Speed Work? Or Technique Work?

The other day I was having a discussion with IFAST Olympic-lifter Adam Coons, and we got started on the topic of speed work. Adam is a guy that’s been putting in a lot of hard work under the bar, and he has recently started using some dynamic effort training in his programming.

Speed work has been popularized over the years by the teachings of powerlifting guru Louie Simmons, although he credits Zatsiorsky for teaching him about the various types of training; name the maximal effort, dynamic effort, and repetition effort methods.

But this got me thinking about speed work in general.

Is it really “speed” work that is giving the people results? Or is it something simpler that that?

Keep in mind, Louie started using the dynamic effort method with guys that were already pretty freaking strong, at least by normal human standards.

For these guys, maybe it wasn’t so much the fact that they were doing speed work, but the fact that they weren’t training hard every single day that made them better? Kind of like a forced deload?

On the other hand, what about guys that aren’t as strong – why do some of them get great results from speed work, even though they don’t have the same strength base as the elite level guys?

In their case, I would argue that it isn’t so much the fact that they’re training for speed, as the fact that they’re getting some low-threshold technical training worked into their programming.

Instead of doing 5, 8 or even 10 sloppy reps, they’re performing 1, 2 or 3 high quality, technically sound repetitions per set instead.

So it’s not necessarily the fact that they’re training for speed, but the fact that they’re really starting to dial their technique in that gives them the most carryover.

Finally, you can’t discount the fact that lower-level lifters often lack confidence in their lifts. Maybe all that grooving and technical work pays dividends, as now they are more comfortable and confident getting under the bar.

Lots of random thoughts in this post, but I’m interested to hear from you guys as well.

Have you used speed work in your programming? And if so, what were the results?

Finally, do you feel it was the fact that you got faster that improved your results?

I look forward to your comments and feedback below!

Stay strong

MR

(Lead Photo Courtesy of Westside Barbell)

21 Comments

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  1. Good post here, Mike. I think it works so well for the Westside guys because they get in quality reps at a manageable % of their 1RM — a forced deload as you said. 10 sets of 3 reps of squats at 50% 1RM is a lot different than 3 sets of 10 at 70% 1RM even though the total reps are the same.

  2. I think you are correct in everything you stated. Speed work is great and will produce results but only through good technique do the results for athletes carry over through speed work. Hope that makes sense to everyone.

  3. I agree Mike. In addition to being a deload – the same effort is brought to the few reps performed each set. So despite the weight being lower, the intensity and focus remain high.

  4. Mike, I tend to agree with you that if you are lifting heavy (max effort), then regular planned light (dynamic effort) workouts will provide sort of an active recovery. But, isn’t it more the active recovery, than the technique improvement that makes the dynamic effort workouts so helpful? These guys are elite lifters and should have grooved solid technique over the years? Plus, i believe that technique is partially intensity-dependent.

    • Yeah that’s what I was kind of getting at – the Elite guys probably get different benefits from it than newer trainees.

      And you’re absolutely right – “technique” is very intensity dependent as well. In other words your technique is going to change to a degree at 50%, 60%, 80%, 100%, etc. So a bunch of sub-max work may or may not have a direct impact when you get to heavy 3 or 1-RM’s.

      Good stuff!
      MR

  5. That would be sort of like how 5/3/1 works. The 5 week is a good week to get in a lot of quailty reps at a managable weight. Personally, I use the 5 week as a speed week. I work at exploding the weight up as much as I can to help increase speed-strength (or strength-speed, I am still a little confused on that point).

  6. Mike,

    In addition to the comments made, with regard to your statement of “lower level lifters”, these are the lifters that most likely need the most work with their lifting technique. As Niel has pointed out all lifts should be performed with a maximum effort. The differences between lifting a heavy intensity vs. a lighter intensity with maximum effort is the increased bar velocity. If maximum effort (i.e. speed of movement) does occur, then so does the probable maintained recruitment of the “difficult to recruit” type IIB muscle fibers even though the bar loads have been reduced.

    Lighter loads also allow one to master one’s lifting technique. Over time this will carry over to the enhancement of one’s lifting technique when utilizing heavier intensities. Optimal lifting technique=lifting optimal heavy loads.

    • First off, thanks a ton for posting Rob! You know I’m a big fan of your work.

      Second, I think you’re dead on – great thoughts!

  7. I like the way Pavel Tsatsouline has explained muscle tension and really dialing reps in. Implementing this type of training was a real ‘aha’ moment for me.

    I also like combining these types of reps with Chad Waterbury’s idea working a set until speed deteriorates.

    This way I feel like I’m getting the most bang for my buck.

    I would take a set of 5 awesome reps any day over a set of 8 shaky bro reps.

    Cheers Mike – love the blog!

  8. I love posts that make you think! I’m of the opinion that speed can be just as much a part of the technique as the actual form. A novice lifter can certainly benefit from slowing some movements down to learn the proper positioning. But, once you’re reaching maximal weights, you’re trying to complete the lift as fast as possible. In that case, I don’t think slow training with a submaximal weights would carry over very well.

    Also, I agree with Dan Hubbard’s comment, that there is an active recovery component to speed work as well, due to the reduced time under tension.

    Great stuff!

  9. I agree that this might be part of the reason for it working so well, but if you are suggesting that the effects you mention are the main reason for doing DE I respectfully disagree. There is a lot of MU recruitment and force production present in speed work, because the fast acceleration makes up for the smaller load. I am also convinced that it conditions the nervous system to generate force faster not only when you move the light loads, but also on the max effort. The faster you can generate force the bigger the chance that you will overcome whatever sticking point you have.
    Furthermore, while it may serve as a deload on the CNS, it actually seems surprisingly taxing for tendons and ligaments. Personally I have a shoulder issue, and DE days aggravate it a lot more than ME days.

