The Need for Speed (Training)

Watch any top lifter and one of the first things that jumps out is their speed. It’s the reason they’re able to lift heavy weights with what seems like minimal effort and it’s a key component in getting stronger and more efficient, particularly in weightlifting.

If you aren’t training speed and you aren’t lifting weights with the intention of doing so explosively, you’re training to be slow. And if you train to be slow, you’ll end up being slow, whether your goal is speed, power or an improved CrossFit Open performance.

Learning to apply force quickly will make you stronger, regardless of what you’re training for. While speed training is a hotly debated topic in powerlifting -some love it, some see no point— there’s really no disadvantage to focusing on moving the bar quicker.

“The advantage to doing speed work and dynamic work is, if nothing else, you’re changing the stimulus you are providing to the muscle,” said world record holder Matt Wenning.

“One, you don’t have a weak spot. If I ask you to go heavy you can do it, if I ask you to go fast you can go fast. If I ask you to put your feet somewhere else you can. Changing speeds and techniques is a valuable method to keep away tendinitis and overuse injuries.”“I incorporate speed work all the time. My philosophy on training is to find weak spots, train them different consistently and make sure you aren’t ignoring any of the major systems: hypertrophy, endurance, maximum and dynamic effort.”

How to Incorporate Speed Work

CrossFit: Plain old sprinting is the most obvious method, but this being CrossFit (the unknown and unknowable) throwing a sandbag into the mix or a sled to drag or push will up the ante. Just keep it light enough that you can still move fast. Getting out of that same sagittal plane with agility drills will also do wonders for speed, athleticism and overall joint health.

Think side shuffles, ladder drills, lateral jumps, one-legged lateral jumps (keep the target low) done in quick succession. You can also pair a dynamic movement with a strength, such as front squats with seated box jumps in between each set. Or a heavy yoke carry followed by a 200 meter dash. Ideally, you’d rest 2-3 minutes to fully recover between sets.

Weightlifting: Think light, sub-maximal loads in the 50-70 percent. Go from the blocks (or hang position if you don’t have blocks) to eliminate the controlled first pull. Focus on moving FAST. Keep that same mindset for pulls and squats to mimic moving quickly through that portion of the lift.

It’s important to note when training for speed, you aren’t flailing as fast as possible with no regard to technique. The better your form is, the easier it will be to move weight fast, especially in regards to that third pull. The pull under the bar in the snatch and clean and the push under in the jerk has to be just as aggressive as getting the bar upwards was. That is where the advanced lifters look so fast: they move under the bar extremely fast.

Powerlifting: Wenning makes use of lots of different variations with chains and bands regularly in his training. Most advanced lifters don’t need more than 30-40 percent of their lift on the bar and then you can load up chains, bands, etc. with the goal being to still move the bar fast. Clapping push-ups are a great accessory tool, especially if you’re traveling and don’t have much equipment.

Who needs it?

Anyone who wants to get more powerful, agile and explosive. This should NOT take the place of your training program. If you’re a powerlifter, your bread and butter is still squats, bench and deadlift. If you’re a weightlifter, don’t put aside your heavy training to hang snatch at 60 percent all day. Specific training will always be the priority if you are just a lifter. CrossFit athletes, need to train fast but also doses of heavy stuff, endurance and gymnastics. Consider speed training an important assistance to your program, the seasoning on a good meal.

When to do it?

A large part of this depends on the athlete and what your goals are. Most people would benefit most from doing speed training as part of or immediately after their warmup (before lifting or conditioning).

Training speed when you’re already smoked isn’t nearly as effective, unless you’re a competitive CrossFit athlete and are trying to practice training under fatigue. Some of the accessory work, like box jumps or clapping push-ups can be added to lighter or skill days.

If you’re a beginner, don’t worry about loading up with bands or chains- just practice on making your warm-up sets fast and explosive. Hone in your technique so you have the confidence to move aggressively.

Remember: no one is ever going to tell you to be less aggressive or slower under a heavy weight.




Top photo by Simply Perfection Photography.