Revised on 24.12.2022
Ballistic movements essentially force your muscles into producing the highest amount of force within the shortest time. The muscles’ fibers are stimulated according to the power or force needed. Heavyweight/low-speed moves use smaller fibers in the muscles first, then bigger and bigger fibers until the load has been lifted. With ballistic training, the largest fibers will be recruited first so that the action or lift is as efficient and fast as possible.
As you increase your practice with these explosive moves, you will start training your muscles to perform as powerfully and efficiently as possible.
It is where my preferred training type comes in. It is known as contrast/complex training. This form of training involves near maximal, slow weightlifting motions followed by fast-twitch/fast-speed ballistic training moves. These exercises activate the biggest muscle fibers more efficiently when compared to completing each exercise type separately.
By now, you may start thinking, “But how does ballistic training apply to my daily life?”. Here are some of the ballistic training benefits to help you improve your performance:
- You will start accelerating faster. That includes sprinting down a field, to a train, on a court, etc.
- You will start to jump higher.
- You will start to gain size and definition (not for bodybuilding, but this can be adapted).
- You will start to punch faster and harder or throw balls farther and harder.
- Develop a more stable, stronger core and a flatter stomach. Stabilizing fast-moving weight emphasizes stronger spinal erectors, obliques, and abdominals.
- Burn a lot more calories from these full-body workouts.
- Your energy will increase for your daily activities.
- You will carry out everyday movements with more “oomph” and the ability to produce a lot more power “on command.”
Ballistic Training And Muscle Gains
As we have already mentioned, Ballistic Training will help you build up fast-twitch muscle fibers (Type 2 Fibers), which can contribute to building more muscle mass. However, the tested and tried method to build muscle is still proper weight training. This type of weight training will result in the slow-twitch muscle fibers (Type 1 Fibers) increasing rather than the Type 2 Fibers. This form of training will result in gains, but at some stage, during these gains, there will come a stage that, regardless of how heavy the person is lifting, will no longer make any difference to their size.
This happens because too many of the slow-twitch muscle fibers are built during the slow-weight training movements and not nearly enough of the fast-twitch Type 2 muscle fibers. When you include Ballistic Training into weight training, you will start building more Type 2 muscle fibers, giving you more chance to advance through a gains plateau.
It shouldn’t mean you should be stopping weight training altogether and only be training ballistic routines since weight training will also increase your strength and power. Still, when you include both forms of exercise in your practices, it gives you a better chance to reach your muscle-building goals.
Ballistic Training: An In-Depth Look
When it comes to “traditional” weight training, you must decelerate a load to protect the joints and end the repetition. These acts will teach or force your body to slow down during the “sticking points” or during the most challenging part of the repetition. These are often the necessary points that cause athletes to plateau.
According to the Basic Guidelines for the Resistance Training of Athletes from the National Strength and Conditioning Association, “performing speed repetitions as quickly as possible with light weights (i.e., 30-45% of one-rep max) in the exercises where the athlete holds on to a bar must decelerate when the range of motion for the joint is at the end (for example a bench press) so that the joint is protected. It won’t produce speed training or power but rather shows the body that it needs to slow down or decelerate. When the load is released (i.e., the bar is let go at the end of the range of motion), that will eliminate negative effects”.
The Benefits Of Adding Ballistic Training Into Your Workouts
You may already be thinking that Ballistic Training sounds very interesting. But when you are an athlete, it is crucial to understand why this holds importance to your performance. The easy explanation is that this type of training will require explosive movements, which are then used for sprinting, pulling, pushing, changing direction, kicking, and throwing, covering about every activity in every sport. It should start to make more sense now.
Even though power on its own isn’t a measure of a person’s sporting ability, while work rate and skill overtake this, it is essential to know when your power output starts to increase. It starts to play a much more significant role in your participation level. Whether you are an amateur, semi-professional or professional, your amount of power will increase when you start participating in these higher levels.
That is evident in many types of sports, including rugby league (Gabbet et al. 2013), sprint cycling (Martin et al. 2007), netball (Thomas et al. 2017), rugby union (Argus et al. 2012), ice hockey (Burr et al. 2007), American football (Harris et al. 2007), and taekwondo (Giroux et al. 2015). Athletes participating at these higher levels will be subjected to increased training sessions. Still, training for this higher power helps them compete and retain their position.
In addition, Ballistic Training also produces higher RFD (rate of force development). Over the last few years, the opportunity for an athlete to attain maximum-force production faster is better or greater than the actual force levels achieved. It implies an enhancement of overall sports performance (Stone et al. 2003 & Suchomel et al. 2018).
So the next time you visit the gym and want to increase your power, it doesn’t matter the amount of weight you throw around. Change over to Ballistic Training if you want to notice fast and efficient results.
Why Does Ballistic Training Work For Fitness
In essence, you should focus up to 75% of repetitions on slowing down or decelerating the weight and not producing acceleration or power. The ability to let the load, ball, or weight go is essential for developing strength and power through the complete range of motion for all movements. Examples of the ballistic movement included banded activities, weighted jumps, and medicine ball throws.