  10. A few years ago, I did Chad Waterbury’s Huge in a Hurry program. A lot of Chad’s work is based on maximal recruitment of high threshold motor units. Counting the total number of reps rather than focusing on the sets. You would simply end the given set when the speed of your reps slowed down. After completing the program, I was much stronger even though i rarely used what I would consider “heavy” weight. I absolutely contribute this to the fact that I got faster and more efficient at recruiting those type II muscle fibers.

  11. For my clients, technique comes first and foremost. Over time with perfection of the movement, the weight increases as does the results. Thanks for the great post Mike!

  12. Matt,

    Great point re: counting the reps. In regard to work in the weightroom, training type II fibers are recruited via exercise intensity. This “intensity” may be due to (a) load, (b) velocity, or (c) both. The “intensity” will stress the nervous system of the body resulting in fatigue. Fatigue is necessary for muscle hypertrophy and other “adaptations” desired, however excessive fatigue will have an effect on many physical qualities including joint proprioception and the biomechanics of the exercise performance (i.e. re-enforce poor exercise technique). Therefore in our system of program design, specifically in regard to a single exercise performance, we do not perform more than 35 +/- 3 reps in a strength (slow movement) exercise and 25 +/- reps in a power (high velocity) exercise. As you know exercises performed at higher velocities are more taxing to the nervous system and thus fatigue will occur more rapidly.

  13. Your thoughts are really interesting Mike.
    Before I´ve read Louie Simmons “Book of Methods” one year ago, i´ve called my speed sessions “technique-oriented workout”. First, because I am focused on a better technique. I was new to powerlifting (and I would say I am still new :D) and I have put much emphaises on the right posture etc. But also concentrating on acceleration was and still is a technique part for me. Therefore, for me it is “technique work”.
    Nevertheless, what about the band and chain stuff? Westside incorperate them a lot on the DE days. As a rookie i dont use chains and bands. But some of my “older” trainingpartners at our club apply them. I´ve tried it twice on speed squats. However it changed the exercise a lot. It was a completly different squat for me. I couldn´t take away a lot for my technique.
    Of course, if I am one time or another, a advanced lifter I may will call it speedwork ;)…

    Sorry for my Englisch. If it is anything unclear, I try to express myself better.

    Greeting from Germany!
    Sebastian

  14. Good stuff, Mike. Like you said, some of the benefit of DE work for beginners is confidence boosting. Something else I have seen, usually with guys who have deadlifts in the high 200’s or bench low 200’s, is a change in mentality. So often you discover that from the beginning of their training ‘career’, they’ve done pretty much EVERY set at their 5 rep max, grinding out reps.

    Once you include DE, they suddenly start to see the lifts differently. If you have never had a set where you weren’t grinding out the last few reps or a deadlift that didn’t burst blood vessels, then you have never approached the bar with speed on your mind.

    ‘Slamming your hips into the bar’ is a very diffrent mental approach than ‘Picking the heavy bar up’. Likewise, ‘punching the bar into the ceiling’ usually works better than ‘keep the bar off my neck’!

    But you can’t really understand ‘speed’ until you have actually moved quickly.

  15. Hi Mike,

    Great topic once again, love it how you ask for our opinions and want our feedback.

    Great concept of looking at speed work as technique work as well. It is very easy to argue that with lower weight you can focus on technique, however with higher velocities it is very easy to trash technique, as generally the amount of tension you create eccentrically is so fast people become sloppy, and we know that the more tension you can create the stronger you’ll be. I like to think that if you have slightly heavier weights and slower eccentric speeds you can create more tension therefore enhancing movement strength profiles for that lift (technique work).

    Speed work and strength work are like bread and butter they go together, but maybe you have come up with a new concept called speed technique work!

    Our industry is so cool because there is so many ways to do things, and everything works if instructed well by the coach.
    Thanks for the post Mike we all appreciate the opportunity to feel like we can be heard by others as passionate as us, look forward to the next one.

  16. Hey Mike,

    I recently began a new problem that I am experimenting on myself (I do this a bit just to see if I like it / if it gets good results before I introduce to my athletes), essentially it incorporates a strength session based on 5-3-1 (Upper and Lower Split), as well as Escalating Density Training (Upper and Lower Split). For some reason I decided that I was going to attempt EDT using 60-70% 1RM on Deadlifts paired with SL Squats and Box Squats paired with…. Hang Cleans….after some slight modifications the workout ends up looking little like a Westside Dynamic Effort day, well kind of.
    Lifts are only performed when I feel sufficiently recovered, and reps are ended when speed decreases (no more then 5 reps are performed ever). In 20 minutes I will usually perform at least 8 sets of each pair, using a moderate load and lifting it fast. I certainly feel that this has helped reinforce technique as much as anything. By no means am I an elite lifter, but I wouldn’t classify myself as a beginner either.
    I am definetely thinking about incorporating certain (I just want to clarify this is my personal training no something I am giving to others) aspects of this to some of my less experienced athletes to help reinforce technique as much as anything.

    Alex

  17. Mike,

    I read this post last week, but had to come back to it. I just finished listening to the teleseminar by Latif Thomas and David Jack on speed/agility training. After the seminar I am convinced that it all starts with coordination, which is a direct translation to technique in my opinion. The more coordinated the athlete, the faster and easier that there neuromuscular system will adapt to the technique that the lift or drill desires. Would you agree?

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