Purpose: To determine whether the magnitude of improvement in athletic performance and the mechanisms driving these adaptations differ in relatively weak individuals exposed to either ballistic power training or heavy strength training.
Methods: Relatively weak men (n = 24) who could perform the back squat with proficient technique were randomized into three groups: strength training (n = 8; ST), power training (n = 8; PT), or control (n = 8). Training involved three sessions per week for 10 wk in which subjects performed back squats with 75%-90% of one-repetition maximum (1RM; ST) or maximal-effort jump squats with 0%-30% 1RM (PT). Jump and sprint performances were assessed as well as measures of the force-velocity relationship, jumping mechanics, muscle architecture, and neural drive.
Results: Both experimental groups showed significant (P ≤ 0.05) improvements in jump and sprint performances after training with no significant between-group differences evident in either jump (peak power: ST = 17.7% ± 9.3%, PT = 17.6% ± 4.5%) or sprint performance (40-m sprint: ST = 2.2% ± 1.9%, PT = 3.6% ± 2.3%). ST also displayed a significant increase in maximal strength that was significantly greater than the PT group (squat 1RM: ST = 31.2% ± 11.3%, PT = 4.5% ± 7.1%). The mechanisms driving these improvements included significant (P ≤ 0.05) changes in the force-velocity relationship, jump mechanics, muscle architecture, and neural activation that showed a degree of specificity to the different training stimuli.
Conclusions: Improvements in athletic performance were similar in relatively weak individuals exposed to either ballistic power training or heavy strength training for 10 wk. These performance improvements were mediated through neuromuscular adaptations specific to the training stimulus. The ability of strength training to render similar short-term improvements in athletic performance as ballistic power training, coupled with the potential long-term benefits of improved maximal strength, makes strength training a more effective training modality for relatively weak individuals.