Rate of Force Development is King

The difference between the winner and loser in a race, fight, or game usually boils down to one fitness quality: rate of force development (RFD). This is a measure of how quickly you can reach peak levels of force. The guy who can land a roundhouse kick or explode off the line or elevate for a jump shot first is the dominant force.

It works the opposite way, too.

When an aging athlete is trying to hang onto his illustrious career, you’ll never hear a commentator say, “Well, he’s faster than he used to be but he’s no longer at the top of his game.” Quickness and athletic proficiency go hand-in-hand. There’s a reason why 42 year-old athletes aren’t breaking world records in the 100 meter or winning a slam dunk contest. It’s because their RFD has diminished. Every power sport you could possibly think of hinges on your ability to produce high levels of force at the flip of a switch.

So as a performance trainer I’m most concerned with how my power athletes improve their broad jump score since it’s one of the simplest and most effective ways to measure RFD.

But jacking up your RFD does more than just improve your jump. Indeed, enhancing your RFD can help you build more muscle, too. We all know that adding load or speed to the barbell will upregulate protein synthesis. What’s often overlooked is that lifting heavier or faster requires you to tap into your force-producing capacity quicker than before.

Now, for the essential question. How do you improve RFD?

Research demonstrates three separate ways. First, and most obvious, is through explosive strength training with a submaximal load (Newton et al, Med Sci Sports Exerc 1999). So you’ll start with a load you could lift, say, 10 times but only do three super fast reps. The second scientific way to boost RFD is through maximal strength training with a heavy load and low reps (McBride et al, J Strength Cond Res 2002). The third way to improve RFD is the one that’ll surprise you most.

In physical rehabilitation settings it’s common for physical therapists to prescribe balancing exercises to retrain muscle firing patterns after an injury. These exercises such as standing on one leg on a wobble board are known as sensorimotor training (SMT). Therapists knew it helped patients regain their balance, but it wasn’t until research dug deeper into SMT that another surprising benefit surfaced: balance exercises improve RFD (Gruber & Gollhofer, Eur J Appl Physiol 2004).

So I started experimenting with different combinations of explosive strength, maximal strength, and sensorimotor training. My goal, of course, was to enhance their RFD as primarily determined by an increase in their broad jump.

I found two different sequences that produced outstanding results. The first sequence is covered in the current (October) issue of Men’s Health magazine. You’ll start with a balance exercise, followed by a ballistic exercise, and then you’ll finish with a maximal strength exercise.

Here’s a sample sequence for the lower body.

Single leg balance on a wobble board or thick padded surface for 2 sets of 20 seconds
Box jump for 5 sets of 3 reps
Front squat for 3 sets of 3 reps

I’ll be discussing much more about this style of training in upcoming blogs so stay tuned!

Stay Focused,

16 thoughts on “Rate of Force Development is King

  1. A) What are best exercises for RFD and hitting a softball?

    B) Box jumps; low reps with extra weight or bodyweight and 10 or more reps?

    CW: The plan covered in Men’s Health will help your full body RFD. For plyos (box jumps) don’t add extra weight since research has shown it provides no benefit. Focus on speed, not load.

  2. I´m curious about upper boddy sequences… chest and shoulders for example?
    How about Bodyweigth training with that knowing, could someone improve his performace also,
    due to having only one weight 🙂 ?

    CW: Check out current (Oct) issue of Men’s Health to see the upper body push sequence.

  3. This is a great article, I did not know at all about the balance exercises,

    I’m confused about the broad jump test however? You could have quite a slow RFD and have a great broad jump. Say you deadlift and squat for two months, your RFD would decrease compared to sprinting and bounding. The broad jump would be slow but powerful. An athlete with a more balanced program would havea faster broad jump.

    Stride rate, and depth jump performance and timing maximum squat or deadlifts are much better methods for assessing RFD, assuming that an increase in broad jump does not correlate with increases in RFD since it is a stationary exercise and as much time as is needed can be used to develop the appropriate force.

    CW: Jumping performance hinges on a high RFD. Therefore, you can’t have a low RFD and a long broad jump. It’s as simple as that.

