Track and field throwing events are explosive activities with complex technical characteristics requiring rapid force production. The delivery phase and the final thrust of the throw are powerful movements, with short duration of roughly 150–240 milliseconds (4,5,18,35). Therefore, the ability to produce large amounts of force rapidly, that is, the rate of force development (RFD), should be essential for throwing performance. Strength and power are directly related to RFD, at least in strength trained individuals (19,22,23). However, data regarding the relationship among these variables in track and field throwers are rare (28). Stone et al. (28) showed that midthigh pull RFD increased after 8 weeks of training by 19.6%, whereas no significant correlation was found with shot put throwing performance or with any other strength and power variables in collegiate throwers. To the best of our knowledge, no other investigation has examined the relationship between the RFD and the performance in track and field throwing events.
Muscle strength and power are influenced by a number of neuromuscular and morphological characteristics, including muscle thickness, fascicle angle, and fascicle length (1,7,11,29). Previous studies revealed that heavy resistance and power training may alter muscle architectural characteristics. For instance, periodized resistance training induces increase in muscle thickness, fascicle angle, and length in well-trained athletes (6,27). Track and field throwers spend a large part of their preparation using resistance training programs to increase strength and power; however, the effect of these training routines on their muscle architectural characteristics and RFD has not been addressed yet. Moreover, it has been suggested that fascicle length may influence the RFD. Data from the study by Edman and Josephson (15) suggest that longer fibers tend to produce force slower than shorter fibers in the early force production (<30 milliseconds) in frog muscles, perhaps because longer fascicles need longer time to stretch the intramuscular series elastic elements. Blazevich et al. (10) found that after 5 weeks of strength training, subjects with initially longer fascicles had the least improvement or even a reduction in force in the first few milliseconds of force production. Earp et al. (14) showed a positive relationship between RFD (10–30 milliseconds) and gastrocnemius fascicle length in drop jumps and a negative relationship (0–10 milliseconds) in countermovement jumps. Thus, it remains debated whether fascicle length and RFD are related, especially later in the force-time curve, at 100–250 milliseconds, which is more relevant in sports, especially in track and field throwing events.
The purpose of the present study was to investigate the relationship between RFD, muscle architecture, and throwing performance and to investigate the potential changes in these relationships after long-term periodized training in a group of young competitive track and field throwers.
Experimental Approach to the Problem
The relationship between the RFD, muscle architecture, and track and field throwing performance remains largely unclear. The correlation among these variables was evaluated in 12 young competitive throwers (6 male and 6 female throwers). Because systematic exercise training induces significant neuromuscular adaptations, the relationship between the aforementioned variables was evaluated at 2 different time points during the athletic year round training: before (T1) and after (T2) 10 week of periodized training aiming at the summer national track and field competition period. Training was designed according to the principles of periodization and was separated into two 5-week mesocycles aiming to enhance maximum strength and strength-power, respectively. Changes in performance were statistically compared with analysis of variance for repeated measures. The relationships between variables were determined using Pearson's product moment correlation.
Six male (21.3 ± 7.5 years, age range = 17–28 years, 1.78 ± 0.07 m, 90.4 ± 20.8 kg) and 6 female (18.0 ± 2.8 years, age range = 17–23 years, 1.66 ± 0.06 cm, 73.7 ± 17.5 kg) young throwers gave their written consent to participate in the study after being informed about the experimental procedures. Written parental consent was also obtained in participants younger than 18 years. Five of the participants were discus throwers (3 males, 2 females), 4 hammer throwers (2 males, 2 females), 2 shot put throwers (1 male, 1 female), and 1 javelin thrower (1 female). Ten of the participants were officially qualified for the national championship, and their performance was among the top 15 of the nation. All throwers were in good health and received no medication or nutritional supplements during the training period. All procedures were performed in accordance with the principles outlined in the Declaration of Helsinki and were approved by the local ethics committee.
