Monday, November 23, 2009

Explosive moves don't make you explosive...

This keeps coming up - for example in a comment on the last post from Dan:

Also, Olympic lifters traditionally have some of the highest vertical leaps recorded and they do mostly explosive movements. It would seem that Luke has an opinion that is not supported by much of the industry when he says that cleans are actually sending the body a signal to go slower to something like that. Everything I have read about explosive movements says that they help the body recruit more motor units and increase rate coding.

Some science actually says something different. For example:

EXPLOSIVE EXERCISES IN SPORTS TRAINING: A CRITICAL REVIEW

This paper reviews evidence relating to the effectiveness and safety of explosive exercises, such as Olympic style weight lifting, other weight training exercises performed at a fast cadence, and plyometric exercises, that are commonly used in the strength and conditioning training of athletes. Contrary to popular belief and the practices of many athletes, the peer-reviewed evidence does not support the view that such exercises are more effective than traditional, slow and heavy weight training in enhancing muscle power and athletic performance.

In fact, such exercises do not appear to be any more effective in this regard than weight training at a relatively slow cadence, and some evidence suggests they are less so.

Also, such explosive exercises do not transfer well (if at all) to athletic performance on the sports field, and present a significant injury risk. Therefore, such exercises should not be recommended in the strength and conditioning training of athletes, except those who need to learn the specific skill of lifting heavy weights fast, such as Olympic lifters and strongmen.



The whole paper is there for download.


See what it says:

  • explosive moves are no better than standard slow repetitions
  • they might actually be worse
  • they present an injury risk
  • the do not transfer over to the skill anyway.


There are other similar studies. For example this guy's thesis or this outstanding analysis and review of the literature:

After an extenive survey of the relevant studies the paper concludes:

In summary, there is very little evidence cited in the Position Stand to support the claim that explosive, multiple-set protocols are required to enhance the ability to produce power (Table 10), or enhance specific sport skills or functional ability.

28 comments:

Sifter said...

So, the implication here is, to my ears, that the vast kettlebell empire based on explosive swings and snatches primarily, has no scientific foundation nor carryover to sports compared to slow, heavy movements. Furthermore, the same would be said (obviously) about Olympic lifts.

Is that pretty much the jist here?

Chris said...

I am not going to say it has no scientific foundation - the exercise is good for you ....but I am saying that if you read these studies there seems to be no evidence that explosive movements make you explosive, faster or better at sports. Plus they may injure you more easily. But if you enjoy the moves..carry on. The kb lifting was itself a sport originally.

Recognise that the "vast kettlebell empire" is a business too! There has been a lot of money made on the back of kbs and this sort of scientific study doesn't really sell new products.

The stuff about the lack of transfer to sports is fairly well accepted in the text books too.

I've said it before - get stronger and then practice your sport - develop the specific skills - to apply that new strength.

Sifter said...

But Chris, respectfully, what makes swings and snatches 'good for you' if there is no science backing up neither their proponents' strength and hypertrophy claims? I realize that anecdotes sell kettlebells, agreed, but I don't think even Pavel could get to EVERY powerlifter, professional athlete, and coaches like Dan John and others who really believe in these ballistics as both strength and hypertrophy builders? Not trying to be a jerk, just thinking out loud.

Frey Maxim said...

This is a perfect example of sports scientists pretending to know more than seasoned coaches and athletes. For years, coaches have built explosive athletes by using powerful lifts, and for years, olympic lifters have developed amazing vertical leaping ability. Now, because some researchers published a paper, we are to drop all of this success? When the results of elite athletes and the recommendations of researchers conflict, it is always better to follow the footsteps of the elite athletes.

Sifter said...

There was a great quote recently on the often-scoffed-at T-mag, to the effect of ' don't take lifting advice from someone who looks like they've never lifted weights.'

Robert said...

Are olympic lifters innately explosive, which would explain their proficiency in olympic lifts and jumping or does their training make them more explosive? Correlation doesn't equal causation.

I tend to side with what most of the "experts" believe: explosive lifting will make you explosive. However, I'm open to both sides of the argument and really want to hear a rebuttal to the HIT dogma.

Ryan said...

