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Getting More Acceleration in Your Force – Ballistics Unpacked

November 10, 2021
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Question for you. Does ballistic training, training where you project yourself or a load, train explosive power? Log that answer in your grey matter and have a read, to see if you are on the money. This article is bit of a coming together of concepts that I have shared over the last couple of weeks around force, velocity, power and explosive power.

Force = Mass x Acceleration

If you remember, I said I would come back to the formula as they help me understand the training I am prescribing and so I hope they can help you also. I first spoke of the formula for force (F = m x a) a couple weeks back when I was discussing why wearable resistance works, as light loads (small masses – grams not kilograms), moved at high velocities and accelerations, can produce high forces. I would like to unpack this formula further today.

When increasing force capability/strength in our athletes we typically accentuate the mass component of the formula and ask athletes to move these heavy loads. However, we can also increase force capability by finding contraction types or contraction modes, that accentuate the acceleration component of force. A few come to mind, which I will share, with today’s focus being ballistic training. Ballistics defined, is training where you throw or project yourself or an implement as shown in the video.

Force-Velocity Curves

The force-velocity curves below (Figure 1) are representative of a concentric benchpress (Press) and concentric bench press throw (Ballistic) at light loads (~15-45% 1RM). As you can see there is greater velocity and force from about 30 to 100% of the way through the movement (displacement). Remember the force signal is essentially an acceleration signal, multiplied by whatever the mass of the bar is. The reason for the mechanical advantage, is that during the Press you are spending a great deal of time or displacement decelerating the bar as you need to hold onto the bar at 100% displacement, whereas Ballistics reduces the effects of deceleration by releasing the bar/load.

Figure 1: Stylised force-velocity curves of a concentric bench press (Press) and concentric bench press throw (Ballistic), with % displacement represented on the y-axis

Ballistics and Power Development

So is ballistic training better for power development. Yes, as this type of training has superior force and velocity outputs, and as such power output will be naturally greater, hence a greater stimulus to power adaptation. The caveat is at loads of around 60% 1RM (obviously depends on athlete training status) we see the “Press” and “Ballistic” curves converge, as it is difficult or impossible to project/throw heavy loads. So, the advantage of ballistics is with lighter loads. 

Ballistics and Explosive Power Development

Finally, is ballistic training good for explosive power development? What was your answer at the beginning? Remember previously I explained, explosive power was related to early power development e.g. the rate of power in 100 ms as shown in Figure 2. Have a look at the force-velocity graphs again and what do you see? Traditional and ballistic resistance training outputs are very similar at the beginning of the movement, so the advantages of ballistics to explosive power development is most likely questionable and there are better methods out there for evolving explosiveness. For example, as mentioned in the mind-muscle blog, couple ballistics with neural intent and then you might have a different beast for explosive power development.


Figure 2: Stylised power-time curve

Take Home Messages

In sum, ballistics gets more acceleration in your force at lighter loads (~<50%1RM), and as such is superior for muscular power training at such loading, however, it is likely to have little effect on explosive power as early onset force-velocity characteristics are very similar to traditional non-ballistic motion.