This is a simple fact in the world of sports, the wilds of the Savanna, and in your training. Speed is the key to athletic success, or to be more precise, power is. However, those of you who paid attention in school understand that force, or power is the sum of speed and mass. Simply speaking what this means is that the greater the weight we can move at the most maximal speed possible, the greater the total power output of the body. Now, this has a number of considerations. First, total power output is relative to the source of the force, i.e. the body. It is a well-known fact that the relative strength (total strength in relation to mass) of an organism decreases as the size of the organism continues. This means that if we take a bar loaded up to 150kg and we get two lifters to squat it, with lifter A weighing 100kg and lifter B weighing 60kg, the total power output of lifter B would be greater as 1) his relative strength is greater due to his lesser body weight and 2) because a greater amount of force production is required to move the weight, regardless of the fact that the bar path would move slower due to the requirement of a maximal effort to move the weight.
I know that this has gotten confusing, but bear with me, it will all make sense soon enough. I know I said that speed kills, and as I said, lifter B would have to move slower to move the 150kg squat that lifter A, so lifter A would be moving faster yes? Well yes, true at that weight the larger lifter would move the weight faster but that does not mean that there is a full recruitment of all the bodies’ musculature. What we need to bare in mind is that while a maximal effort lift is moving slowly, it is moving as fast as humanly possible given the parameters of the lifters strength and percentage of neuromuscular recruitment. If the lifter couldn’t generate maximal force in the most minimal amount of time he would fail the lift. Told you speed was important.
Now, speed obviously has greater implications than just your ability to lift bigger weights. We as a species rely on our speed to think faster, evolve faster and generally be faster than our adversary in order to survive. While Paleolithic man could not have out run many of the predators of the primal wilderness, he could change direction faster, think faster and climb faster, all of which has lead to me being here writing this article for you now. Even now athletes of every kind are trying to get faster. Faster in their ability to get to the end zone, try line, goal, ball etc. first and developing this killing speed there needs to be a three-fold focus on speed development.
First there needs to be a focus on the physics of strength. I know that we have been over the physics behind it, but let me put this into practical terms. Picture a box. Now jump on it. Then jump on it as fast as you can. Then picture a taller box, a box that you can’t jump on to. Now while you can jump up to this box with lesser speed and greater speed, the fact is that if you don’t have the strength to propel yourself onto that box, the truth is that you are just not going to get up there no matter how hard you try.
The fact is that without strength it doesn’t matter how fast you are, you simply don’t have the base on which to build power. Now, building strength, while not easy, is relatively simple and there are 1001 programs out there on the net that will help you get strong. I would recommend anything that is based on full compound lifts and is very squat focused. From there just keep getting stronger!
Ok, so lets move further down the line. You have been training hard and getting strong for a few months now and in the process you have gotten faster. Your lifts have shot up and as such your total strength output has increased and as such your ability to ability to produce force is greater. What this has lead to is a greater ability to propel your self forward, upward and any other which way you want to go, but, with that being said, speed has not been your primary focus. While every rep of every lift should be as fast as you can humanly make it, the fact is that you cannot move 98% of your 1RM as fast as you can move 50%.
Louie Simmons, head coach/owner of Westside Barbell, arguably the strongest gym in the world focuses a great deal of his Conjugate training method towards speed and force development by the incorporation of specific speed sessions where 40-70% of a lifters max squat, bench or deadlift, depending on the focus of the day, will be taken for no more than 2 reps over 10-20 sets with very short rest periods varying from 30seconds to a minute in length. The whole point of these short rep ranges is to work the fast twitch fibers of the bodies’ musculature.
The muscles of the body consist of three different muscle fiber types. Type 1 fibers that are slow twitch oxidative. Type 2A with fast twitch oxidative, and Type 2X that are fast twitch glycolytic. These fast twitch fibers are exactly what they sound like, fast! As such, when we want to be fast we need to focus on the development of pure, unadulterated speed that can only be developed under loads that are sub-maximal. As such we need to focus on the activation of these fibers using a load that will cause a development of potential force generation. This force development is due to increased neuromuscular connectivity and firing rate. This leads to an athlete being able to engage their strength at a greater speed. This in turn relates to a greater expression of total power and as such speed.
This leads us on to the last section of speed development, practical application. This is where you train the application of speed within the context of your sport. Common examples of this are 40 yard dashes, change of direction drills, target sprints diamond runs etc. the list goes on, but the point is that you need to look at what the demands of your sport, or playing position, have on your speed. In regards to sports like Rugby or American Football heavier players such as forwards or linemen need the speed to get off the starting line fast and make contact first, where as players such as running backs or wingers need the speed to move in-between opposition players and make sure that they can change direction quickly. As such the practical speed training for each player would have to be unique and targeted towards his or her personal needs in regards to their position.
This ladies and gents is a brief overview on how one can approach the subject of speed training. My disclaimer on this is that there are many ways to skin a cat and that this is by no means the only way to approach speed training, however it is a concept which has worked well for me in the past and has worked well for others as well. If you have any questions you would like to ask on the subject of speed training, or anything else regarding training for that matter, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
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