"...despite its widespread acceptance, the vertical
jump has not been shown to correlate well with performance of any sport-specific activity."
Maybe I should have read the whole article, but when I saw the above quote I just couldn't read anymore. Maybe the author had not considered rebounding or any other jump in basketball, spiking in volleyball, the takeoff of the high jump, and the fact that speed and high vertical jumps have a corollary relationship.
I watched the video from friday yesterday and was interested in the idea that o-lifting may not be the way to go, but so far I am underwhelmed by the evidence.

Sifter said...

Russian military strongly believes that the broad jump (not vertical leap) most definitely correlates to enhanced athletic perfomance, and is a staple in both physical testing and training for their elite forces.

Chris said...

Time zones! Things have been busy while I've been in bed.

Anyway, it amuses me that this becomes such a controversial subject. I am like the rest of us, looking around to find out what works and what is worth doing. That last article linked to above is massive - looking at loads of different studies - and it says that there is no real evidence for explosive moves to develop "power"

With respect to kettlebells I do use them but really because I enjoy the movements. I don't believe that the "ballistics" will make be more explosive. If I get stronger I'll be able to be more explosive as I apply the greater force. There are better ways to get stronger.

There is a comment up there that you shouldn't take advice from someone with who looks like they have not trained. Instinctively that seems right. Unfortunately the more I think about the people I've known in gyms - I've been training since 1983 - often the biggest ones (a) have been on drugs and (b) know little about what they are doing. Genetics is hugely underplayed. Anyway Pavel doesn't look like he trains with weights by most people's standards does he and people fall over each other to train with him.

Look at the T mag site - which remember is predominantly a supplement sales company - the drugs and genetics are what make you look like their models. Lots are their articles are really good, but they use steroids to sell.

I mentioned selection bias somewhere in another comment. We look at the successful ones and assume that they were successful because of what they do in terms of training. In fact they may be successful in spite of what they do - other factors (like genetics, drugs) may be more important. It is the scientific studies that might help us to see what is the truth (although I know lots of studies are badly designed etc, but the last article was a review which hopefully smooths out the problems by looking at loads of different studies)

Sifter - as someone already says correlation doesn't equal causation. Russian military athletes are good at the broad jump? That doesn't mean that the broad jump makes them good at athletics.

There is also a distinction that I am still trying to work out between skill and strength. There is a skill to jumping as well. You can learn to jump better.

Like I said, in all of this I'm searching round looking for what works. But as I get older and more cynical I get more skeptical about some of the assumptions, some of the received conventional wisdom.

What really works?

Frey Maxim said...

Another thing that bothers me: when people dismiss big, athletic guys' successes, saying they're all based on "drugs or genetics". That's bullshit. I am big and athletic, and I worked my ass off for everything I have. Eating and training are as anabolic as any drug. Don't dismiss the big, strong guys, they are that way because they busted they're asses.

Look at someone like Eric Cressey, for example. He is a questionably genetically gifted, average guy, and he doesn't take any drugs. He lifts and trains right alongside his pro athletes. That's because he busts his ass in the gym and he knows his stuff.

CK said...

Frey,

Consider your argument from the point of view of two guys who want to get suntanned. Guy 1 is really tanned, brown haired, darkish type. guy 2 has freckles and red hair.

Now guy 1 makes your argument: Don't dismiss the dark-haired guys. I'm working my ass off to get tanned, everyday in the sun, winter in the tanning bed. And he is probably right for all we know.
But that is not the point. The point is that with no amount of sun bathing or lying in a tan bed guy 2 would achieve the same results.
And some risky techniques like lying around in the sun without sun protection at noon would probably not harm guy 1 much whereas guy 2 might develop cancer.

Luke said...

I agree with your comments Chris, as does the preponderance of scientific research. When we look at an Olympic Lifter and state that he is explosive and has a great vertical jump and use this as evidence for Olympic Lifting we are inverting a cause and effect relationship. Just like running marathons doesn't make you ectomorphic (you have to be that way in order to run 2:15 marathons); Olympic lifts don't make you explosive. Individuals with a genetic predisposition to be explosive gravitate toward Olympic lifting because they are good at it (they don't gravitate toward the marathon). I have been watching a lot of basketball lately and I realize that almost all basketball players are tall. If I start playing basketball will I get taller? I realize this seems like a stretch but it is a fair analogy. Statements like "I don't care what the research says, coaches and athletes have been doing Olympic lifts for ever with great results" are one of the primary reasons our field really doesn't progress.

Luke said...