Ballistic Training Considerations
Even though Ballistic Training might be a highly effective and efficient training method to improve sports performance and athleticism, practitioners still have to consider many essential issues before they prescribe this form of exercise to athletes.
| Optimal Load
The resistance used in Ballistic Training will cause specific changes when it comes to the velocity-force relationship. That will then change the overall degree to which your power output will improve. Many studies have indicated that exercising with a load to maximize power output will enhance athletic performance and power production more effectively than heavier or lighter loading conditions. That is why this is termed the “optimal load.”
Despite multiple studies demonstrating optimal loads, meta-analysis linked to this literature has proven inconclusive. Depending on factors such as the measurement method, the type of exercise performed, previous strength levels, gender, and the subject’s training history, the loads that ranged from 0-80% 1-RM were identified as “optimal.” In a study by Cronin et al., the loads ranging from 40-70% 1-RM were also comparatively effective.
Most sports will require ranging loads and decisive actions. For instance, a sprint cyclist has to overcome a heavy load as soon as they drive their bike off the starting line as fast as possible. But as soon as the bicycle reaches an optimal speed, the resistance becomes lower. Another example includes the Rugby Union Players that rapidly exert enormous forces during scrummages. They also usually have to produce power during low loads when performing activities involving kicking, passing, or sprinting. Therefore, there is maybe no “optimal” resistance or intensity when it comes to Ballistic Training.
Both light and heavy intensities will have applications for muscular power training. It means that you must use various loads strategically to produce premium outputs across what is known as the force-velocity curve.
Since Ballistic Training focuses on the velocities of loads, the intent should be to lift loads as quickly as possible, which brings about a mechanism whereby physiological and neurological adaptations occur. That is why heavy resistances will effectively increase power when the athlete is attempting to move a load as fast as possible (even when the movement speed is slow).
For instance, ballistic actions relating to weightlifting (for example, Clean & Jerk, Snatch, etc.) will require high levels of intent to produce the RFD magnitudes and high force needed to lift a weight. That has proven to promote bigger motor units than endurance-based tasks that usually require a lower level of intent. That, therefore, increases the overall potential for enhanced power adaptations.
The issue arises on the correct way to measure this intent. One of the methods that have become popular over the years is VBT (velocity-based training), where several parameters that include mean and peak velocity are measured. Many VBT systems include real-time feedback that is appealing to the inherent competitiveness of most athletes, who intrinsically would like to become the most explosive and the fastest in a training group.
Another method that ensures high intent levels, even at a submaximal load, is to use “velocity loss” as a “performance regulation” technique. For example, the athlete must perform jump squats (the initial velocity should be 1.0 m/s) and has to carry on performing these repetitions until such a stage that the velocity drops below 0.9 m/s (i.e., velocity loss of 10%). The average or modest velocity losses of between 10 and 15% are suggested during a Ballistic Training session to make sure the exercises are minimizing peripheral fatigue and causing stress to the central nervous system.
Even though Ballistic Training techniques are highly effective in improving athletic capability in most athletes, the high-eccentric force that athletes experience when they land from jumping or catching heavy objects such as falling weights can pose safety concerns or risks. Especially when using larger loads.
Coaches must remember that Ballistic Training should be regarded as an “advanced” training method. A more effective way for novice athletes to develop power involves first developing a high level of strength.
Once this goal is achieved, coaches can then periodize and plan Ballistic Training preparatory phases to make sure it gradually progresses from unloaded (for example, body weight or less) to the loaded conditions.
At the same time, using a few of the VBT methods that were previously mentioned will also minimize peripheral fatigue, which will reduce the chances of athletes losing control or dropping weight or a load. Additionally, specialized training equipment that includes ballistic-braking systems also helps to decrease eccentric resistance.
Like Plyometrics, Ballistic Training uses stretch-shorten cycles to enhance or develop power. However, Ballistic Training is more focused on the velocity, continued acceleration, and intent of concentric phases of exercises instead of the utilization and storage of “elastic energy” to improve and enhance the athletic abilities of athletes.
At the same time, various loads should be utilized so that motor-unit recruitment, power, rate of force development, and inter-and intra-muscle coordination can develop across the athlete’s force-velocity curve. These are factors that can improve the dynamic correspondence related to these training methods.
Catching and landing heavy loads can result in inherent risks. That is why practitioners must make sure the ballistic program is correctly planned, which involves working gradually from unloaded exercises to loaded exercises. Loads should only undertake it once the athlete has reached the appropriate strength levels.
- Behm DG, Blazevich AJ, Kay AD, McHugh M. Acute effects of muscle stretching on physical performance, range of motion, and injury incidence in healthy active individuals: a systematic review. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2016. 41 (1); 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1139/apnm-2015-0235.
- Haddad M, Dridi A, Chtara M, Chaouachi A, Wong DP, Behm D, Chamari K. Static Stretching Can Impair Explosive Performance for At Least 24 Hours. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2014. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182964836.
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