Riding The Drop: Improving Training With the Force-Velocity Curve
Have you ever been to an amusement park? Busch Gardens, Six Flags, Cedar Point, Carowinds, or Disney World? Personally, I love them. The thrill of adrenaline from the rollercoasters, the sights, sounds, and smells. Years ago I went to an amusement park with someone who didn't like to ride the rides, and I found the whole thing lost its thrill. I felt like I was missing on the true experience of the park because I wasn't getting on the bigger rides.
Looking back on that experience, I realized how much people must miss out on training and maximizing their performance because they treat training like an amusement park where they don't get on any rides. They sit at the bottom, or on some rides watch from the top, and watch others enjoy the adrenaline hit. Vicariously trying to live through their experience.
Most people do this in their training too. You see, there's something that rollercoasters and training have in common, and it has to do with curves. When we look at training adaptations, especially when it comes to building strength, they occur on what's called the Force-Velocity Curve. The Force-Velocity Curve (FVC) graphically lays out when we know in training, that when forces are high then the velocity of the movement is low. When laid out, it looks like the initial drop of the rollercoaster. (Force is the y-axis and velocity along the x-axis).
What most people make the mistake of, is that they hang out at a specific point on the curve and never change their position. They do not alter the variables associated with each aspect of the curve and therefore never make tons of progress. This is true in a lot of realms, but is especially true for those training for general fitness or for those in strength sports. They spend too much time moving under heavy loads and very slowly, or moving slowly and not producing any force (think jogging or running).
When we look at trying to maximize adaptations and trying to improve how we physically perform, we need to understand that we need to spend time at each point along the FVC. We need to have periods of training where we spend time training at high force and low velocity, periods where we train at moderate weights and moderate velocity, and periods of training where we train at low force values and high velocities. This allows us to then develop the adaptations needed to be able to express a range of ability along the curve, and maximize our potential across a broad spectrum tasks.
So how do we do this? There's a couple different ways we can "ride the curve", which gives us an insight into two different methods of training.
The first method is probably the most common method, which is linear periodization. Linear periodization schemes often follow a linear progression of spending time at different ranges of the FVC, starting from the top (high force, low velocity) and moving towards the bottom (low force, high velocity). This is typically done in what are called blocks, which can be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. The most common that seems to be the trend, however, (and simply because it makes yearly planning much less complex) is the use of one month blocks of training. This helps because each month builds off the month beforehand, where you learn to produce force, then to express it quickly, then to express less force but fast, and then learning how to move fast. This can obviously be toyed around with, but is a common model that I see many coaches use with success.
The second method, and one that I have become personally fond of, is the use of Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP). In a DUP scheme, you would have different daily goals instead of monthly goals. So instead of spending weeks at a time a specific spot on the FVC, you would spend a day or session there. In this approach, you might have a day where you are focused at the top of the curve (high force, low velocity), the next day might be at the bottom of the curve (low force high velocity), and then the next day might be in the middle of the curve (moderate force, moderate velocity). These can then be layered in succession to produce long term sustainable results.
There are other ways to implement this, but those are the main two I see, and the ones that I most commonly use. The importance of this, however, is not that you use a particular approach in how you "ride the curve", but that you actually ride it. Going back to our rollercoaster analogy, to experience the full effect of the ride (your fitness or performance) you have to actually experience each part of the curve. You have to experience the pull of gravity at the top, the weightlessness in the middle, and wind in your face as you hit peak velocity at the bottom. Once you actually ride the ride, the experience becomes a lot more enjoyable, and your ability to explore your full capabilities expands.