I personally do not and am not interested in what the HIT dogma says. I am also not interested in observation and opinion. I care about the fact that the preponderance of scientific literature suggests that Olympic Lifting is not a superior method for enhancing "explosiveness."

Frey Maxim said...

I hear what you guys are saying about correlation and causation, and I realize that you cannot prove that the springy-ness you see in olympic lifters results from their training.

However, I disagree with the basketball argument. No matter what the research suggests, it doesn't say anything about an individual. For example, the research suggests that being tall and black increases your chances of making the NBA. What does that mean for Steve Nash? It means he's a short white guy, and he's awesome.

The problem I have is when people use the 'genetics' argument as a rationalization for why they suck, or why they train like a pansy. "Well, I'll just do some isolation curls today. I have shitty genetics, so no amount of ball-busting olympic lifting will make me a better athlete." That's my beef.

Sifter said...

Because our time is limited, both literally and figuretively, we all like to do what is hopefully the best to produce strengh gains (or hypertrophy gains). IT's funny, I don't really enjoy the KB ballistics, which is what they are primarily designed for... yet I do find the strength gains superior in terms of carryover AND not putting knots all over my neck and back. Dumbbells do that to me.


Main problem for me is my form has to be Perfect Every Time with swings and snatches, or I'm screwed. Grinds have a touch more leeway, if you're tired or just 'off' that day. So I partly agree, purely from my personal perspective, but I"m coming at it more from an injury-prevention angle rather than being good/not good for explosiveness.

Chris said...

@Luke - thanks for your comments

@Frey - I didn't dismiss the achievements of big athletic guys. They work hard for their achievements. I did question whether they are to be looked to as examples just because they are big. Their size doesn't necessarily mean that they are doing something right. As I said they may be big despite their training approach not because of it.

@Frey - I understand your beef, but lets not dismiss the fact that genetics is vitally important to athletic achievement.

@CK - good example

@Sifter - I am not sure of your final point there?

JC Carter said...

Explosive training is useless?

The hell you say.

Chris said...

JC - what is your point? Those studies seem to be referring to using elastic bands. Specifically the first one talks about the benefits of variable resistance training, not explosive training. (variable resistance - putting bands on the bar in some ways mimics a Nautilus machine!)

neither talks about explosive moves?

Chris said...

I am catching some hate on this one...

Bill said...

The bottom to all of this is that the "average" person (and maybe even athletes) who is just looking to get more fit has no business doing explosive/plyometric movements or swinging heavy KB's. It just isn't necessary in order to attain healthy fitness. All of this stuff is nuts and is just going to result in orthopedic injury. The message is that nearly the same results can be achieved through "safer" means. I know PT's who prescribe this type of crap for 55 year old clients. Crazy!

Any "hate" comes from those who are trapped in their dogma.

Bill

JC Carter said...

My point is that I wonder if you know what "explosive" means.

Explosiveness is determined by the rate of force development, or if you want to get all technical, it's the integral of force with respect to time, while explosive strength is the maxima on that curve.

In other words, variable resistance training with bands is the definition of explosiveness. Seriously, compare the RFD curves of straight weight vs. weight + bands at equal intensity.

Seems like explosive training is useful after all.

JC Carter said...

My mistake, it's actually the first derivative of force wrt time (dF/dt), not the integral.

Chris said...

JC

I know you and your pals think I am a moron, but I'll try to respond.

Thanks for correcting your error about calculus.

I think I am OK with your definition of "explosive". However, I do not see how that relates to bands. Bands as you say provide variable resistance, such that the further you pull the more force you must apply. The force changes with respect to distance pulled. Time doesn't come into it. Yet time is vital to your definition of explosiveness.

you say

variable resistance training with bands is the definition of explosiveness. Seriously, compare the RFD curves of straight weight vs. weight + bands at equal intensity.

I am puzzled by this. Explosiveness is about maximizing the rate of force development per unit time. Maximum acceleration if you like. how does this fit with bands where you can move quickly or slowly - time isn't a factor in the variable resistance? Then you talk about comparing weights with weights and bands at "equal intensity" - what do you mean by equal intensity?

As I said this is probably just confirming your and your friends opinion of me as a moron, but seriously I think there is some mix up here.

Anyway, the substantive point - what about the Carpinelli, Otto and Winnet paper I link to above? How do you disagree with their analysis of their review of the literature?

