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Improving Speed with Strength-Speed (Part 3)

This article is part three of Training to Improve Speed. After you have developed a good strength base using the methods described in Improving Speed with Strength (Part 2), you can progress to training for strength-speed as described in this post.

The type of strength training described in part I is sometimes known as slow-speed strength. The squat and deadlift are perfect examples of slow-speed strength as each rep can take around 5 seconds to perform.

The slow movement velocity of these exercises can be explained by the inverse relationship between force and velocity (speed of movement) as described by the force-velocity curve. This graph demonstrates that the more weight you put on the bar the slower it can be lifted, and conversely, the less weight you lift, the faster the bar can move. For example, if you squatted an empty bar, you would be able to perform that repetition much faster than if you had say 200 or more pounds on the bar.Force-Velocity

The benefit of slow-speed strength is that it is the most effective method for increasing force production. The problem however, is that slow-speed strength is not sport specific. Real life sporting movements do not take place at these low velocities, but instead occur at very high velocities of movement. For example, while sprinting you must apply large amounts of force into the ground in only a fraction of a second.

After a good strength foundation has been developed, the next step to increase speed is to practice exerting force more quickly, an ability, which is known as strength-speed.

Strength-speed training utilizes slightly lighter resistance, and more explosive movement speeds. My favorite two exercise types to develop strength-speed are:

  • Olympic lifts and variations
  • Sled pushes

Olympic Lifts and Variations

The two main Olympic lifts are the clean and snatch. Both can be done with BB and Db are full body exercises (with special emphasis on the legs and hips) which require a great deal of both strength and explosiveness. In the full versions of these exercises the athlete must first deadlift the barbell from the floor to the knee and then explosively pull the bar up while dropping under it to the catch the bar in its final overhead position.

However, the Olympic lifts are extremely technique intensive exercises, so some coaches may have athletes perform a portion or variation of the full lift. Examples of Olympic lift variations include the hang clean or snatch, high pull, push jerk, and single arm dumbbell snatch. In either their full or modified variations, these exercises are great for training athletes to generate a high amount of force quickly.

Sled Pushes

There are many different exercises that can be performed with a weight sled (aka Prowler). However, for the purpose of increasing strength-speed, I prefer the basic sled push. It can be used as a conditioning exercise if the weight is kept low, but adding more weight it is a great way to increase sprinting specific strength and speed.

The key to the sled push is to keep the hands and hips low to mimic the “power position” achieved during the acceleration phase of sprinting. From this position, keep the arms extended and forcefully drive the knees to keep the sled moving.

These exercises are by no means an exhaustive list of all exercises to increase strength-speed, but they are the ones I have found to be the most effective at increasing speed in athletes. The Olympic lifts present a more general and whole body training stimulus while the heavy sled push provides greater sport specific adaptation.

The next article in this series will address how to approach the next step in training for speed development: Power (part 4)