What is Rate of Force Development?

By Sam Thielen, MS, CSCS

Muscular power is an essential component of many athletic activities like running, jumping, cutting and throwing. Power training has become increasingly popular from youth athletes to those at the college and professional levels because of the importance of power production. To reach performance goals, a variety of methods go into power training, such as high-load strength training, low-load speed and plyometric training and Olympic weightlifting.

Certified strength and conditioning specialist, Sam Thielen, at Sanford POWER in Fargo, NDResearch has shown the key component of all these training methods is their ability to enhance the rate of force development (RFD) within a muscle or muscle group (1,4,5).

RFD is exactly as it sounds — the ability of a muscle or muscle group to develop maximal force very quickly — and as such is directly related to power output.

Plyometrics, loaded vertical jumps and other low-load jumping and speed exercises allow high velocities to be reached, with the resistance level limited before safety becomes a concern. Heavy strength training allows for maximal force outputs, but they are often reached at very slow speeds. Exercises like the power clean, snatch, and clean and high pull are ideal for RFD training due to the ability to increase resistance on the bar in Olympic lifts while maintaining high velocities through the full range of motion. They create the best opportunity to increase force and velocity in the same exercise.

Training with Olympic exercises does present a major challenge in their relatively high degree of difficulty. To perform these exercises safely and effectively, technique is extremely important. Fortunately, studies have shown that the complete clean and snatch movements may not be required in order to get its full benefit. Variations of these movements — like the jump shrug, mid-thigh clean pull and mid-thigh high pull — have been found to create even greater RFD (2,3). It is presumed this is the due to the fact that the bar doesn’t have to be successfully caught in these exercises. Regardless, this allows athletes to reap the RFD benefits of Olympic weightlifting before mastering the complete clean and/or snatch exercises. Plyometrics and heavy strength work definitely have a place in your power training program but — for maximum power improvement — give Olympic lifts and their variations a try.

References:

  1. Channell, B. T., & Barfield, J. P. (2008). Effect of Olympic and traditional resistance training on vertical jump improvement in high school boys. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(5), 1522-1527. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318181a3d0.
  2. Comfort, P., Allen, M., & Graham-Smith, P. (2011a). Comparisons of peak ground reaction force and rate of force development during variations of the power clean. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(5), 1235-1239. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181d6dc0d.
  3. Comfort, P., Allen, M., & Graham-Smith, P. (2011b). Kinetic comparisons during variations of the power clean. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(12), 3269-3273. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182184dea.
  4. Mackenzie, S. J., Lavers, R. L., & Wallace, B. B. (2014). A biomechanical comparison of the vertical jump, power clean, and jump squat. Journal of Sports Sciences, 32(16), 1576-1585. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2014.908320.
  5. Tricoli, V., Lamas, L., Carnevale, R., & Ugrinowitsch, C. (2005). Short-term effects on lower-body functional power development: weightlifting vs. vertical jump training programs. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19(2), 433-437. doi: 10.1519/R-14083.1