May The Force Be With You: Force Production and Force Management

Think about the exercises and movements you enjoy when training. Does a heavy deadlift, power clean, medicine ball throw, or a 100m sprint top your list? Me too. 

We can classify these as force producing exercises. Force is defined as the sum of mass multiplied by acceleration (Force = Mass x Acceleration). Your muscles power the mechanical advantage of your body which creates the acceleration of mass (such as a the barbell in the deadlift, or your own body in a sprint) to create force. 

The rate of acceleration differs greatly depending on the mass, but it's easy to see how important force development is to a athletes progression. 

A component of force that seems to often be forgotten is force management.

For example, You must decelerate at the end of the sprint. If competing in sport, the ability to decelerate, lower the body, plant a foot, and move quickly in a new direction is often what separates the pros from the normal joes.   

Barry Sanders was pretty solid at force management. 

Think about skiing. Every turn in the powder is an example of force management. The skier's body and general health rely on his/her ability to manage the force of gravity by lowering and angling the body to control the downhill descent. 

Lindsey Vonn shredding the slalom

The same can be applied to a soldier or firefighter. Walking uphill or up a stairwell in gear is tiring, but likely a safe endeavor from an injury perspective. The ability to manage that force created by the heavy load on the downhill portion can be the difference between a successful mission or a injury which now is a liability to the whole team. 

Any strength and conditioning programming should take this into consideration. Just like we always want to balance upper-body pushing and pulling, we also want to balance force production and force management.

Some exercises do this for us. A nice example is the Olympic style clean, or any variation with a 'catch' at the bottom of the squat. The athlete generates the force to move the barbell, and then manages that force during the catch. Similar goals same can be achieved by plyometrics focused on the athlete landing from an elevated position, or even by developing the back squat.

Force management needs to be trained and clearly defined across all planes of movement. Lateral medicine ball catches with a partner, jump-land drills, and agility drills in all directions are just a few examples. For many programs, plyometrics are used heavily during conditioning efforts. That's fine - but you as the athlete should be cognizant of managing force for each repetition with the appropriate form and intensity.

Don't be the guy who can run fast in a straight line, but blows out his knee when he has to change direction ever so slightly.