To throw at elite velocities, pitchers must be able to produce a lot of force in a short amount of time. Strength plays an important role in this, but when trying to improve rate of force development and throwing velocity, increasing maximum strength alone is not enough.
When there is limited time to produce force, as there is when throwing a baseball, other aspects of performance must also be improved to achieve elite velocity. This is where shock training can play a role.
What Is Shock Training?
Shock training is a concept pioneered by Yuri Verkhoshansky, a Russian sport scientist, in which the eccentric portion of an explosive movement is overloaded to induce a powerful stretch reflex, known as the myotatic reflex, leading to improved concentric performance. This type of training is often incorrectly referred to as plyometric training. Although this type of training has been an important part of track and field training for many years, it is still misunderstood and often misapplied in the baseball training community.
How Does It Work?
The most common example of shock training is a Depth Jump, in which an athlete steps off an elevated surface, hits the ground, and immediately jumps as high as possible. Jump performance improves markedly for most athletes, but the height at which performance increases stop varies from athlete to athlete. This is based on their level of strength, proficiency at storing elastic energy and the efficiency of their nervous system.
Depth Jump to Box
Shock training improves output due to an increase in central nervous system (CNS) stimulation, the myotatic reflex, and the storage and return of elastic energy.
Due to the increase in the rate of loading from the impact of the external force, the CNS is activated to a greater extent due to the need for greater muscle activation to cope with the external force. Shock training means high-velocity collisions are happening and to not be injured the body must activate muscles faster and more powerfully. In order to do this the CNS must send faster and more frequent signals to the muscles (rate coding).
The myotatic reflex is a monosynaptic reflex that results in an automatic muscle contraction when stretch receptors are stimulated. Muscle spindles are stretch receptors sensitive to changes in muscle length. When they sense stretch they activate agonist muscles and inhibit antagonist muscles. The "knee jerk" that happens when the patellar tendon is tapped during a routine physical is an example of this. The muscle spindle senses the stretch, the quadriceps (agonist) is activated to extend the knee, and the hamstrings (antagonist) are inhibited.
Golgi tendon organs (GTO) also play a role here. GTO are sensitive to muscle tension, so if tension becomes too high the GTO inhibit agonist contraction. Shock training can help raise the threshold at which the GTO is activated. That is, by using shock training methods, GTO activation will happen at a higher level of tension, allowing for more powerful movements. This is like taking the governor off of a motor.
Elastic Energy Return
Shock training also helps improve elastic energy storage and release by the tendons and aponeuroses. When an activated muscle is stretched, elastic energy is stored in the tendon and can be utilized if the concentric action happens fast enough after the stretch. The half-life of a cross bridge is 120-150 milliseconds, so if the voluntary muscle action does not happen quickly enough after the stretch, some of that energy will be lost as heat instead of being used to improve the movement performance (Cavagna, 1977).
Testing whether an athlete is efficient at utilizing this stored energy can be a useful tool. This is where force velocity profiling can be helpful in designing individualized training programs. Where athletes predominantly sit on this spectrum from force dominant to velocity dominant can help give some direction to the focus of the program and movement selection.
During the assessment process I use variations of a few movements to assess what type of athlete I'm dealing with to help guide my programming. The movements differ in their use, or lack of use, of the stretch shortening cycle. Here are some of the movements I use:
All Concentric Heiden
Counter Movement Heiden
All Concentric Lat Throw
Counter Movement Lat Throw
If the counter movement variation is more than ~10% greater than the fully concentric variation, the athlete is force deficient and will likely benefit from a strength-focused program. If the opposite is the case, the athlete is velocity deficient and will benefit from a higher velocity focused program.
Velocity deficient athletes will benefit from including some shock training in their program after proper progressions. Since shock training is extremely demanding physiologically and neurologically, proper progression and preparation is extremely important for resisting injuries.
Below is a sample progression for lateral bounds:
Heiden w/ Stick
This movement requires that an athlete be able to land on a stable base by producing a significant eccentric force with the landing leg.
This movement will help the athlete store and release elastic energy more efficiently as they're being forced to get off the ground in the opposite direction as fast as possible. The previous jump acts as the overloading eccentric stimulus that can help improve concentric output.
Lateral Bound to Vertical Jump
This variation is getting a bit more specific to throwing in terms of the direction force is being applied. Force in the x vector (horizontal), must then be "accepted" and transferred into the z vector (vertical). This requires significant eccentric strength and efficiency at storing and releasing elastic energy.
Whether an athlete is force or velocity dominant, they both need relatively consistent exposure to high-velocity stimuli. Strength adaptations hang around for a long time, roughly 30 days, while high-velocity adaptations do not hang around nearly as long, 2-8 days. The specifics of how the program is designed will look a bit different, but both types of athletes should have high-velocity stimuli included in their training programs.
Shock training is just one method in the toolbox for helping athletes achieve a more optimal force-velocity profile, but one that has been shown to be very effective. Shock training can have major benefits to sport performance if it is used properly. We can view velocity deficient athletes as a deflated basketball, whereas a velocity dominant athlete is a fully inflated basketball. The velocity deficient athlete loses force during the rebound phase. However, if they use shock training to improve the storage and release of elastic energy in their tendons, they can become a more inflated basketball, and be more efficient and powerful by losing less energy. Make sure that proper care is taken in preparation and progression and attack these movements with full intent.
Photo Credit: anilakkus/iStock
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