The Role of Elastic Energy in Activities with High Force and Power Requirements: A Brief Review

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Abstract

Wilson, JM and Flanagan, EP. The role of elastic energy in activities with high force and power requirements: A brief review. J Strength Cond Res 22(5): 1705-1715, 2008-The purpose of this article is to provide strength and conditioning practitioners with an understanding of the role of elastic energy in activities with high force and power requirements. Specifically, the article covers 1) the nature of elasticity and its application to human participants, 2) the role of elastic energy in activities requiring a stretch-shorten cycle such as the vertical jump, 3) the role of muscular stiffness in athletic performance, 4) the control of muscular stiffness through feedforward and feedback mechanisms, and 5) factors affecting muscular stiffness. Finally, practical applications are provided. In this section, it is suggested that the storage and reuse of elastic energy is optimized at relatively higher levels of stiffness. Because stiffness decreases as fatigue ensues as well as with stretching before an event, the article emphasizes the need for proper preparation phases in a periodized cycle and the avoidance of long static stretches before high-force activities. The importance of teaching athletes to transition from eccentric to concentric movements with minimal time delays is also proposed due to the finding that time delays appear to decrease the reuse of elastic energy. In addition to teaching within the criterion tasks, evidence is provided that minimizing transitions in plyometric training, a technique demonstrated to increase musculotendinous stiffness, can optimize power output in explosive movements. Finally, evidence is provided that training and teaching programs designed to optimize muscular stiffness may protect athletes against sports-related injuries.

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