We often hear the saying “speed kills” in relation to driving. In regards to athletics, speed doesn’t kill, it wins. What makes an athlete superior to another athlete (physically) is speed. You have to be fast. Many coaches and exercises scientists refer to this as the power to weight ratio. If you have a greater power : weight ratio the better the athlete you will be. If your power : weight ratio is low then the prediction is you will not be the best athlete you can be. The key to a better power : weight ratio is speed training.
In this post, we are going to explore the concept of speed training and various ways to implement it. Implementation is a long term word. This post is not just a list of different exercises. We are focusing on the long term and the big picture.
Are Speed And Power The Same Thing?
I’ll answer the question by saying they are the same thing but different. Speed implies how fast an object is moving through space. In regards to lifting, speed involves accelerating a heavy load as quickly as possible. Power is the most amount of work done in the shortest amount of time. Although this sounds similar to speed, it is not. When talking about power in the gym we are talking about accelerating the heaviest possible load in the shortest amount of time under MAXIMUM TENSION.
This is where the confusion sets in. Most people assume the heavier the load, the greater the amount of tension the muscles are going to generate. This is not the case. In fact they may be generating a lot of tension but it is not near maximal. Under heavy load, proprioceptive muscle inhibitors such as the Golgi tendon organs inhibit the amount of tension a muscle can generate. Heavier loads also cannot be accelerated as quickly either. Motor control is also not operating at its best efficiency. It is very tough to maintain perfect form at a load greater than 90% of 1RM.
Lighter loads on the other hand can be accelerated quickly. Can lighter loads create maximum tension? Absolutely. In fact, most research suggests that maximum tension is generated at around 30% of 1RM for most individuals. Such a small amount of weight (30% 1RM) will only create maximum tension if it is accelerated as quickly as possible. The amount of tension this creates is similar to an athlete’s maximal strength output. The real benefit lies in the rapid acceleration, which is vital to athletics.
Early Onset Of Speed Training
If an athlete has never seriously done speed training before, then it is foolish to try to get him/her to do high intensity/impact exercises right off the bat. This is basically praying for an injury. Speed training involves plenty of plyometric training. The prep work for plyometrics should also be done prior to beginning a speed training program as well. Above all else, proper movement is the most important thing in speed training, or any training for that matter.
With that said, we need to make sure we know how to jump and land properly first. This can be accomplished by using a jump rope. Practice doing a high amount of skips, all different types, just make sure your form is perfect. The rope will provide a good learning platform because since the jumps are not high off the ground, there will be less impact stress. Less impact stress means less fatigue. Making skipping ideal for those who are trying to increase their number on core lifts.
Once proper jumping mechanics are put in place, it is time to practice adding a little height to our jumps. This can be accomplished by doing jumps in place. Start with small jumps and really emphasize bouncing out of the bottom of the jump like an elastic band. This stretch reflex will add more momentum to the jump at takeoff. Thus creating more acceleration. Once this is efficient you can do any kind of typical plyometric exercise you wish, such as bounding, broad jumps, pike jumps, etc.
Advanced Speed Training
Eventually you will cease to make progress with your typical plyometric exercises. You will need something with a little more kick to it. Enter depth jumps. Depth jumps are one of the most effective explosive exercises on the planet. They have been used by top level athletes for decades to develop explosive strength. In fact, they were used by many of the eastern bloc and Soviet countries during the 70’s and 80’s for the Olympic Games.
The problem with them lies in their effects on the body. Depth jumps are extremely taxing on the body. They need to be programed into a training program with careful thought in order to increase performance. Otherwise they will do more harm than good. Careful attention must also be paid to technique. Technique must be as close to flawless as possible in order to prevent injury. This is why all the prep work was done. To make sure that the athlete remains injury free during training.
If the necessary speed training prep work was done prior to depth jumps, then the athlete should begin with just depth landings. These involve an athlete jumping off a box with no rebound. They just stick the landing. This will train the athlete to land with proper mechanics and to get his body used to the shock of the landing. From there the athlete can begin rebounding after the landing. He/she can just jump straight up in the air at first, then they can add a box to jump onto.
The key to remember with speed training is “steps”. What I mean is speed training, like all training, doesn’t happen overnight. It all happens in steps. You don’t just start doing depth jumps at the spur of the moment because you think it looks cool. You do them when your body is ready to handle them. This happens in steps. By taking our time and not rushing our training, we are guaranteeing ourselves that we are taking the proper steps to progress. If your body is not ready for it, then you will get hurt. If it is ready, then you will do well. Simple as that.