If you don’t understand the stretch shortening cycle, you don’t understand movement. On one hand, you won’t know how to maximize movement efficiency. On the other hand, you won’t know how to maximize strength gains.
So what is the stretch shortening cycle (SSC)?
When a muscle lengthens, it will store elastic energy in the tissue – muscle, tendons, fascia, and even bones. If it shortens IMMEDIATELY after lengthening, your body can channel that stored energy back into the shortening of the muscle (aka contraction). This is extremely useful and valuable. SSC is biomechanical efficiency at its finest and without it, every step would probably feel like deadlifting 500 pounds. The SSC is useful and vital, but you need to know when to negate it, or else you’ll waste a lot of time in your strength training.
Examples of SSC:
Before a jump: Notice what his arms are doing around 3-4 seconds. They stretch and immediately shorten to increase the efficiency and distance of his jump.
While running: As the left shoulder and right hip stretches, the right shoulder and left hip shorten.
While walking: Back of left calf and front of right calf stretch as the front of left calf and back of right calf shorten.
As useful as it is, you need to negate the SSC if the goal is to get STRONG, otherwise you rob the muscle of stimulus and waste your time training. (Or perhaps get a different outcome than the one you were looking for. In high school, I used to see tons of people trying to get bigger biceps, but the only thing they were really training was elbow plyometrics. I was one of them.)
The proper context determines whether the SSC is good or bad. You should know when, why, and how you’re using it.
Exploit the SSC in strength training? Bad.
Negate the SSC in movement? Also bad. But flip those around and everything will be just fine.
If you’re in a sport that requires any sort of plyometrics (another name for SSC), you’ll want to specifically train it. But sometimes you’ll also want to negate it for maximal strength gains.
Bouncing or rushing through the bottom of a squat, bench press, deadlift, or any other strength exercises is not getting you as strong as you could be.
Now, to address the elephant in the room:
Train for RESULTS…don’t build your program based on your emotional need to feel validated. Get your expressive and emotional needs from unstructured movement, not strength training. Emotionally based training decisions destroy gains. Not that training and movement isn’t a profound mind-body experience…it is. But don’t delude yourself into thinking you’re making physiological progress when your workout is driven by the wants of your emotions and identity. At the very least, you’re sacrificing long term physiological strength gains for short term emotional appeasement. (Real talk: I’ve been guilty of this).
You may laugh, but these are all very real issues when it comes to training and movement.
Practically what this means:
- Use tempo training in your strength workouts to negate the stretch shortening cycle.
- Be mindful: When you’re running jumping, climbing, brachiating, lifting, carrying, sporting, or basically doing anything outside the gym, you should be exploiting the stretch shortening cycle.
- You may need more rest time between strength training sessions because your muscles are working harder (since you’re now negating the SSC)
- Be humble about the weight you use. The load is not the only valuable metric. Believing it is? Classic rookie mistake. (Again, guilty.)
- Be VERY clear about what your most important goals are and plan your training and movement accordingly.
A good base tempo is 3110. (Lower for 3 seconds, pause at the bottom for 1 second, lift the weight in 1 second, don’t pause at the top).
As Ido Portal says, “In movement, be as efficient as possible. In [strength] training, be as inefficient as possible.”
If you have any questions, concerns, problems or ideas, leave a comment!
More on tempo training and the SSC:
Stretch Shortening Cycle
10 Things You Should Know About Tempo Training
6 Questions About Tempo Training
Four Seconds to More Productive Workouts
Time Under Tension Training