  4. Wow, the first exercise sounds like something from a commercial gym bosu ball routine. But I’m sure that reading your future posts will shed some light on this mysterious new method of yours.

    I can’t wait to see big increases in my broad jump. Bring on the information, Mr Waterbury!

  5. For your men’ health workout after four weeks do you suggest changing the exercises or just keep doing the same exercises. Thanks

    CW: You can keep doing any program for as long as you experience results. Once results stop, switch things up.

  6. Chad – Nice article in MH, just picked it up yesterday. Regarding the volume, why do you recommend such low number of sets for the strength portion (4×3 for example)? I’m guessing it’s just b/c you were aiming for readers with little workout time since that seems to be a large portion of MH’s market.

    CW: The relatively low volume coincides with maximal strength development. You can’t do a lot of heavy sets without burning your CNS. Plus, there’s residual fatigue leading up the maximal strength exercise.

  7. Nice article chad! For the lower body, would that be the complete workout?

    CW: Yes, 2-3x/week.

  8. Hello chad, do you think doing what you say there will also help in marital arts tangsoodo (very similar to taekwondo, both include alot of high impact kicks).

    I practice alot of kicks, and i dont know whether you specialise in maritla arts or anything but i was wondering will doing the balancing, box jumps and the pistol squats i do at home help at all?

    i just dont get how that can transfer into kicks such as roundhouse kick or side kick.

    CW: Yes, this is ideal for martial artists. Half my clients are fighters and that’s who much of this info is geared toward.

  9. Could you do deadlifts at the end of the mens health program. Also can you wait one day after a workout in stead of two before you workout again. thanks

    CW: Yes, any lower body compound exercise will work.

  10. Another fine post, Chad! That’s an interesting correlation of decreases in RFD and athletic ability. I’ll be sure to start including some jumps and balance work. Do you have a column in Men’s Health?

    CW: Thanks! No column in MH. They were the first to publish and feature this new style of training, though.

  11. Chad could i do something like this for a month, or is it better to just stick to the front squats 2-3x a week?, i say that just to keep things different.

    Single leg balance
    Box jump for 5 sets of 3 reps
    Front squat for 3 sets of 3 reps

    Single leg balance
    Box jump for 5 sets of 3 reps
    Weighted Single Leg Squat or Step Up for 3 sets of 3 reps
    Weighted GHR or SLDL for 3 sets of 3 reps

    Single leg balance
    Box jump for 5 sets of 3 reps
    Front squat for 3 sets of 3 reps

    Hopefully sometime in the future you can also talk about how you programme an iron cross, i’m working through progressions, but i’m not sure how or where to fit them in. I’m spending around 3-5 3 times a week after each session on them, but anyway thats off topic!

    CW: Sure, that’ll work.

  12. This has a similar tone to the pre-activation work Christian Thibaudeau outlined in his book “High Threshold Muscle Building”.

    Very sound basis, backed by both scientific and anecdotal evidence.

    I’ll be interested to read more on your take Chad. Will the Men’s Health article be published online, or will I have to track down a copy of the US version of the mag?

    CW: They will have a version of this online in their Personal Training section. However, my future posts will cover most of it.

  13. At work I have to pull heavy pieces of marble out of crates. The easiest way is to pinch the marble and pulll strait up and out of the crate. Only because its easier than taking those crates apart. The prob is that its really hard. And some guys can do it by their self, how can I use ROFD help to make my pinching strenght increase?

    CW: There’s no better training than movement specific training – in other words keep lifting those marble slabs and the targeted muscles will get stronger. Beyond that, you can pinch small plates together and hold them down at your sides to improve grip strength.

  14. Agreed, but how can I use RFD to help me?

    CW: RFD is more of a measure of full body explosiveness – think a sprint or vertical jump. It doesn’t necessarily equate to gripping a marble block harder. However, if you focus on building your posterior chain strength with the deadlift and hang power snatch, and if you do extra work for your forearms such as the reverse wrist curl (page 289 of Huge in a Hurry) your ability to move those marble slabs will improve dramatically.

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