Developing and Testing Athletic Power in the Weight Room - By Carl Valle

Developing and Testing Athletic Power in the Weight Room

Carl Valle

Every athlete enters the weight room hoping to develop their power, and having a reliable test to measure improvements can be just as important. In this post, Carl Valle compares Olympic Lifting with Jump Squats and explores the RSI and EUR metrics as measures of power.

Olympic Lifting versus Jump Squats in Training

One major difference between European, North American, and Australian/NZ programing is the use of jump squats with athletes. In the US more college teams use Olympic style lifts for training, and the jump squat is less commonly used with high schools as well. Jump squats and Olympic lifting with intermediate and advanced lifters usually have very contrasting loads. Olympic lifting usually favors heavier than body weight loads to see significant transfer, and jump squats are a small percentage of one’s body weight. While neuromuscular adaptations can be improved with heavy loads using maximal intent or effort, higher velocity lifts do seem to create favorable changes. Not much research exists with loading design over a career, but several authors believe 40% of one’s 1RM provides a great stimulus with jump squats for favorable benefits in, and Olympic lifting closer to one’s maximal abilities and suggest 60-80% of one’s 1RM.

A classic mistake is thinking training in one’s peak power range will develop power optimally. Heavy squatting has slow velocity and low power output or expression, but augmenting power is about using any modality needed to shift the power curve. In other words, expressing peak power and the ways best in increasing it may not be interchangeable concepts. Therefore, programs must see how all elements interact with each other to create statistical changes to athletic power, not chase zones that appear to be beneficial because they express a high number. In the past I spent enormous and wasteful energy trying to attack the force velocity curve with specific training modalities, and the results were only mild because the results were inconsistent. The root of the failed strategy was clear, popular force velocity curve charts are a simplified concept for education purposes only, and the diagrams are not a true roadmap to development of power. One should use the force velocity curve as a menu of options that have possible carryover, rather than a target to use in making changes to athlete power and speed.

More important than just a quantified output of barbell power, are the unique differences between Olympic lifting techniques and jump squatting styles that one can employ in training. A heavy clean pull is dramatically different than rebound jumping and a very light load with regards to eccentric demand and possible adaptations to sports performance.

When deciding to measure barbell performance with either the Olympic lifting or jump squats, follow the classic guidelines of using specific set and rep ranges. Use higher set totals with Olympic style weightlifting with loads that hit the top ranges of bar speed to survey fatigue better. Keep reps low with the primary weightlifting movements and their derivatives, while jump squats should have less set totals with more repetitions due to their lighter loads. Rest between reps is also something to note, as clustering and other approaches change output significantly. Finally, rebound jump squats should use lighter loads than repeated jump squats, so focus on consistent power output and stellar technique. Using consistent output with instant feedback is a great way to reinforce visual coaching of exercise technique.

Using the RSI and EUR together for Higher Precision

Eammon Flanagan already explained the value and practice of the Reactive Strength Index (RSI) and it’s similar tests eloquently in his three part series found here, here, and here. What was most notable was the use of the 10/5 version of the RSI as it was more coaching friendly and easier to integrate with athletes in team settings. I am a fan of the traditional RSI test with some athletes, but box height and an athlete’s test familiarization can make baseline testing very tainted in professional sport and offseason training. Rebound jumping vertically without boxes is a great solution that provides solid data while making it more accessible to teams wanting a practical way to look at the jump values. For this reason, I have included the rebounding jump series for the third component of the Raptor test, because the data in my mind is more sensitive to deep central fatigue mechanisms than the squat jump and countermovement jump tests. All three ramp up contraction and eccentric strength utilization incrementally, but the rebound jumping taps into data that is more associated with sprinting while the squat jump and countermovement series is more strength and power connected.

Very talented athletes have a combination of RFD and eccentric utilization, thus the ability to spend very little time on the ground and create enough forces in that small window allow for great flight times or propulsion. Athlete landing depths and joint motion makes the use of added video important to see how they are creating those forces in jumping.  

Very talented athletes have a combination of RFD and eccentric utilization, thus the ability to spend very little time on the ground and create enough forces in that small window allow for great flight times or propulsion. Athlete landing depths and joint motion makes the use of added video important to see how they are creating those forces in jumping.

 

The other emerging metric that is gaining popularity again is the Eccentric Utilization Ratio, or EUR for short. The EUR is simply the comparison score of a squat jump and a counter movement jump, a very useful way to determine if an athlete has sufficient ability to redirect momentum from eccentric abilities. What often can be problematic is the interpretation of the score with athletes, since training and talent can create false interpretation of the ratio. The two jump tests are not interchangeable, and both have specific rationales of their use and of course limits. Both jump tests (EUR and RSI) are measuring neuromuscular output on the high velocity range, and therefore should be seen as monitoring assessments, not embedded testing options. Both the EUR and RSI give great feedback, but again are still tests and are not effective training sessions like weightlifting evaluation.

Squat jumps are great tools, but the added convenience of using the Apollo SS Shirt from Skin Tech adds comfort to areas that can take a beating. The reason I think athletes don’t like jump squats as much is because of the wear and tear on their traps and upper spine, and padding the area is logical. 

Squat jumps are great tools, but the added convenience of using the Apollo SS Shirt from Skin Tech adds comfort to areas that can take a beating. The reason I think athletes don’t like jump squats as much is because of the wear and tear on their traps and upper spine, and padding the area is logical. 

The common question that comes up is the need to do both the RSI and getting one’s EUR in the same session when one is pressed for time. Obviously light or unloaded jump tests overlap a bit in the information they are gathering but remember the warm-up period is the perfect time to directly evaluate readiness and to monitor changes in barbell output. The answer is a conclusive yes, and doing them does show value beyond the weight room trends though. Make sure the athletes are tested for gross speed and agility and not assume that everything in the weight room with bar speed will show up on body speed.

Here are three takeaways that are good summaries of what one can glean from each metric.

  • The RSI Family of tests is excellent for looking at more stiffness and I have seen data show a relationship between higher acceleration rates from 15-30m. I like no less than 6 reps to a maximum of 10 for those using rebound jumps as proposed by Harper and colleagues. Getting the mean of the five best jumps is clever, but displaying all values to me is still important because one can see how they perform with more granularity rep by rep.
  • Calculating the EUR is excellent for investigating the possible durability in athletes for soft tissue injuries. A poor score can hint to why an athlete can’t decelerate well and is prone to repeated soft tissue injuries. The absolute numbers from CMJ and SJ testing must be factored in because training can cause a rise and fall in the scores. Eccentric strength should show up in net impulse with force plates but a jump test can demonstrate worthwhile training adaptations if the ratio is wide enough and the best scores are in the upper ranges for a given population.
  • Testing both the RSI and EUR can create a decent profile of an athlete’s ability to generate the moderate spectrum of vertical jumping ability, and coaches should strive for being well rounded rather than driving up one area of success. A foundation of making sure all three scores are sufficient will reap benefits when training intensity rises, thus reducing the risk of things collapsing later when weaknesses become a risk or limitation.

A good rule of thumb is measure what you think you can consistently test twice a week. Realistically testing any type of power measurement usually means once a week due to the real world problems that sometimes will occur to even the best plans. Planning twice a week and getting at least one score will be enough to see how each month of training or a block may have influenced power, good or bad. Over a year one test a week isn’t going to mind numb an athlete and even if it’s a few months the data is extremely valuable because it exposes what is happening to force generating abilities.