Overspeed eccentric training has first been proposed by Louie Simmons as an alternative to more conventional plyometric exercises such as depth jumps and drop jumps. By overloading the eccentric portion of basic, compounds movements such as squats, weighted pulls, and presses, it is possible to take advantage of those physiological and mechanical aspects of the stretch-shortening cycle Dr. Paavo Komi described as the blueprint of power development in sport. Such an unconventional approach to strength training does find a place in the development of elite level throwers, offering a valuable alternative to more conventional high-impact plyometric training exercises.
For an athlete to be able to generate 3000 Newton of ground reaction force the muscle-tendon complex – the functional unit within the muscle-skeleton system that combines stiffness with elasticity while interfacing between the CNS and the sensorimotor system – needs to be able to tolerate a terrific amount of stress. Elastic energy – a by-product of muscle stiffness – can then be stored as muscle stretch under load, and later used to increase rate of force development. Eccentric training is, therefore, a necessary component in the development of stronger, more powerful athletes as eccentric strength provides enough structural integrity to store elastic energy during plyometric-like activities such as throwing, jumping and sprinting.
Although necessary to improve strength, eccentric exercises per se have very limited applications in the training of athletes. They do, with no reasonable doubt, strengthen the muscle-tendon complex increasing tolerance under load (stiffness) and, therefore, the amount of elastic energy that can be stored before it eventually dissipates. However, for this potential energy to be released, the CNS must be able to quickly reverse from eccentric to concentric work in less than 120 msec. A skill learned with plyometric training, especially high impact plyometrics. The use of heavy eccentric strength training exercise together with more explosive, plyometric-like movements, therefore, seems to provide the ideal combination of mechanical load and neuromuscular recruitment needed to improve the rate of force development.
When it comes to throwers, however, high-impact plyometric exercises are often not an option. Throwers are, on an average, heavier than 220 pounds, a benchmark normally used to determine whether or not an athlete should perform high-intensity plyometric exercises. By combining heavy, eccentric loads (up to 4 times an athlete’s body weight) with explosive, violent concentric efforts, overspeed eccentric training provides the unique opportunity for elite level throwers to increase explosive strength without placing an excessive amount of stress on the lower extremities. Eccentric overload does, indeed, provide the necessary pre-activation potentiation effect needed to induce a much more vigorous response of the neuromuscular system as a whole, resulting in a much more accentuated rate of force development.
Overspeed eccentric training can be performed using weight releasers, a particular device introduces by Louis Simmons in the book The Westside Barbell Book of Methods. Eccentric load in some of the basic, compound strength training exercises can range anywhere between 120% and 140% as a combination of ⅓ of weight on the bar – on an average 45% to 65% of 1RM – and ⅔ of weight on each additional plate so that, upon release, an increasing amount of force can be applied against lighter weights. Gilles Cometti, Tudor Bompa, and Dr. Carmelo Bosco in the early 80s first described what is known today as post-activation potentiation or PEP (heavy eccentric and/or explosive exercises immediately followed by a combination of jumps, sprints or throws) and its application in the training of track and field athletes. Overspeed eccentric training is, therefore, nothing but an upgrade of one of the most sophisticated examples of heavy strength training for sport.
Nihil sub sole novum then, but definitely a great alternative for throwers to improve strength and overall physical preparedness.