Jan 29, 2015
Back to Basics

By Nick Pinkelman

The author explores some of the benefits of explosive-ballistic training and recommends making it part of your strength training tool box.

It doesn’t matter if it is a sport coach telling you what they want out of a strength and conditioning program or a strength coach telling you what their program does for an athlete; a common mantra we hear is: bigger, faster and stronger. But when training athletes, it’s better to begin by addressing two questions: 1. Am I giving my athletes the ability to create more force in a shorter amount of time? 2. Am I asking this athlete to perform movements that will help them create force in the time their sport happens?

Whether it is the baseball swing happening in 100-120 ms, or the foot being on the ground for 80-200 ms, sport happens within a limited time and distance. So in most sport applications, we should train to develop concentric velocity. A lot of things go into creating concentric velocity, but let’s look at a couple of different force/time curves of styles of training.


As you can see, an explosive-ballistic style of training creates more force in a shorter amount of time than traditional heavy-resistance training does. This in turn results in a greater degree of rate of force development. According to Figure 20.01 (see above), heavy resistance training does create more force than explosive-ballistic training after 300 ms, but not many sport tasks happen in that time frame. In fact, an untrained individual will produce a higher amount of force earlier in the force time curve than a heavy resistance trained athlete will. Unfortunately for the heavy resistance trained athlete most sport tasks occur in an 0-200ms window.(1)

Explosive-ballistic training

If the above statements are true, it is important to determine what explosive-ballistic training is. Explosive movements require moving an object with as much velocity as possible, which often involves the reflexive and elastic components of the muscle-tendon complex.

Heavy resistance training involves more of the cross sectional area of the muscle. Ballistic movements are when you propel an object–such as your self (jumping), or an object (throwing a medicine ball). Explosive-ballistic training develops something called speed-strength. Speed-strength is the ability of the body to create a high amount of force in the shortest amount of time. This is what actually happens in just about all sport movements out on the field or court.

I think this concept is gaining traction as more coaches apply it to sprinting and lower body movements, but I believe there are even more opportunities for coaches to apply explosive-ballistic training. Take a throwing athlete for example–when is the last time you have witnessed one of them actually training their arms explosively?

I believe there is a time and place for all methodologies and all elements of movement have to be present in training. One of the first things a coach needs to do is take into further consideration the time constraints that exist in their sport, then honestly evaluate if their program can maximize their training efforts.

Obviously, every sport has different requirements that dictate the athlete’s performance. Thus the days are gone of creating athletes that are just bigger, faster and stronger. To maximize athletic performance you have to answer the questions: How big? How fast? How strong?

As a coach, you have to know the given factors of each movement task that you are trying to train. In future blogs, I’m excited to tell you more about factors such as kinematic versus kinetic analysis, basic movement efficiency, stability and numerous other athletic components. I’m also excited to share how I apply them to the training of athletes in tasks other than running or jumping.

Nick Pinkelman is an Athletic Performance Trainer at Explosive Edge Athletics, in Eden Prairie, Minn. During his career, he has worked with high school, college, and professional athletes.


1. Plisk, Steven S. Speed, Agility, and Speed- Endurance Development. In: Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. R.W. Earle and T.R. Baechle, eds. Champaign, IL Human Kinetics, 471-491, 2000.

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