The Athlete’s Guide to the Brain: Explosiveness

The Athlete’s Guide to the Brain: Explosiveness

There’s no question — Usain Bolt is the world’s fastest man. The Jamaican legend is the only sprinter to win gold in the 100 meter and 200 meter at three consecutive Olympics, and he’s famous for coming out of the blocks with superhuman explosiveness (despite his massive frame).

After the Rio Olympics, Bolt put away his spikes for good, but there’s no denying his influence even in retirement. Keep reading if you’re curious to know more about how Bolt has leveraged explosiveness to transform himself into the most renowned track superstar of all time.

Bolt is is the only man to win both the 100 and 200 meter dash in three consecutive Olympics.

How to Generate Force, Fast

In athletics, explosiveness refers to the neuromuscular system’s ability to generate high action velocities. It is critical for quick movements such as sprints and jumps. Because maximum strength cannot be reached during rapid motion, sprinters focus primarily on increasing the rate of force development (RFD) in the early stage of contraction. Rapid movements require contractions that happen on the timescale of 50–200ms, but it generally takes 300–500ms to develop peak strength.

Maximum strength is not reached until 500ms, so rapid movements (50–200ms) are improved via RFD.

This isn’t to say that relative strength is not important. In fact, it is absolutely essential to first develop strength, as we discussed in our previous post on strength. Nonetheless, the law of diminishing returns applies — i.e. sprinters shouldn’t get so strong that speed is sacrificed for strength.

Strides Above the Rest

OK — so strength is a key component of explosiveness, but why are legends like Bolt so much faster than the average sprinter? The answer may be as simple as physiology. Humans and other mammals have two types of muscle fibers, slow-twitch and fast-twitch. Slow-twitch fibers are typically recruited during movements requiring endurance. Fast-twitch fibers, on the other hand, are employed during fast, explosive motions.

To understand the function of the two types of fibers, it’s helpful to imagine (bear with me!) the dark and white meat of a chicken. The dark meat — i.e. legs and thighs — is composed primarily of slow-twitch fibers, and allows the animal to complete slower movements such as walking. White meat — i.e. breast and wings — is composed mostly of fast-twitch fibers, which allows the chicken to execute short bursts of activity such as flying away from a predator.

Chickens have more fast-twitch fibers in their wings to aid in flight. Source:

While the average person might possess mostly “dark meat” in their lower body, Bolt’s leg muscles more closely resemble those of a cheetah. Cheetahs have a very high proportion of fast-twitch fibers in their back and hind limbs, a characteristic that allows them to go from 0–60 mph in 3 seconds. A 1981 study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that athletes with a higher percentage of fast-twitch fibers were able to run significantly faster during a 40-meter sprint. You can bet that this finding applies to Bolt. He possesses a disproportionately large amount of fast-twitch fibers in his lower body, which gives him lightning speed in short sprints. Bolt’s quickest 100 m was a record 9.58 seconds. Although a cheetah could run that distance in 3 seconds, Bolt’s record isn’t bad in comparison to Earth’s fastest animal.

Train Explosively

Even though Bolt possesses a natural propensity towards the development of cheetah-like muscle fibers, this in no way prevents committed athletes from cultivating explosiveness through training. Beyond improving relative strength, athletes preparing for sprints should also train to optimize fast-twitch activation and increase RFD. Increased RFD is achieved through repetitive high-speed, short distance sprints, which effectively increases the speed of signal transference from the brain to the muscles. This is supported by a Danish study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, which discovered that the rate of EMG rise during resistance training is closely correlated with contractile RFD. In other words, the greater the brain activity, the greater the RFD, which results in faster muscle fiber activation.

Train your brain: run like a cheetah.

Make Your Brain Sprint

While sprinting suicides every day will definitely increase speed through muscle building, training the brain is equally as important as training the body when it comes to quick, explosive movements. That’s why Halo Neuroscience gives athletes a workout for both the brain and the body. When paired with your existing training regimen, Halo Sport strengthens the brain’s circuitry to optimize control of motor neurons.

Here’s how it works. By wearing Halo Sport during your workout, you place your brain in a state of optimal excitation, which accelerates its ability to rapidly recruit fast-twitch fibers. This translates to an increased rate of force development and ultimately results in improved explosive strength. We demonstrated this principle early in our in-house research, where we found that healthy participants who wore Halo had a significantly higher rate of force development compared to sham both during and after an isometric lateral pinch force task. Read the full study here.

Wearing Halo Sport during your workouts accelerates gains in explosive movements like sprints and jumps.

Halo Sport also facilitates improvements in explosiveness during fast-twitch muscle training by making neural signals more organized and efficient, which helps refine motor skills. Improved motor skills are absolutely essential when it comes to increasing speed, which is why proper form is so important. In our work with the US Olympic Ski Team, ski jumpers who wore Halo decreased jump wobble by 11% and increased propulsive force by 13% over the sham control group.

Of course, a cheetah can only sprint for so long without flagging a little. Could Halo Sport possibly help fend off neuromuscular fatigue, too? Find out in our next installment of The Athlete’s Guide to the Brain — Endurance.

Are you ready to unlock more speed? Try Halo Sport risk free with our 30 day money back guarantee. Order yours here.

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