McAfee Secure sites help keep you safe from identity theft, credit card fraud, spyware, spam, viruses and online scams
Share Print

You have not viewed any products recently.




SPEED sKillz

August 12, 2008 12:28 PM

Speed, the Ultimate Frontier of Pure Athleticism. In the last few weeks, some College Football Players made themselves a lot of money based simply on how fast they ran the 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine. Some others got themselves back into draft consideration or the Free Agent Game by running a fast time at "Pro Days" at their Alma Mater. The proven value of running speed and it's improvement have made some Coaches a very nice living, but also has caused lots of recreational and amateur athletes to be confused about whether and what kind of speed work themselves might need. The debates that rage amongst folks who deny or have abandoned Westside Barbell Style "Dynamic Effort" work and those who swear by it only confuses and clouds the "speed" issue that much more. Hopefully this article will clarify some "Science" via definitions and methods, and also provide some "Art" via how to apply speed work to even non traditional speed drills.

Running Fast.

The basics of running speed is that Velocity equals stride length(L) times strike rate(R). V=LxR. Shockingly, power cleans do not play in this basic equation! Lots of athletes who have never lifted a weight, stretched , practiced mobility drills, or had one bit of Coaching but can flat out fly. That equation is Dad/Mom equals great genetics. So you are naturally fast from birth or not. If you want to dive into this subject of what makes us fast from birth I suggest this article., This article covers percent of fast twitch fibers, phosphagenic and glycolytic metabolic pathways, and some other surprising factors that impact running speed. Still, returning to V=LxR, the two ways we can improve on Mom and Dad's efforts are to increase stride length and increase strike rate. Stride length can be improved by improving flexibility and by strengthening the muscles that provide the hip retraction, leg pull, and leg drive, (Oly Coaches are waiting to scream out "Power Cleans!!!!" just about now I am sure) and Stride Rate can be improved by Optimizing Running Technique via sKILLz improvement, or in other words stop looking like a Wheat Combine if you want to run fast at the NFL Combine. So other than the small amount that improving your strength endurance (ability to maintain repeated muscle contractions at required levels of force) also plays in running fast especially as distances increase, maximal strength increase is really the basis of unloaded speed increase, as long as you have your running technique cleaned up. Deadlifts, squats, and even Olympic Lifts strengthen the Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves and Quadriceps that provide the pulling and pushing actions required in the running stride. For newbies and beginners, basic strength training approaches all work well, for example 5 sets of 5 weight static or climbing, 54321, or even Basic PTP. There is even some evidence that Deadlifts work better than squats for speed improvement. Advanced athletes, trying to compete at the highest levels and so obviously against other folks with gifted parents, use other more extreme methods to increase starting strength, acceleration strength, and stride length like plyometrics, resisted running, and my favorite, running behind a vehicle that you are attached to by rope, or the more boring running downhill. The focus in these techniques is to practice the skill of going faster than you are used to going. It is important to point out that running, like punching, is a non weight resisted activity, so practicing the skill perfectly and training the prime mover muscles for Maximal strength is the main path to speed improvement in non weight resisted activities.