Chris said...

JC

I know you and your pals think I am a moron, but I'll try to respond.

Thanks for correcting your error about calculus.

I think I am OK with your definition of "explosive". However, I do not see how that relates to bands. Bands as you say provide variable resistance, such that the further you pull the more force you must apply. The force changes with respect to distance pulled. Time doesn't come into it. Yet time is vital to your definition of explosiveness.

you say

variable resistance training with bands is the definition of explosiveness. Seriously, compare the RFD curves of straight weight vs. weight + bands at equal intensity.

I am puzzled by this. Explosiveness is about maximizing the rate of force development per unit time. Maximum acceleration if you like. how does this fit with bands where you can move quickly or slowly - time isn't a factor in the variable resistance? Then you talk about comparing weights with weights and bands at "equal intensity" - what do you mean by equal intensity?

As I said this is probably just confirming your and your friends opinion of me as a moron, but seriously I think there is some mix up here.

Anyway, the substantive point - what about the Carpinelli, Otto and Winnet paper I link to above? How do you disagree with their analysis of their review of the literature?

JC Carter said...

"The force changes with respect to distance pulled. Time doesn't come into it."

*** Sure it does, unless you're suggesting that no time passes during the movement?

That's what velocity is, change in distance wrt time (or the first derivative of distance, to keep it in math terms).

Since force is directly related to the rate of change of velocity (acceleration), it's impossible to separate the two.

"I am puzzled by this. Explosiveness is about maximizing the rate of force development per unit time. Maximum acceleration if you like."

*** Nope, and here's where you're making the error.

RFD per unit of time makes no sense; RFD is simply force wrt time (or, as I said previously, the first derivative of force). In other words, we're already discussing how force changes as time passes.

If you graphed Force on a y-axis and Time on an x-axis, you'd see a force-time curve for any activity. When you take the first derivative of that, you see how the force-time curve changes from moment to moment; that curve is RFD. If you'd prefer, you can think of it as "how soon your muscles can switch on and apply maximum force from rest".

An explosive movement is any movement that has a "steep" RFD curve. If maximum force in a movement is 100N and you reach that in 0.1 seconds, then the curve is going to spike and RFD will be very high. If you reach 100N in 10 seconds, the curve is going to be much more gradual.

But here's the thing that trips people up: this has nothing to do with the external velocity of the barbell (or whatever implement).

Think of it this way: fast movements will always result from a high RFD, but a high RFD does not imply speed.

Yes, you read that right. Even a slow grinding lift at 95% of your 1RM can still have a high RFD and be considered explosive. In fact, even an isometric action, with no movement at all, can still have a high RFD.

Think of this as more to do with how your muscles contract to apply force than it does with external motion. That's not entirely accurate, but it saves a discussion on the role of impulse and momentum.

"how does this fit with bands where you can move quickly or slowly - time isn't a factor in the variable resistance? Then you talk about comparing weights with weights and bands at "equal intensity" - what do you mean by equal intensity?"

*** Because bands, and really any variable-resistance modality, change the force-time curve for a given motion. Even if the movement itself is slow, the changing resistance at the endpoint of the movement requires a commensurate increase in muscular force.

In other words, the net effect is a higher RFD compared to straight weight alone.

The issue here isn't that you're outright wrong, it's that you're muddling some of these terms together.

"Anyway, the substantive point - what about the Carpinelli, Otto and Winnet paper I link to above? How do you disagree with their analysis of their review of the literature?"

*** They cherry-picked the literature to support pre-established conclusions, and conclusions that happen to disagree with the extant body of knowledge.

That's bad science.

JC Carter said...

damn my errors:

"RFD is simply force wrt time (or, as I said previously, the first derivative of force)."

should read:

"RFD is simply the change in force wrt time (or, as I said previously, the first derivative of force wrt time)."

Chris said...

*** They cherry-picked the literature to support pre-established conclusions, and conclusions that happen to disagree with the extant body of knowledge.

er no they didn't - they were looking at studies which had been quoted in support of the ACSM POSITION STAND ON RESISTANCE TRAINING. Someone else had picked the studies, Carpinelli et al look at them and decided that they did not support the position that was claimed.

Chris said...

JC maybe there is some confusion of terms. I suppose what I was thinking about was the idea that you hear that you must lift fast to be fast.

but hey , I am a moron after all