Ballistic training, also called power training, was first used among elite athletes who were looking for a method to develop explosiveness. The word ballistic comes from the Greek word ballein, which means “to throw.” In this type of training the athlete accelerates and releases the weight into “free space.” Common ballistic training exercises are bench throws, jump squats, cleans, snatches, and push presses.
Ballistic training forces the athlete’s body to recruit and trigger fast twitch muscle fibers. This is important because these muscle fibers have the greatest potential for growth and strength. Ballistic training requires the muscles to adapt to contracting very quickly and forcefully. This training requires the central nervous system to coordinate and produce the greatest amount of force in the shortest time possible.
In traditional weight training the athlete accelerates the weight on the concentric portion over the first third of the lift. During the other two-thirds of the lift, the weight is being slowed, -decelerated- and then stopped. With ballistic training, the weight is accelerated through the whole range of motion and only starts to decelerate after the athlete has released the bar. The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Basic Guidelines for the Resistance Training of Athletes states that “performing speed repetitions as fast as possible with light weight (e.g., 30-45% of 1-RM) in exercises in which the bar is held on to and must be decelerated at the end of the joint’s range of motion (e.g., bench press) to protect the joint does not produce power or speed training but teaches the body how to decelerate, or slow down. If the load can be released into the air (i.e., the bar be let go at the end of the range of motion) the negative effects are eliminated.
Additional research has shown that as much as 75% of a movement can be devoted to slowing the bar down. Elliot, et al. (1989) reported that during 1-RM bench presses, the bar decelerates for the final 24% of the range of motion. At 81% of 1-RM, the bar decelerates for the final 52% of the range of motion. Research has shown that for best results it is important to load the bar with the amount of weight that allows for positive acceleration to be maintained through the full range of motion for the lift. An effective ballistic lift develops speed throughout the entire range of motion of the lift until the moment of release.