Before the initiation of the 10-week summer training period related to the present study, all athletes completed 15 weeks of winter preparation aiming to increase performance for the winter competition. That winter training program was similar to the 10-week program used in this study (Table 1), but it was 5 weeks longer because of the preceded summer transition phase. By the end of the winter phase, all athletes participated in a winter competition with throwers from other track and field clubs. Two weeks of transition phase followed and then athletes were trained as described in Table 1, aiming for the summer national event. Training was designed into two 5-week mesocycles according to the principles of periodization (17,33). During the first mesocycle, hypertrophy and maximum strength were the main targets of resistance training, whereas during the second mesocycle, maximum strength and power development were the main targets. The acute training variables are presented in Table 1. The training program was designed to each individual needs according to the demands of the throwing event of each athlete. About 5% of all the planned training sessions were not completed because of small injuries. All efforts were performed with maximum possible movement velocity especially during the second mesocycle when strength-power was developed. Training also included plyometrics with various jumping bounds, agility exercises, and short-distance sprinting with maximum velocity.
Track and Field Throws
Shot put, javelin, hammer, and discus throwing performance was measured outdoors (each athlete performed his/her own specialty) following the official rules of the International Amateur Athletics Federation. Ambient temperature was always 20–24° C while weather was calm and sunny during all throwing measurements. Briefly, after a short warm-up (jogging, stretching, 2–4 near-maximum effort throws), athletes performed 6 throws with maximum effort (13). After each attempt, technical feedback was provided by a certified coach. The best throwing performance was used in further analysis.
Shot Put Tests
The next day, all athletes performed 3 different shot put tests: (a) the backward overhead shot throw, (b) the front shot put throw, and (c) the shot put throw from the power position (12,16). All athletes were very well familiar with these shot put tests as they all used them regularly during training over the years. Athletes performed 4 attempts of each test with maximum effort, with 2 minutes rest between each attempt. The best performance for each test was used in statistical analysis. The intraclass correlations (ICCs) for the shot put tests were as follows: 0.98 (95% confidence interval [CI]: lower = 0.92, upper = 0.99, n = 13) for backward overhead shot throw, 0.93 (95% CI: lower = 0.80, upper = 0.99, n = 13) for front shot put throw, and 0.94 (95% CI: lower = 0.83, upper = 0.98, n = 13) for shot put throw from the power position.
Rate of Force Development
All athletes performed at least 3 familiarization sessions with multiple submaximal and maximal isometric leg press efforts in the laboratory set up used for testing, during the month before the initial measurements (T1). The day after the shot throw tests, athletes came to the laboratory for the assessment of maximum isometric force and RFD during leg press. Throwers were seated on a custom-made steel leg press chair and placed both their feet on the force platform (Applied Measurements Ltd Co., Reading, United Kingdom; WP800, 1,000 kg weighting platform, 80 × 80 cm, sampling frequency 1,000 Hz) that was positioned perpendicular on a concrete laboratory wall. Knee angle was set at 120°, and hip angle was set at 100° (25,34). Athletes were instructed to apply their maximum force as fast as possible for 3 seconds. Two maximum trials were performed with 3 minutes interval. Throwers were vocally encouraged to perform their best effort during the measurement. Data from the force platform were recorded (Kyowa sensor interface PCD-320A) and analyzed. The signal was filtered using a secondary low pass Butterworth filter with a cutoff frequency of 20 Hz. Variables calculated from the force-time curve included the maximum isometric peak force (IPF), the RFD, and the impulse. Maximum IPF was calculated as the greater force generated from the force-time curve. Rate of force development was calculated as the mean tangential slope of the force-time curve in specific time windows of 0–50, 0–100, 0–150, 0–200, and 0–250 milliseconds (RFD = ΔForce/ΔTime). These time intervals were chosen because of the potential relationship to force production during throwing (5,35). Impulse was calculated as the area under the force-time curve, which represents the total force-time integral in a given period (Impulse0–k = ΣF0–k × ΔTimek [k = 50, 100, 150, 200, 250 milliseconds]) (2,34). The best performance according to overall RFD was used for statistical analysis. The ICCs for the IPF, the RFD (overall), and the impulse were as follows: 0.90 (95% CI: lower = 0.86, upper = 0.96), 0.92 (95% CI: lower = 0.80, upper = 0.98), and 0.93 (95% CI: lower = 0.85, upper = 0.98), respectively (n = 13).
