The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have recently begun, and once again we are exposed to a wide variety of sports and games, and the incredible athletes that are able to excel in them and push the boundaries of peak human performance.

Many of these sports are exciting, fast paced, and place a high demand on athletic ability. One of my favourite sports to watch because of its intense nature, is basketball.

I have played basketball at national level during my teenage years, and therefore have a strong admiration for the level of extreme athleticism that many of these players possess. In fast paced, high intensity sports such as basketball, volleyball, rugby etc. explosiveness can dramatically improve sporting performance and should be something that you work on regularly to compliment your overall performance. Training your muscles to fire quicker with more force, can give you the edge needed, over your competitor, and is known more commonly as, improving the Rate of Force Development (RFD). The more force that the muscles can produce in the shortest amount of time, the greater the explosive capability of the athlete will be.

In order to improve RFD, the focus must be on firstly improving overall maximal strength and secondly, improving the speed of the muscular contraction- both of which are mainly correlated with neuromuscular adaptations.

Improving maximal strength requires heavy weight, low repetitions, and high rest periods. For example, if we take a barbell squat; the athlete should increase the weight so that they are only able to perform 5-6 repetitions in a single set with maximal effort. High intensity sets, of compound lifts such as the squat, forces the nervous system to activate as many fibres in the muscle group as possible, to complete the movement. The result of this will be a slow contraction phase, and overtime adaptations occur that allow the nervous system to access more fibres to produce more force. However, this alone will not necessarily improve overall RFD, as although it trains the nervous system to recruit maximal number of fibres, it does so over a longer period, during the contraction phase. Therefore, this type of training should be paired with plyometric type training, where you focus on the speed of the contraction rather than maximal force output.

Plyometric Training is mostly used for developing lower body explosiveness, in the form of jumping, which elicits the quick response and elastic adaptations of muscle groups. In comparison to strength training, performing plyometrics forces the muscle to stretch rapidly, before contraction of the countermovement; known as the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). This type of training creates adaptations that allow the nervous system to connect with the desired muscle groups quicker, to utilise the potential power created as the muscle lengthens. Therefore, this is extremely useful when jumping, first step explosiveness, and changing of direction; all which are key components in fast paced sports.

Exercises to Build Strength

  • Barbell Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Bulgarian Split Squats
  • Barbell Hip Thrusts
  • Calf Raises

Plyometric Exercises

  • Box Jumps
  • Broad Jumps
  • Max Vertical
  • Alternate Step Ups with Jump
  • Depth Jump

Combining these training techniques improves the ability of the muscles to produce the most amount of force, during the shortest time, therefore increasing explosiveness when performing anaerobic movements such as sprinting and jumping.

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