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What is Reactive Training and Why Should I Do It?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008
by NASMPRO Editorial Team

 
Traditionally, reactive or power training has been viewed as a form of conditioning used exclusively in athlete’s programs. Although this is an important component in the athlete’s protocol, it’s equally important to the exercise regimen for any healthy exerciser. Every movement we perform, whether on the playing field or during everyday activities, requires us to react and generate forces quickly in response to certain demands placed on our structure. Thus, it is critical that people train at speeds that are functionally applicable to everyday life and sports. This will decrease the risk of injury and enhance overall performance.


What is Reactive/Power Training?


Reactive training is defined as quick, powerful movements involving an eccentric contraction (force reduction) followed immediately by an explosive concentric contraction (force production). An example would be sitting down into a squat to load the muscles, and then explosively jumping up, as if trying to touch the ceiling. It utilizes the stretch capabilities of our tissues to store energy as potential energy and then employs this energy as kinetic energy—the energy of motion—to generate force efficiently. Reactive/power training also teaches the nervous system to recruit muscles quickly, thus enhancing the rate at which muscles generate force.


Why is Reactive/Power Training Important?


No matter the population or the activity, one’s ability to react and generate force quickly is crucial to overall function and safety during movement. Reactive/power training can enhance one’s ability to stabilize while moving, slow down and/or stop, and produce forces at speeds that are functionally applicable to the tasks at hand. The nervous system only recruits muscles at speeds for which it has been trained. If the nervous system is not trained to recruit muscles quickly, when met with a demand that requires a fast reaction, the nervous system will not be able to respond appropriately.

For example, if two basketball players of the same height are going up for a jump ball, the one who can react and generate force the fastest will win the toss. The same holds true for the typical exerciser and the overall population. If you step off a curb that is deeper than expected, you might lose your balance and fall. But if your nervous system has been trained to react quickly and you lose your balance, your nervous system will be able to recruit the right muscles at the right time, allowing you to regain your balance and decrease your chance of serious injury. It is important to note that reactive/power training should only be incorporated into an exercise program once you have obtained proper flexibility, core strength, and balance capabilities.

As you can see, reactive/power training is not just for the athlete anymore. It is an important component in all exercise programs to enhance function and performance, and decrease the risk of injuries.


Reactive Training for Weight Loss

Injuries can be devastating to the achievement of your goals. In order to avoid injuries, we have to train to perform at various speeds, stabilize quickly, and generate force quickly in order to avoid potentially devastating falls, spills, and tumbles. As noted earlier, reactive training teaches you to contract muscles surrounding a joint quickly, to stabilize various joints in conjunction, and reinforce proper landing mechanics to increase your ability to produce force. This offers one big benefit for weight loss: It’s a definite calorie burner! The more calories that can be burned in a session, the better. For some, this can be an extremely fun plateau buster as well.


Reactive Training for Hypertrophy

For people trying to gain muscle size, injuries can limit growth potential. To avoid devastating injuries, we have to stabilize and move at the various speeds we encounter during everyday activities. If you remember, in order to gain size in a muscle fiber, the muscle needs time under tension. This means training sessions are slower and controlled. This is great for size, but not so good for movement. When we move, we move at differing speeds—sometimes fast, sometimes slow. If we do not train at a variety of speeds, our body does not know what to do when we are forced to move and stabilize at those speeds. This leads to injury. Reactive training teaches us to reactively stabilize at various joints, maintain postural equilibrium at faster speeds, and utilize proper landing mechanics to increase force production when it is needed. Basically, we train for life's little surprises in a safe, controlled environment so that when we are faced with a situation in real life, our brain and nervous system already has a strategy to deal with it.


Reactive Training for Increased Health

If you want to stay healthy, you have to move. Since most injuries occur during the eccentric (deceleration/slowing down) portion of a movement, the body needs to learn how to decelerate properly and reactively stabilize at various joints. This is what reactive training does. It allows you to move at various speeds safely and efficiently while maintaining proper postural alignment.



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