Ballistic resistance training

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Ballistic resistance training

Postby Bill Glasheen » Sat Dec 19, 1998 2:20 am

Some time back, Chris Long asked about the benefits of ballistic resistance training in improving speed and/or preserving fast-twitch muscle. Several of us got in on this one and offered opinions. One point I made is that you cannot change the number of fast-twitch fibers in your muscles. Some of us are built for speed whereas others are built for strength or endurance.

But...we did comment a bit about the exercise. It turns out that I was a bit off in what ballistic weight training was. I spoke of a slightly different type of training called plyometrics. I still believe in this. Most professional athletes engage in plyometric training in the very advanced stages when they are strong enough.

Ballistic training is explosive lifting (pushing) of weights at the fastest possible velocity. Plyometrics is a rapid concentric/eccentric contraction of a set of muscles working against a reistance, and works primarily on a neuromuscular reflex to develop explosive power. Ballistic is strictly an explosive eccentric (going out) contract of a set of muscles. It is generally done with approximately 30-50% of the one-repetition maximum for an exercise. The THEORY is that it should help to increase speed. That's the theory.

In an article in All Natural Muscular Development, the authors review an Australian (do they have indoor plumbing there??) study of baseball players engaged in ballistic weight training. They conclude "...ballistic weight training methods should be incorporated in baseball training programs to help improve performance." Interesting.

But weight (I mean wait) a minute! Let's take a close look at the study. The treatment group did their regular spring training and some ballistic weight exercises. The control group just did the regular spring training. Result? The training group increased throwing speed (p < 0.05) wheras the control group did not. Both improved running speed, but the treatment group did significantly better.

Is this a worthwhile study? NOT! What did they show? Did they show an advantage of ballistic weight training over traditional resistance training methods? Absolutely not. Did they show some unique advantage of the ballistic vs conventional isotonic methods? No, because they didn't choose a proper control group or set of controls. Whenever you work with weights and you train even half-way correctly, you will improve your speed as long as you maintain flexibility.

So, I now know what ballistic weight training is. And in my opinion, the jury is still out. Given the small increases in speed reported in this study, I personally would recommend conventional resistance training methods. I'll think differently once someone does a proper study and demonstrates advantages over conventional methods.


McEvoy, K.P. and R.U. Newton. Baseball throwing speed and base running speed: The effects of ballistic resistance training. J. Strength and Conc. Res. 12(4):216-221, 1998.

Fleck, S. and Kraemer, W. Running And Throwing Faster. All Natural Muscular Development. February, 1999.
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