Getting untrained or even moderately trained athletes stronger and more explosive can be accomplished relatively easily with traditional training methods. However, the more advanced the athlete becomes, with a greater training history, increases in strength and power are harder to come by. Marginal gains can still be observed with consistent training. Increasing body mass may also promote further increases in strength and power performance. However, time is of the essence and often time’s changes in body weight are not always desirable. In these instances, more advanced training methods may be necessary to achieve significant improvements in strength and power in a relatively short time period.
A recent article by Daniel P. Tobin (a rugby strength coach based out of Ireland), gives an excellent overview of some advanced training methods that have been shown to be quite effective at improving strength and power in well trained athletes. Three methods are highlighted and will be summarized below.
Variable Resistance Training (VRT): This training method is a simple adjustment to the traditional methods of training the three powerlifts (Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift). This involves adding elastic band tension or chains to the barbell. This will result in a reduction of the load at the bottom of the lift and a progressive increase in load towards lock out. This forces the athlete to apply high levels of force throughout the concentric portion rather than decelerate the load which normally takes place when the exercises are performed traditionally. Tobin recommends adding 20-30% band tension to 80-100% 1RM loads for maximum strength training or to 40-60% 1RM for power (10-15% of plate load should be removed to accommodate bands/chains). Specific recommendations for chains are withheld due to insufficient research on the topic.
Eccentrics: With traditional training, eccentric strength is always trained sub-maximally since we are limited by our concentric strength. However, it’s well established that we can produce significantly more force eccentrically verses concentrically. Therefore, by overloading the eccentric portion of the exercise, we can offer a new stimulus to the athlete. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that eccentric training with supramaximal loads can increase recruitment and hypertrophy of high threshold muscle fibers. Tobin suggests using 120% of your 1RM of 3 sets of 3 on the powerlifts. Each rep should include a 3-4 second lowering/yielding of the weight and spotters should be used to assist with the concentric portion. Another form of eccentric training called “Augmented Eccentrics” involves overloading the eccentric portion of the lift or jump followed by a lightened concentric action. These can be done with weight-releasers for barbell exercises or by holding dumbbells during the eccentric portion of a jump and dropping them prior to the concentric.
Overspeed Training (OST): This training method has been used successfully for improving jumping ability. Rather than trying to increase force production with resistance (which consequently reduces velocity), OST increase velocity by reducing resistance. This method is also used in sprint training where athletes are towed with a harness or run downhill. For OST with jump training, bands or an overhead bungee is required to reduce the athletes bodyweight. Tobin suggests using jump squats with 10% of body weight reduced from the band/bungee tension.
If you’re dealing with advanced athletes with a high training age who do not appear to be responding to traditional training methods like they used to, experimenting with one of these advanced methods may be helpful.
Tobin, D. P. (2014). Advanced Strength and Power Training for the Elite Athlete. Strength & Conditioning Journal. Ahead of Print.