One Repetition Maximum Strength Test
Thirty minutes after the isometric RFD leg press test, throwers performed the 1 repetition maximum (1RM) strength test on a 45° incline leg press machine. After a 5-minute warm-up on a stationary bicycle and static stretching exercises, athletes performed incremental efforts until they were unable to lift a heavier load. Ten repetitions with moderate resistance were performed in the first warm-up set, and 3–5 repetitions in the next 2 sets with approximately 10% load increment in each of these sets. Then single-repetition sets were performed with 2.5–5% load increments until athletes were unable to lift a heavier load (6–7 multiple repetition and single-repetition sets in total). Three minutes of rest was allowed between sets. In all cases, 2 of the researchers were present and vocally encouraged all throwers. The ICC for 1RM leg press strength test was 0.98 (95% CI: lower = 0.94, upper = 0.99, n = 13).
The following day, athletes reported to the gym to perform 1RM strength tests for the hang power clean and the back squat. All measurements were performed on a weightlifting plateau using an Olympic bar. Athletes were familiar with Olympic-style weight lifts because they used them regularly during training over the years. After a short warm-up (5-minute running and static stretching exercises), athletes began the testing session with the hang power clean. Three warm-up sets of 8, 4, and 2 repetitions with 50, 75, and 90% of 1RM, respectively, were given to the athletes. Then 3 trials were given until the athletes were unable to lift the bar. The hang power clean was initiated from the standing position, with the athlete holding the bar using hand straps. The movement begun by lowering the bar to midthigh above the knees and then lifted the bar explosively upward with the effort to place the bar on the shoulders with a quarter squat position (21). In addition, back squat was initiated from the standing position with the bar placed on the trapezoids and the shoulders. Then, the athlete begun to bend the knees and squat until the deepest point of the movement was reached. From this position, the athlete lifted the bar upward to the starting position. At all times, 2 researchers were present to evaluate the technique of the lifts and vocally encourage the athletes. The ICCs for 1RM hang power clean and back squat tests in our laboratory are 0.97 (95% CI: lower = 0.77, upper = 0.94) and 0.96 (95% CI: lower = 0.81, upper = 0.94), respectively (n = 13).
On a separate day, B-mode ultrasound images (6.5 MHz; MicroMaxx Ultrasound System, Sonosite, Bothell, WA, USA) were recorded from the right vastus lateralis (VL) using a 45-mm linear probe to determine its architectural characteristics. Throwers laid supine with their knees fully extended and their muscles relaxed. Sonographs were taken in the middle of the muscle at 50% of the distance from the central palpable point of the greater trochanter to the lateral condyle of the femur (8). A water-soluble gel was applied to the transducer to aid acoustic coupling. The transducer was placed longitudinal at femur oriented in parallel to the muscle fascicles and perpendicular to the skin. The transducer's alignment was considered appropriate when several fascicles could be easily outlined without interruption across the image (8). Images were analyzed for muscle thickness, fascicle angle, and fascicle length with image analysis software (Motic Images Plus, 2.0). Muscle thickness was defined as the mean of the distances between the superficial and deep aponeurosis measured at the ends of each 45-mm wide sonograph, fascicle angle as the angle of insertion of muscle fascicles onto the deep aponeurosis, and fascicle length as the fascicular path between the insertions of the fascicle onto the upper and deeper aponeurosis. When the fascicle extended off the image, the length of the missing portion of the fascicle was estimated by linear extrapolation of both the fascicular path and the aponeurosis (9). The reliability for the measurement of muscle thickness (ICC = 0.976 [95% CI: lower = 0.954, upper = 0.988], p = 0.000), fascicle angle (ICC = 0.862 [95% CI: lower = 0.746, upper = 0.928], p = 0.000), and fascicle length (ICC = 0.834 [95% CI: lower = 0.700, upper = 0.911], p = 0.000) was determined on another occasion, on 2 consecutive days by the same investigator (n = 36).
Body Composition Analysis
After the ultrasound evaluation, a total body scan was performed with Dual X-Ray Absorptiometry (model DPX-L; LUNAR Radiation, Madison, WI, USA) to evaluate lean body mass (LBM). All measurements were analyzed using the LUNAR radiation body composition program. Analysis include fat mass, bone mineral density (BMD) and LBM for total body, arms, trunk, and legs. The ICC for body composition analysis was determined from 2 different researchers (0.98 [95% CI: lower = 0.95, upper = 0.99], n = 13).
