We usually like to talk about weightlifters in our articles. However, this often overlooked topic is applicable to movement and sports in general because it applies to all athletes. If you were judging overall athletic ability of two similar athletes and you wanted to know, not just, who was the faster, or stronger there is one method you could use that many often overlook: check the rate of force production for each athlete. The person with the higher rate of force production is the more explosive athlete. When an athlete moves a barbell, a shot put, or even another person, their success and failure is largely due to the athlete’s rate of force production. This is often a largely neglected aspect of training and strength and conditioning. But what is rate of force production, how do you train to improve it, and why should you even bother? By the end of this article you should be able to answer all of these questions and apply them to your own training.
Rate of force production (RFP) in more casual terms is a way to measure how quickly, and to what level, someone can apply force to an object. For any athlete who has ever worked out, their goal is always improving RFP whether they know it or not. Anytime you are looking to get faster, jump further, be more explosive, or lift a heavier weight faster the true goal is to increase the rate of force production within the primary muscle fibers. So clearly having a higher RFP is incredibly beneficial. But how do we measure it to make sure it keeps improving over the months, and years? Well you could buy a “Tendo-Unit”, which can run you quite a bit of money for a top of the line model, and a lot of time looking at numbers instead of looking at technique. The other option is to simply lift weights and use some outside of the box thinking.
If two athletes each attempt to snatch a barbell from the floor, at the same weight, and one athlete catches the barbell below parallel and the other catches it in a high power position which athlete has the higher rate of force production. Ignoring technique differences, strength differences, or size differences for a second the answer is clear. The athlete who pulled the bar higher has the higher rate of force production. The second athlete was able to generate more force more quickly and it resulted in a faster easier lift. So how do you develop and improve rate of force production?
There are different ways in which you can train to improve rate of force production either directly or indirectly. Some of these are fairly obvious, while some are not.
Get Stronger: Increasing the basic strength movements like the deadlift, squat, and press will improve RFP. If you can move 500lbs off the floor, then you will be able to move 250lbs off the floor with greater acceleration and velocity, and in less time.
Jump More/Jump Right: Long term plyometric training develops the tendons, as well as the stretch reflex, which are constantly used in sport. (read Cal Deitz Triphasic Training). Being able to move your body explosively is a great way to develop lower body force production and total body coordination. Making sure that your movement patterns, and repetitions with jumps is crucial to long term success and improvement.
Weightlifting: For most people at this point that is a no brainer, olympic lifting makes you explosive. Some might think it is because we are training triple extension (catapult fans shut the hell up, it’s still triple extension) but developing greater RFP has more to do with constantly moving submaximal weights very quickly. Even people who lift without perfect technique can improve rate of force production because of this.
Throwing: In order to throw something as far as you can, you must develop an absolute ton of force in as short a time as possible. This does not mean you must have been a shot putter since high school to have great RFP or to know how to throw. Doing things like medball throws from your knees, feet, with one arm, both arms, or behind you all develops coordination and RFP.
To get stronger you must do all of these but just like anything else you probably cannot do all of them simultaneously. If you’re already doing olympic weightlifting, try adding in some truly explosive throws, or jumps after you have warmed up. Beginners to jumps (even if you've done them in the past but are just coming back to them) do not need many foot contacts to see improvement. This means that you will not tire yourself out before you do strength or olympic work.
Developing an improved rate of force production will have a direct effect on your athletic performance in any endeavor. So add it into your daily routine, finish your warm up with jumps, or do some throws at the end of your training, make sure you do olympic weightlifting with the focus being on bar speed no matter the weight on the bar. These little thing added up over time will take slow strong athletes and make them into explosive fast athletes, and will further improve already explosive athletes. This is the true key to athletics.