Speed Strength and Strength Speed

Many other sports involve actions against resistance, from low weight objects like a baseball bat to very heavy objects like a defensive tackle. Here we need to attain speed strength for lighter objects we need to move swiftly, and strength speed for heavy objects we would move at lower velocities. In most sports, a mix of both is useful. Grappling, blocking and tackling, even swinging, lifting, or throwing an implement all are applying a force to an object. Here we can get off into F=MA and all the derivations that come from that, but what is important here is how, when, and why would you train these aspects of strength on the force velocity curve. Starting with the heaviest weights, when we train at very high percents of our 1RM exceeding 90%, the bar moves slowly, and this type of training prepares our Central Nervous system to Make Maximal efforts. This is known in the RKC world as "grinding". As Louie Simmons repeatedly points out, above 90% of 1RM only about 3 weeks of training is possible. Siff points out that this type of Training also actually slows you down and disrupts your form and technique due to the intensity of the load, disruption of the CNS, and huge recovery requirements this type of training demands. It does raise your top end or maximal strength If we go to lighter weights, around 65% + 10% of 1RM, we strive to produce the most power by accelerating this weight as best we can. Power is Force x distance divided by time.
This is where our Olympic lifting friends base their "Power is greatest in the clean" argument. The problem here is they only apply the force for a fraction of a second, so putting that fractional second in the denominator drives up the value of the Power produced, although the distance the force is actually applied to the lighter bar is not much greater than that which occurs displacing a heavier bar the same distance but moved more slowly. That is an argument I would be happy to win some other time, but the important thing about speed strength is you actually have to be accelerating(speed is increasing) the bar if you want to train speed strength vice strength speed. One of the great things about speed strength training is it is very useful not only for it's specific purpose, but also that it is a natural follow on to and antidote for CNS overload from strength speed training. Speed strength work must also be done with greater emphasis on perfect technique. In simple terms this means getting drug behind a car or running downhill looking like a Wheat combine isn't helping you run faster! In Westside Training, Circa max cycles would be followed by traditional speed strength cycles. In Olympic Lifting Training a heavy cycle of back squats and clean pulls would be best followed by squat cleans and full snatches. The point here is to go heavy with simpler movements, than go lighter, faster, and cleaner with more complicated movements. These two modalities will benefit each other and can be alternated in training periods or blocs, or be done simultaneously via the conjugate method. One problem encountered here is the impossibility of continually accelerating the bar through the range of motion when we are not planning on throwing or releasing the implement in our hand. Our bodies naturally slow down near the end of Range of Motion where leverage is better, which is exactly the issue in the squat and bench press, but not the deadlift. This where bands and chains can be useful in the concentric portion of the lift adding resistance where leverage is better. There are other benefits to bands in the eccentric, but that will be covered more in the following sections.
What about other qualities that can be trained like GPP, conditioning, base building, hypertrophy, etc.? Depending on your training philosophy and goals, these can be done ahead of the Strength speed and speed strength training blocs, afterward, or not at all. Not everybody needs or wants to add a lot of muscle or needs or wants an extremely high level of conditioning. Powerlifters, bodybuilders, and MMA athletes need different things and have to give up a bit on other qualities to succeed at their sport.

Applying this to RKC and PTP practitioners.

So far this article has mentioned sprinters, Olympic Lifters, Powerlifters, and MMA athletes. If you are person who trains at home just for health and quality of life improvement, you might doubt whether you need speed work You could probably get along without it because you made it this far in life without it. The interesting thing is how you can take obscure, and maybe more advanced Training Concepts like I mentioned and easily work them in and shake up your training. If you train nothing but solely KB ballistics, KB Metcon Training, or KB grinds, you will hit a wall. You will plateau in your training, get frustrated, and maybe even get injured because everything stops working eventually. You need to pull back, but if you are used to high volume or high effort Training, this won't be easy mentally. This is where you would be well served by some heavy strength speed/max effort work, speed strength/dynamic effort work or a Yanni CD. You most need to train the strength quality that you normally ignore, so if you are an athlete that usually trains Metabolic Conditioning(Repetition Method), Ballistic(Dynamic Effort Method) , or Grinds(Max Effort Method), just pick one or even two of the methods you don't normally use and incorporate them into your next Training bloc. This type of Training is best suited to Complex Movements involving several muscles or muscle groups. Dynamic or Max Effort Training doesn't work well for isolation work.


Max Effort Method or Grinds for Strength Speed:Get some heavier bells and clean and press them for low reps and high sets. If you are knocking off hundreds of swings or snatches in your workouts, or exploding heavy snatches a few times a week, you will have fun just cleaning and pressing heavy weights for relatively low volume. Focus on getting the weight up, not perfecting your form when doing Max effort Work. Hopefully you have honed your skills doing Speed Strength/DE work, and you can't focus on form when lifting a big weight. Get a flannel shirt, grow a goatee, maybe shave your head or even get a tribal tattoo. You may even add a few pounds of bodyweight and you will get notably stronger. After 3-4 weeks of this, back off a week and start working back up in your old volume or ballistic based workout. You will not be able to do what was your previous best, but very soon you will PR. As you are working back up, focus on cleaning up your technique. Strength is a quality that improves everything it comes in contact with!

Some Max Effort/Strength Speed Workouts:
Climbing Method to a PR: If you have a few different weight KBs, start with the lightest and work up in sets of 3 in the Clean and Press, just the Clean, or 1 Clean and 3 Presses. If you only have a one heavy KB, work up slowly adding a rep to each set. You need to push each rep as hard as you can, you are not saving anything for the next rep.

3-5x3: Work up to a heavy weight that you can get 4-6 reps with all out, and do 3-5 sets of 3 reps. You should have to rest a bit between sets because again, these should reps be all out.

