How often have you been told by your coach you need to be stronger? How often have you missed a lift or needed that spotter to come to your aid under a heavy load?
Every time you end up in this situation you may come away feeling that your strength let you down, that you didn’t have enough muscle to battle through but what about if it was something else? What about if you simply moved too slow?
Speed of contraction and speed of action is a big part of a successful lift. That aggressive, explosive, powerful lift can be all the difference between success and failure. Imagine an Olympic weight lifter, the speed of their clean pull and the speed of their action to pull them under the bar to catch in that front squat position must be extremely fast in order to stand a chance of making the lift, and that is before they have even stood the bar up and attempted the Jerk section of the lift. Or imagine a heavy back squat, the speed at which you rebound out of the depths of the squat will ultimately determine the success or failure of the lift.
So how can you train for speed?
Speed training is normally done as part of an unloading or de-loading phase of training, say every 4-6 weeks depending on the programme. But for athletes who aren’t focused on being absolutely strong and want to be more explosive and fast, sporting athletes for example, you could do this more often.
Typically I tend to use to methods for speed work.
Some of you may be familiar with the crossfit abbreviation of ‘every minute on the minute’ but for those who don’t know this basically means doing the prescribed reps and sets every minute for so many minutes. So for example you start the clock, do 5 reps and rest for what ever time you have left in the minute and repeat.
My EMOM for speed work is usually 8-10 sets of 2 reps at 50-60% of my 1 rep max.
For example if my 1 rep max squat is 100kg I load up a 50kg barbell start my timer and do 2 reps, take a seat and rest and then every minute for 8-10 minutes I do two reps.
2. 5×5 for speed
The same approach applies here as it does to the first point only it lets us add more variety. I often use this method for more dynamic movement such as a medicine ball toss or slam, short sprint on a watt bike or explosive plyometric moves with body weight like clap press ups, squat jumps or plyometric lunges. The idea is to do 5 seconds sprints or 5 fast reps and then rest and repeat for 5 sets. I tend to go a little more by feel here with the rest times as you want to move fast each time and not get fatigued so pushing for EMOM is tough with more impact and reps than 2 reps of lighter barbell work. But typically its 60-90 seconds rest.
With this style of training you need to remember that you should not find it heavy or overly tiring. You should not be getting fatigued. Otherwise you can’t move fast and therefore get no speed benefits from the reps. The idea is to work on the contraction speed of the muscle and to eat up before your training gets intense again. This could be lots of endurance and skill work in sports or your heavy weeks in a strong man, power lifting or weightlifting programme.
The idea is to start your session with these moves and then do your assistance work along side it.
To take this in a different direction for a second, think about how it should feel. I have already mentioned that it shouldn’t beat you up. It shouldn’t be too hard. But it should feel FAST.
To take a message from an old book of the month. Jonathan Livingston Seagull. When Jonathan is sitting on the beach, having been exiled from his flock for flying to fast he spots a silver gull on the horizon. He watches it for a moment and then when he blinks, the gull is right next to him. In that same instant. When he asks the seagull how they did it, how they traveled so far so fast they simply reply “Perfect Speed.”
That is the type of speed we want from these lifts. there is no middle to race, there is only the start and the finish, with no time in between you are here, and then you are there.
Try this next time you train for speed and power and see if it starts to make a difference to your lifts and PR’s.