Monday, March 19, 2007

What is the difference between speed and strength?

Let me start this post with a simple question...

What is the difference between “speed” and “strength”?

This seems to be a simple question doesn’t it?

Why I am bringing this question up is because virtually every time I read a post on a forum or hear players talking about things they do to hit more powerful shots on the court, people talk exclusively about becoming stronger…

As if increasing their muscular strength automatically translates into becoming faster.

Increasing your strength means that you can generate more force by training your muscles to produce force when they contract. Then, you need to understand that resistance training stimulates increased force production by your contracting muscles increasing the size of the muscle fibers themselves (larger muscles fibers produce more force).

So, getting stronger does mean that you can produce more force through muscle movements, but does that necessarily translate to greater movement speeds?

The answer is no.

And the simplest way to explain why is this:

Muscles do not act on their own. They do not contract spontaneously. They contract only when the brain tells them to contract, and the “contract now” message is sent to the muscles by your nerves.

The brain controls all aspects of muscle activity including how much force the muscle needs produce and how quickly it must produce that force. Then the nerves need to get that message to the muscles rapidly for the muscles to ultimately respond by contracting.

Given this biological reality, do you now understand what speed is really about?

Speed is about how fast the brain and nerves send the “go” message to the muscles to fire and produce force through movement.

Human athletic speed is really about having a fast nervous system because you can’t have fast muscles without a fast nervous system because nerves and muscles are hard-wired to function together.

You can’t separate their function, muscles contract—or “go”—only when the nerves tell them to, and how fast they go depends solely on how fast the nerves send that “go” signal to the muscles.

There are some of you out there who will raise the age-old argument that if it’s all about generating (a lot of) force, then strength training is still “THE” answer to being a more powerful ball-hitter (regardless if it’s a golf ball, tennis ball, baseball, etc.) because you train the muscles to produce huge amounts of force through strength training.

This argument sounds logical enough, but the evidence proves otherwise. There is no credible scientific evidence that strength training, even in combination with plyometric training, helps athletes swing faster. None.

Why?

Well, there’s a simple answer to that really…

It’s because strength training exercises are performed at much slower speed than the actual swinging movements you use, say in a tennis match.

You see, you’re trying to swing the racket to make contact with the ball in less than 0.2 seconds on average (or less than 0.13 seconds, if you are Roger Federer). Are you executing bench presses or any other conventional weight lifting movements at those kinds of speeds?

I didn’t think so… And because you are training at movement speeds that are far slower than the actual movement speeds you are trying to generate in the actual sport, you end up training your body to produce forces at slower, non-game speeds. In the process, your brain, nerves and muscles become adapted to the slower speeds you expose them to with your slow training exercises, and what happens?

Well, one thing that happens is that your body ends up converting some of its fast-twitch muscle fibers into slow-twitch fibers in response to all of your “slow” training exercises (a phenomenon known as “muscle plasticity”).

So, by performing traditional strength training exercises, you end up “teaching” your body how to generate large amounts of force slowly—much slower than the actual “game” movement you’re trying to speed up, remember!

Isn’t that exactly the opposite of what you were trying to achieve in the first place?

Luckily, the door swings both ways as far as muscle plasticity is concerned as the body will respond to “fast” exercises by converting the slow-twitch muscle fibers to fast-twitch ones. So you have a chance to restore the speed you’ve lost (or are losing as we speak) as soon as you figure out a way to replace all of your “slow” training exercises with “fast” ones.

Ready to hit the gym now?

Maybe you ought to think twice…

Or, you need to strongly consider training with a SpeedChain.

TTFN!

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