All data are represented as mean ± SD. Analysis of variance for repeated measures was used to test differences between T1 and T2 in all raw data. Bonferroni's CI adjustment was used to compare the main effects between T1 and T2. Effect sizes were calculated using the η2 statistic while statistical power was also calculated to obtain the power of the test. Pearson's r product moment correlation coefficient was used to explore the relationships between performance in shot put tests and RFD, 1RM strength, muscle architecture, and LBM. Performance in track and field throws was transformed into Z scores to examine possible correlations with the rest of the variables at T1 and T2. Standard multiple regression analysis was performed for the % change of variables between T1 and T2. Because of the small sample size (n = 12), adjusted R2 was used for the interpretation of the multiple regression analysis results (30). Within-subject variation and reliability were determined for all variables by calculating the confidence limits (95% CI) and ICC coefficient as described before (20). Significance was accepted at p ≤ 0.05. All statistical analyses were performed using SPSS version 17.0 software (SPSS, Inc., Chicago, IL, USA).
There were no statistically significant differences between male and female athletes in training-induced performance and morphological changes (e.g., for track and field throws: p = 0.565, and for muscle fascicle length: p = 0.498). Thus, data are presented as 1 group.
Performance in track and field throws (hammer, discus, javelin, and shot put) was increased from T1 to T2 by 6.76 ± 4.31% (p = 0.000, η2 = 0.705, power = 0.996). Shot put test from the power position increased from T1 to T2 by 3.58 ± 4.97% (p = 0.019, η2 = 0.408), whereas no significant alternations were observed for the backward and the front shot put tests. In addition, 1RM strength in leg press, hang power clean, and back squat increased from T1 to T2 by 8.01 ± 6.01% (p = 0.008, η2 = 0.492), 4.72 ± 5.28% (p = 0.006, η2 = 0.516), and 4.68 ± 2.98% (p = 0.000, η2 = 0.731), respectively (Table 2). Leg press IPF was also increased from T1 to T2 by 22.65 ± 20.12% (p = 0.009, η2 = 0.475, Table 2).
Rate of force development and impulse were increased between T1 and T2 in all time frames (Figures 1A, B and Table 2). Vastus lateralis thickness increased between T1 and T2 by 5.95 ± 7.13% (from 2.57 ± 0.32 cm to 2.71 ± 0.29 cm, p = 0.049, η2 = 0.452, power = 0.783). Fascicle angle remained unaltered between T1 and T2 (from 19.05 ± 2.82° to 18.42 ± 1.85°, p = 0.531, η2 = 0.037, power = 0.091), whereas fascicle length was increased from T1 to T2 by 13.41 ± 16.15% (from 7.85 ± 0.89 cm to 8.84 ± 1.16 cm, p = 0.016, η2 = 0.425, power = 0.738). Total lean mass remained unaltered after training, whereas legs lean mass tended to increase from T1 to T2 by 3.72 ± 5.75% (p = 0.057, η2 = 0.347, Table 2). No significant alternations were observed for arms and trunk lean mass or for fat and BMD.
Track and field throws (Z scores) were significantly correlated with fascicle length only at T2 (r = 0.59, p ≤ 0.05) and with 1RM strength in hang power clean at T1 and T2 (r = 0.61 and 0.59, respectively, p ≤ 0.05). Performance in shot put tests and 1RM strength were significantly correlated with RFD at both T1 and T2 in almost all RFD time frames (Table 3). Shot put tests and 1RM strength were also correlated with muscle thickness and fascicle length (Table 4). In addition, shot put tests and 1RM strength were correlated with LBM at both T1 and T2 (Table 4). Significant correlations were found between RFD and muscle thickness and fascicle length at both T1 and T2 (Table 5). Significant correlation was found between the % increase in VL thickness and % increase in shot put test from the power position (r = −0.607, p = 0.048). In accordance, strong correlations were found between the % change in LBM variables and % increase in IPF, RFD, and impulse (Table 6).
