This topic definitely falls into the “I REALLY wish I knew this when I was growing up” category.
The reason being that if you’re going to dedicate the time and incredible energy it takes to train as an athlete, you want the best results in return for that effort.
Back when my teammates and I were growing up we were focused entirely with how much weight we lifted and did not concern ourselves with much else. Our thinking was that more was always better, so long as you could lift it (And even if you couldn’t! Because your spotter would finish the lift for you.)
And technique mattered, but not as much as it should have.
Consider this statement from the National Strength & Conditioning Association:
The athlete should always produce force as fast as possible with correct form in the concentric portion of the exercise; the velocity that is shown will aid in determining the necessary adjustment to the load.
Training with weights greater than this may lead to overtraining or possibly a suboptimal adaptation.
– NSCA Hot Topic & Bryan Mann, PhD, MS, CSCS
Today’s athlete should not still be training with a mindest from the 80’s and 90’s. They should fully utilize the power of this simple chart:
When athlete trains with near maximal weights their speed of movement is slower. This is great for developing the right side of this chart, and is certainly a piece of athletic development.
But it is just one piece of the puzzle when trying to link strength gains in the weight room to actual speed on the field.
Here are a few more that today’s athlete should absolutely be using:
Tempo Training (for Strength-Speed)
With the caveat that you need to be an experienced lifter who has excellent technique, this is a great tool that falls mainly into the Strength-Speed category.
The idea is that you’re moving submaximal weights at a faster pace on exercises like squats, presses, pulls and so on. There is still strength development going on, but the pace of the movement has more of a speed element to it.
An average speed of 0.8-1.0 meters per second on strength-speed drills such as this is recommended.
Olympic Lifting & Plyometrics (for Explosive Power)
If you’re a coach, workout person, or just a general fan of training concepts, I’m sure you are familiar with these exercises that would mainly be classified as Explosive Power drills.
On Olympic Lifts in particular, the mistake of focusing on weight before speed is quite common with many athletes still. Technique can be sacrificed, too.
There are a lot of bar speed measuring devices out on the market today that can track the velocity of the bar on fast lifts like cleans and snatches. Using these can give an athlete instant feedback on whether that extra 10 pounds they put on the bar is hampering their speed gains or not.
An average (not peak) velocity in the 1.3-1.4 meters per second range on a hang clean would represent good speed, and is an indication that the weight you are using is optimal. Faster speeds would signal an opportunity to increase weight, slower speeds would advise a drop.
Measuring bar speed can also be a great way to get instant feedback on technique corrections.
Often times we have athletes that are not fully driving their hips into the bar on their initial pull (see image above for the correct hip position). By measuring bar speed before and after increased hip extension our kids almost always see a jump in velocity, meaning they’re getting far more speed benefits from their lift than they would have otherwise.
This category would represent using light resistance on movements at full speed. Examples would be sled resisted sprints, parachute sprints, medicine ball throws, and weight vest jumps or sprints.
Once again, a common error is to focus on adding more weight to a category of exercises where weight should not slow down the movement more than 5-10%.
But far too often when these tools are used the emphasis again reverts back to how much weight is added. This is by far the worst category to make that mistake in, yet it is still seen far too often.
A good rule of thumb would be to time the movement at full speed without resistance, then time it again with your chosen resistance to see if you have a greater than 10% impact.
True athletic development acts much the same as so many other parts of our lives – if you focus too much on one thing then other things become underdeveloped.
Focus only on eating protein and your overall health suffers.
Focus only on work and relationships suffer.
Focus only on reading or math and your academic potential suffers as your grades in other classes will be poor.
Focus only on how much weight you lift in every part of your athletic ‘education’ and you’ll never develop into the well-rounded player you could have been.
Get it right by using all the training methods on this continuum, though, and you’ll leave all the speed-illiterate athletes in your dust.
And since speed is the #1 skill coaches and scouts look for in an athlete, you’ll do an incredible service to your future success.