Chains: Add a chain to your KB. I have two 25lb tow chains from Home Depot. They are about as much as almost any non Elite Powerlifter needs, and fairly cheap. They have a shackle so you can make them a long loop. Take a KB you can do 5-7 presses with and add a chain. Clean it once, then get to some pressing for 2-3 reps. The feel will be different as you add weight linearly as you push the bell overhead. Try this first with one KB but two is fine as you adapt. When you try this the first time, remember it is a learned motor skill. This will take 2-3 workouts to get used to, but when you are learning you will PR often! Eventually use a bigger KB, add a chain, or double loop the chain, again working to all out sets of 3 reps. You can actually try to do 2 or even 1 rep sets but I do not recommend singles for anybody who is not a competitive athlete. Singles have too much risk for not enough reward for folks just trying to get stronger.

Dynamic Effort or Ballistics for Speed Strength: This method requires lighter weights, and the speed portion for lifts with an eccentric can be sped up with a quicker eccentric to load the muscles, bands or chains, or simply pushing the bell as hard as possible and releasing it. Some folks even call this "throwing". Do this on grass or sand and not in anybody's gym, and keep your groove tight and clean. When working up to these sets, you are not 'warming up", you are rehearsing your technique and skill so you are dialed in when you do your speed sets.

Some Dynamic Effort/Speed Strength Workouts:

8 sets of 2-3: Cleans and snatches are hard to do for speed work, but presses work great. Take a KB you can press 8-10 times and add a light or mini band choked to the bell, then put your foot in the loop and press it 3 times as fast as you can. Rest 30-45 seconds. The goal here is to move the weight fast. If it slows down, PUSH HARDER! If it turns into a grind, stop the set and use a lighter bell or take the band off. Speed work is about speed!

Series Method: This is a great tool you can use for either strength speed or speed strength. For Speed Strength, get a KB you can move fairly fast, then get one one or two sizes larger. I use a 53 and an 88. Alternate sets of speed work for 2-3 reps with the lighter KB and the same number of reps with the heavier one. The speed with the lighter KB will increase, and the heavier KB will feel easier as you press it. This is a great trick to help you press heavier bells because the lighter and faster sets will hone your CNS to get used to pushing hard and fast with perfect technique. I use series a lot for swings and snatches, and it clarifies in your mind and experience the different effort you make with a heavy bell, and how to remember and apply that feel and effort to a lighter bell for speed, instead of conserving your energy like you would on higher volume repetition work.


I won't address Side Press because I have never done one, but the pressing method outlined in the RKC section above would work if side press was not such a heavily skilled and balance based exercise. Like bottom up pressing, it is about honing a skill and balance, not exactly an isolation movement but not really a complex one adaptable to Max Effort or Dynamic effort Work. So that leaves us with the Deadlift, a simple exercise that can be adapted in numerous ways for either Speed Quality.

Max Effort/Strength Speed: Just pulling heavy Deadlifts is as simple as it gets for max Effort Work. For those with a weak start off the floor, pulling standing on plates, boxes, or mats for singles is old school Powerlifting Magic. You can also pull with smaller plates or 35s vice 45lb plates. If the weight gets so light using this extended Range of Motion that once you get it to your knees it is easy, hang those chains on the bar or attach the bands to the bar and run them under your feet, the boards you are standing upon, or the power rack. For those with lockout issues, just pull deadlifts for 3 reps off the floor working up over 3-5 sets to a heavy weight, or do rack pulls. Max Effort for the Deadlift is simple and usually overdone. You can't keep this up for more than 3 workouts over 2-3 weeks. Heavy Max Effort Deadlifts will kick your CNS's butt quicker than any other exercise and need to be done in moderation, especially if you are doing other Powerlifts or Training some other sport concurrently.