Multiple Regression Analysis
Standard multiple regression analysis revealed a significant regression model between the % increase in shot put test from the power position and the linear combination of the % increase in VL muscle thickness and the % increase in RFD50ms (adjusted R2 = 0.533, p = 0.019; thickness beta = −0.637, p = 0.019; and RFD50ms beta = 0.509, p = 0.046). Interestingly, the linear combination of the % increase in VL fascicle length and the % increase in VL muscle thickness tended to explain 33% of the % increase in track and field throws (adjusted R2 = 0.338, p = 0.06; length beta = 0.703, p = 0.028; thickness beta = 0.511, p = 0.09). Also, the linear combination of the % increase in VL fascicle length and the % change in VL fascicle angle had the tendency to explain 33% of the % increase in track and field throws (adjusted R2 = 0.335, p = 0.06; length beta = 1.605, p = 0.034; angle beta = 1.206, p = 0.092).
The main finding of the study was that shot put tests were significantly correlated with isometric leg press RFD in young track and field throwers both at the beginning and at the end of a 10-week training period aiming to increase performance for the summer national competition. This close link was revealed in all RFD time frames starting from the first 50 milliseconds up to 250 milliseconds of the isometric leg press test. Shot put tests are explosive activities with simple technical characteristics requiring rapid force production especially of the lower limbs. These tests are commonly used by all track and field throwers regardless of their competitive event, although performance in these tests has been shown to correlate well with top-level track and field throwing performance (31). The present data suggest that the rate of force production of the lower extremities may predict performance of a shot put test in experienced throwers, regardless of the training period. Nevertheless, no significant correlation was observed between the % change in any of the shot put tests and the % increase in RFD after the 10-week training period. This might be because of the fact that the participants were competing in different track and field throwing events, with small but important differences in performance demands and training stimuli. These differences are expected to induce different training adaptations. For example, athletes competing in javelin throw use lower absolute loads and higher movement velocities in training compared with athletes competing in hammer throw. Moreover, there is a different use of the upper body during training in these different throwing events. These training differences might have induced different neuromuscular adaptations, leading to an uncoupling between changes in performance and RFD.
Besides muscular power, performance in track and field throws depends also on technical and psychological characteristics of each athlete. Thus, it is expected that the RFD and muscle architecture may only partly predict performance in track and field throws. Interestingly, only when track and field throws were calculated as Z scores, they were significantly correlated with VL fascicle length, especially at T2. Likewise, the % increase in track and field throws between T1 and T2 was not correlated with the % changes either in muscle architecture or 1RM strength and RFD. Nevertheless, the linear combination of the % increase in fascicle length with the % increase in muscle thickness could explain approximately 34% of the variation of the % increase in track and field throws (p = 0.06). Also, the linear combination of the % increase in fascicle length with the % change in fascicle angle could explain approximately 33% of the variation of the % increase in track and field throws (p = 0.06). These results should be interpreted with caution because of the small sample size and the lack of statistical significance in training-induced fascicle angle increase.
Although RFD is thought to be a major contributor to power performance, there is only scarce data regarding its relationship with track and field throwing performance. Stone et al. (28) showed that after 8 weeks of strength and power training, no significant correlation was observed between midthigh pulls RFD and shot put throwing or 1RM strength. In the present study, a close relationship was found between shot put testing from the power position and isometric leg press RFD, whereas strong relationships were also observed with 1RM strength. Close correlations were also found between leg press RFD and the backward shot put throw test as well as the front shot put throw test. We can speculate that the discrepancy between the 2 studies might be because of the differences in the exercise used for the evaluation of RFD: both lower and upper leg muscles are recruited during isometric midthigh pulls while the upper body musculature is attempting to pull a mass from a low position, which is biomechanically more similar to the hammer throw. Instead, the isometric leg press used here recruited only the lower musculature in a manner biomechanically similar to all 4 track and field throwing events. Our results are also in agreement with other studies showing that strength and power are directly related to RFD at least in strength trained individuals (19,22,23). The present data suggest that isometric leg press RFD100–200 may be used to evaluate shot put testing performance in throwers regardless of the training period, and it is closely linked with strength and power capacity in young track and field throwers. Moreover, performance in shot put tests was significantly correlated with LBM, as shown before (26,31), although the % changes in shot put tests and lean mass were not correlated. However, significant relationships were found between the % changes in LBM and RFD for the time frames 100–250 milliseconds. This suggest that LBM is important for rapid force development in young track and field throwers.
