletes. A lot of guys can demonstrate a lot of force without being very strong because they have superior acceleration.
The take home point is that training yourself to display maximum force will knock your opponents head off, strike fear into the hearts of your opposition and enable you to complete physical tasks in a more explosive manner. Becoming as strong as a bull can often enhance these abilities – yet, by itself strength won't do any of these.
Don't get me wrong, strength is necessary because it will increase your potential and largely serve as a backbone for improved power and force expression across the board but the ability to display weight room strength is probably not going to be the deciding factor in your performance. The faster the movement speed the less strength will directly influence your force output and the slower the movement speed the more strength is necessary. For example, a pitcher might not see any benefit at all from increased weight room strength, yet for a shotputter and football lineman it's obviously a different story.
Ideally you want to be strong enough to move a lot of mass around with ease yet capable of displaying enough instantaneous force to quickly move your body with great acceleration and knock whatever stands in your way to the ground with ease as well. If you were wrestling a 500 lb sumo wrestler you can push against him with all your might and if you're strong enough you might be able to move him around the ring. On the other hand, someone like a Bruce Lee could rear back and punch him in the gut and leave the fat guy feeling helpless! Both movements require force but with totally different effects. But what if you're not only strong enough to not only push him around the ring but also fast enough to knock him out with a single blow? Now that would be the ideal thing to strive for!
Real World Applications
The real key involves increasing strength in a systematic fashion while also improving acceleration so that you can increase force output and know exactly where to focus your efforts so that you can not only increase your "weight room strength" but also use that strength to enhance your "real world strength" and build up both mass and acceleration. In the long run you want to optimize both the mass side and the acceleration side of the force equation. Too many people get caught up on either one side or the other. There are those coaches who say, "strength rules all" and have their athletes spend 99% of their time living under heavy iron in the weight room. Still others say, "function rules all" and although they might engage their athletes in some strength training, the training resembles something a pansy would come up with and their athletes are weak.
Let me demonstrate a real life example of how 2 athletes can demonstrate their force in 3 different manners using an identical movement with a need for different training emphasis to improve their force output. Running tests like these will give you clues where to focus your efforts to maximize your training economy.
Two boxers test their bench press. They test the following:
A: Max bench press and time in seconds it takes to complete the movement from start to finish
B: Amount of weight they can throw 12 inches
C: Amount of weight relative to their 1 rep max they can complete 3 reps in 3 seconds.
Boxer A is able to bench a maximum of 325 lbs and it takes him 6 seconds to complete his lift. He can complete 3 repetitions in 3 seconds with 162 lbs (50%). He is able to free weight throw 125 lbs for 12 inches (either by using a smith machine or by lying on bench having spotters catch the weight).
Boxer B is able to bench 265 lbs in 2.5 seconds. He is also able to complete 3 repetitions in 3 seconds with 162 lbs (60%). He is also able to free weight bench throw 125 lbs 12 inches.
Take a look at these results. Boxer A is stronger then Boxer B, but boxer B is better at developing acceleration. An increase in strength is only beneficial if it leads to an increase in performance ability and remember for our hypothetical example these guys are boxers. The bench press throw and the amount of weight one can lift quickly are both going to correlate better with punch power than does the maximum weight lifted. In this example these athletes might have the same punching power but 2 entirely different training needs.
Boxer A would likely benefit from more acceleration work in his training rather than pure strength training so he can learn to apply more force quicker. He could train using lighter weights with more speed and use loaded and unloaded upper body plyometric movements while maintaining his maximal strength. A further increase in his maximal bench press strength won't be as time effective at improving his punching power as acceleration training will. Ideally, he should be able to complete his 1rm bench in 4 seconds or less and be able to complete 1 rep per second with 60% or more of his maximal bench press. Right now it takes him 6 seconds to complete his maximal lift and he is only able to complete 1 rep per second with 50%. As a boxer he needs to be able to apply as much force as possible in 1 or 2 tenths of a second. Right now he's too slow so most likely any additional max strength he gains will be useless when it comes to punching power and may in fact make him even slower - until he learns to use what strength he does have quicker. Once he increases his acceleration abilities he can then go back and build up his max strength and repeat the process over again.
On the other hand, boxer B would obviously benefit from increasing his maximal strength. That is, if he increased his maximal bench press strength, his free weight throw and punching power would increase as well because he is obviously already excellent at developing force quickly. He completes his max lift in under 4 seconds and gets 1 rep per second with 60% or more of his 1 rep max. If he improves his max strength it will directly transfer to an increase in his punching power!
This is when it's time to really get to town and work on building up max strength. However, he will also need to pay attention to his speed as his strength increases because he will eventually find himself in a situation like boxer A and need to go back and build up his speed and acceleration to better match his strength.
It should be apparent from this example that the same cookie cutter program won't be optimal for everyone and that training needs to be individualized. Just because Boxer B is going to get fantastic results by heavy strength training and Boxer A gets fantastic results from explosive training doesn't mean either approach will be optimal for anyone. Another thing worth mentioning is that the development of increased maximal strength has a greater potential to increase than acceleration and speed. Because of this, Athlete B (and other athletes like him) actually have a big advantage in short-term potential over athlete A. His ability to apply maximal force in a quick movement is already outstanding and is something that is a hallmark of a great athlete. This ability is something that must be developed in athlete A.
Now that you know what force training is go out and get you some!
1) Hatfield, F.C. (Ed.)(1998). Fitness: The Complete Guide. Santa Barbara, CA: International Sports Sciences Association.
2) Buchenholz, Dietrich. 2004 "The Best Sports Training Book Ever"
3) Mel C. Siff, Yuri V. Verkhoshansky, "Supertraining" 1999.