Dynamic Effort/Speed Strength: In the squat and Bench press, 50-60% of 1RM is the bar weight you use either with straight weight or bands/chains for DE work. While chains have a linear loading pattern and just add mass to the bar, bands load and unload almost exponentially and add acceleration to the bar. So if you hang the bar with 135 lbs and 50lbs of chains from the squat rack, then drop it, it will accelerate at about 9.8 m/sec^2 while falling to the ground, same as the bar alone. Set up that same 135 lbs with bands and it will accelerate faster toward the ground than the 135 lb bar or the bar plus chains. I have never measured this exactly, but what I have measured is that my training partners and I can move the exact same weight faster with bands added as resistance. This is because of the eccentric having the added acceleration from the bands. To a large extent, that which you lower faster will go up faster. However, the Deadlift has no eccentric, so bands don't help us much in the deadlift. You can use them along with chains to add resistance as you pull, but this is not really a speed strength/DE method. When doing speed work, you need to focus on moving the bar fast on the descent and ascent, and do it with as perfect a form and groove as is possible, honing your skill to an Art form. A note about speed DL technique; I do not advocate grip and rip style deadlifts mainly because the only person I have ever seen do it consistently was Dave Ricks Trust me when I say you all aren't Dave Ricks. Speed pulls aren't grip and rip unless you are special and freaky strong like Dave, for which nobody whose name doesn't end in 'ov" or "oan" qualifies. Speed pull technique involves getting your setup, then "pre-pulling" the bar to "take the slack out of the bar" as Pavel says or "put a little bend in it" like Rickey Dale Crain says. Once you have a good setup, tension in your legs, abs, and lats, but looseness in your biceps and shoulders, "squeeze" the bar off the floor. Once the bar is moving, light that candle and accelerate it to lockout. For this the best cue is get it the bar against your legs and then go as hard as you can till lockout. Remember to pop your hips through between your hands to lock it out, do not shrug it to lockout. Upon lowering, lower it quickly to the ground even if you do not plan on doing another rep. Here are two methods that will work for DL speed work:

Sets of 1: Warmup to a weight between 65% and 85% of your DL 1RM, and pull 4-8 singles. You can pull all the singles at the same weight, or go back and forth between two weights Series Style as previously stated. I prefer to work with 3 weights, for example 425, 475, and 525. This is the training I did for the AAU Worlds Push Pull for Team Dragondoor, trying to get a decent DL in after a summer off from DLing:

Oct 14 Meet DL 225x3, 315x2, loose suit and belt on 405x1, 495x1attempts 555, 601easy, passed on 629 PR to fight another day.
OCT 9 raw dl 245x3, 335x3, 425x1x5 sets, found my speed and groove by rep 3 and perfect by rep 5.
SEP21 raw dl 225x3, 315x3, 425x1, 515x1x3 sets
SEP18 raw fat bar small plate dl 225x3, 315x3, 405x3, 495x3
SEP 14 raw speed dl 245x3, 335x3, 425x1, 475x1, 525x1, 425x1, 475x1, 525x1, 425x3
SEP 11 raw fat bar small plate DL 225x3, 315x3, 405x3, 475x3
SEP 07 raw speed DL 225x3, 315x2, 405x1, 455x1, 505x1, 405x1, 455x1, 505x1, 405x1
SEP 04 raw fat bar/small plate DL 225x3, 315x3, 385x3, 435x3

As you can see here, I mixed Max Effort and Dynamic Effort Work together weekly. You can do this or just train one method at a time. I have done both separately but prefer training them concurrently. Remember percents are guidelines but you load plates. All these weights are easy to load. The only weights I crunched were 85% of 622, my previous PR, which is 528.7, and 85% of 600, my short term goal, which was 510. I just kept these numbers in mind but focused more on moving the weight fast. It worked well and saved my tender back.

The Marty Gallagher Method: You could argue this is a max Effort method, and maybe even a Repetitive Effort method, but I think the value of this effort is the fast eccentric. I read this years ago in the September 1990 issue of PLUSA, in an article called "Using Straps". My DL was stuck so I was willing to listen, and Marty argued that adding straps and turning your sets of 2-3 into sets of 5 in the DL would cause a PR. Not only did the weights and reps go up, but my Bar Speed went up! You probably want to adjust this technique to 2-3 reps because the 5th rep can turn into a grind quite easily. I was doing these reps touch and go and the weight I usually was grinding, was now moving quickly. Sometimes grip weakness causes low bar speed! Try some clean grip Deadlifts if you don't believe it. Yes, you should work on your grip, but don't be a purist all the time and try this method sometime. It gave me a 50lb PR!

Speed, the ultimate athletic quality… Strength, the means to improve it… Skill, the method to allow your strength to improve your speed. Try it.

Jack Reape, AKA powerlifter54, is a Graduate with Merit of the US Naval Academy with a BS in Operations Analysis. He serves in the US Navy and competes locally and nationally when time permits. He is a multi time State, Region, and US Military National Champion.