Vastus lateralis thickness increased significantly after training, suggesting gains in muscle mass and strength. In concert, lower extremities' lean mass tended to increase after training (p = 0.057) while strength increased significantly in all performance tests. Performance in shot put tests was closely linked with VL thickness while a strong relationship was found between the % increase in muscle thickness and shot put throw test from the power position, suggesting that gains in muscle mass may explain approximately 37% of the variation in shot put test performance change after training. Fascicle length was also correlated with performance in shot put tests both pretraining and posttraining. Previous studies have also reported significant correlations between fascicle length and sprinting and jumping (3,13,24,27). In the present study, the correlation coefficients between shot put tests and fascicle length were larger at T2 compared with T1, implying that increased fascicle length contribute to increases in muscle power and thus increases in performance during the shot put tests. Although attractive, the current results might be interpreted with caution because no other data exist regarding the relationship between throwing performance and muscle architecture.
Earp et al. (14) showed a positive relationship between RFD (10–30 milliseconds) and gastrocnemius fascicle length in drop jumps and a negative relationship (0–10 milliseconds) in countermovement jumps. However, most of the sports activities require the force application later in the force-time curve: 100–250 milliseconds. In particular, in track and field throws, it has been calculated that the force application at the power position of all 4 Olympic events extends between 150 and 250 milliseconds (4,18,32,35). The present results suggest that longer fascicle may produce higher power later in the isometric leg press force-time curve (e.g., 200 milliseconds). Nevertheless, no link was found between the % increase in isometric leg press RFD and VL fascicle length because of the training intervention. The RFD may be altered because of a number of neuromuscular adaptations to resistance training, such as the synchronization of neural activation or changes in muscle fiber types/area (2), thus blurring the connection between changes in RFD and fascicle length.
Data analysis revealed that the linear combination of % increase in RFD50 with % increase in VL thickness may explain 53% of the variation of shot put throw test from the power position. This relationship shows a connection between RFD and muscle architecture with performance in shot put tests, as performed here. Thus, when the appropriate instruments are available to coaches, an increase in leg press RFD and gains in VL thickness might predict increases in overall throwing performance as tested here with the shot put tests.
All the performance measures and the RFD were significantly increased with training, which underpins the effectiveness of the training program. Unfortunately, we were not able to evaluate possible neural or intramuscular training adaptations that would have provided a better insight of the performance results. Moreover, the number of athletes, their performance level, and the fact that they were competing in different track and field throwing events might limit the generalization of the present data. Year-round data in elite athletes are needed to make certain conclusions about the relationship between RFD and throwing performance. In conclusion, the present data suggest that performance in commonly used shot put tests is closely linked with isometric leg press RFD in young track and field throwers. In addition, leg press RFD seems to be an appropriate functional performance test for throwers because it is linked with muscle strength and power in throwers. Moreover, VL fascicle length and thickness are related with shot put tests in young throwers.
The training stimulus, as described in Table 1, induced significant increases in sports performance, strength, and the RFD in young track and field throwers; thus, it may be a useful training approach for track and field coaches. The present results also show a significant correlation between leg press RFD and muscle architecture with commonly used shot put tests that are used by all throwers in training and are well correlated with competitive throwing performance. It seems that positive changes in the RFD, muscle thickness, and fascicle length would be linked with improvements in shot put throwing tests. Therefore, increases in performance in shot put tests may reveal increases in leg RFD, which provide feedback about the effectiveness of the training stimulus. Alternatively, when the appropriate instruments are available to coaches, an increase in leg press RFD and gains in VL thickness might predict increases in overall throwing performance, as tested here with the shot put tests. Additionally, training programs should focus on the development of rapid force production, especially when approaching the competition period. Also, isometric leg press RFD at 100–250 milliseconds may be used as a simple laboratory test to monitor performance in track and field throws in young track and field throwers and to evaluate the athlete's swiftness before a competition or after every training mesocycle. When ultrasound equipment is available, regular examination of muscle architecture characteristics might provide insights into training adaptation induced by strength/power training programs.
The authors express their gratitude to the athletes who participated in the study. The authors also thank Prof. Dr. Stavros Kavouras for the provision of the DXA equipment. No funding was received for the study and there was no conflict of interest from the results of this study.
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