Thursday, May 21, 2015

How And Why To Use Speed Training - Matt Wenning (2015)

A common misconception is that powerlifting is all about lifting with the heaviest loads as possible on the barbell. Although that is the main task at hand in a meet, it is not always the best way to train day in and day out. An understanding of the methods and the manipulation of many variables will not only help one get bigger and stronger, but more explosive, as well.

When weightlifting was first formally studied in the 1950s and '60s by the Soviets, they devised a plan for strength.

The Russian Weightlifting Library:

This plan involved lifting maximal loads, multiple days per week in order to elicit great results in their strength endeavors (mostly Olympic lifting). With this system came some great results, but underneath the Iron Curtain, what they weren't showing were the countless injuries, and lack of production of high skilled lifters. The program was so specific, and so brutal, that out of 2,000 or more lifters, they may achieve 2 to 3 that could:

1) withstand the workload intensity without burnout, and
2) withstand the training without injury.

As the scientists started to compile more data and get feedback from the athletes, they started to experiment with not only changing exercises (mode), but also changing workloads (percentages of intensity), in an attempt to increase results and decrease injury.

Over time, what the program found was that the more variability that occurred the better the athletes were becoming. The more they rotated both speed (sub-maximal loads at highest possible velocity) and maximal strength (the most weight possible), the least amount of total physical and emotional stress ensued.

1960: Six variations of the lifts were rotated and done twice per day on some occasions.
1983: Over 60 variations of the lifts rotated, with speed done one day or training session, then maximal training above 90% done 72 hours after the speed training.

As you can see, training started to become an art form and a science from 1960 to 1983. We notice that the lifts become 10 times more variable in form and we also notice that the scientists started to get a grasp on 72 hours of resting between high output work. But most importantly, we notice that they start to understand that lifting maximal loads too close together and too often was counterproductive.

Max effort training or intensities too high for too long end up causing an overtraining effect. The body is continuously trying to adapt to such high load, but eventually it can't keep up and simply throws the white flag. Over time (5-10 years) the body can adjust to heavy loads, but only if workout spacing allows recovery (every 144 hours). In between that time, if the central nervous system and muscle get a different stimuli, extra loading can be tolerated and actually have positive effects. That's where speed training (or "dynamic" work) fits in.

What is Speed Training?

Speed training is using a sub-maximal weight between the percentages of 30-60%. Its purpose is to move the bar with speed as forcefully as possible. Force production or mass times acceleration is the key to lifting large amounts of weight.

Most of us only have bout 5-7 seconds in order to display our strength at the highest percentages. After that point, the muscle or neural drive will give up. This means that heavier loads must be moved quickly enough to finish in that time frame. This is why reps are also important when choosing speed training.

For the Bench: Speed reps per set are usually 3.
For the Squat: Speed reps per set are usually 2.
For the Deadlift: Speed reps per set are usually between 1 and 2.

This rep scheme for the lifts is based on the amount of time necessary to complete the lifts, which is approximately the same time it takes to complete a maximal effort attempt. It is important that we teach our bodies what we want out of them. Would you take a runner that runs a 100m dash and have him run for miles on end? Then why think about lifting in the same fashion? This specificity of training is important when it comes to the overall time demands of max effort and speed work, while each of these are a different enough stimuli to allow for recovery while improving strength.

If you want your body to be as strong as possible in 5-7 seconds (which is all the time you will have to strain), then your body needs to do many sets with that limitation in order to make specific progress.

This is the template of reps for speed work I have used during the last 14 years with impressive results. Here are some reasons I think it is fundamental in your training.

A) Devoting a workout day to speed training gives your body a break from the heavy loads of maximal efforts while force production is still high.

B) It allows you to learn to let weights come down in a controlled fall, versus wasting your energy on the eccentric portion of the lift.

C) You learn to react to weights versus just trying to strain through them.

D) By doing 8-10 sets on a regular basis -- this allows man more singles in a set to perfect form at a high force output. (Example: 3 sets of 10 you achieve 3- 1 reps. 10 sets of 3 you achieve 10- 1 reps.

How Do You Make Speed Training More Potent?

The Box

Box squatting has come under much scrutiny as of late as far as its transfer to free squatting. Well, I'm a prime example of how it works. Box squatting actually separates the downward phase or eccentric portion of the lift from the upward phase or the concentric portion of the lift. This demands that the muscle store elastic energy longer and actually lose some of the elastic energy depending on the length of the pause on the box. This is what makes proper box squatting actually harder than free squats, when done correctly. I do box squats about 70% of the time with dynamic work.

The reason that some lifters can box squat more than free squat is due to a few factors:

1) The box is too high.
I see this way too often on social media, and in people's videos they send me for critique. The box needs to be at a depth that is difficult, and not where you feel comfortable or your strongest.

2) The position when sitting on the box is not similar to a free squat.
Untrained box squatters tend to sit and rock on the box in order to get the weight started in the other direction; at no point can you achieve this in a free squat. Once seated on the box. The body should stay tight and motionless until you decide to change direction.

The key is to have variation. Since I am a very reactive squatter, the box keeps my tension longer and actually takes away the upward velocity incurred from the quick eccentric. So box squatting helps me focus on the concentric part of the lift, where I am driving the bar upward as forcefully as possible. When the box is removed, I am able to use the stretch-reflex at the bottom and immediately begin the concentric portion of the lift.

But as stated, that is for my needs as a more reactive lifter. If your weakness is staying tight in the bottom of the squat to achieve that stretch-reflex, this might not be the best way to improve your weakness.

Bands and Chains

Bands and chains make speed work very productive. With physics in mind, weights have distinct properties that make them unique and also limiting. As with any resistance, they have advantages and disadvantages.

Free weights have inertia, which cause weights to be the hardest when still (or motionless) and also when changing direction between the eccentric and concentric phase of a lift (e.g., bottom of a squat and/or bench). After that point, the weight is in motion, taking less force to keep it moving.

For example, if we bench 200 lb for 3 sets of 10 reps -

Bottom: We had to reverse the direction of motion of the weight and accelerate it upwards. So, it requires more force than what was on on the bar. Acceleration is difficult to measure in the gym, so for this example and simplicity's sake, let's say it take 225 lbs (of force).

225 lbs x 3 x 10 equals 6750 lbf. (pounds of force).

Middle: Weight is already in motion and the bar velocity is at its highest. The bar does not need to be accelerating at this point since it will have to stop at the top of the rep. So you are just fighting gravity and applying force to the bar to keep it moving. Therefore, less overall force is required from the system.

200 lbs x 3 x 10 equals 6000 lbf.

Top: At the top of the rep, the bar must come to a complete stop, which means it has decelerated to a speed of zero. So, the force you need to apply at the top of the rep is less. The bar may feel heavier or more difficult at the top but this has more to do with the mechanical disadvantage of the system, as well as the fact that with normal resistance your body has stopped pushing.

175 lbs x 3 x 10 equals 5250 lbf.

Keep in mind that these lbf. values are at back of the envelope calculation. We haven't calculated the acceleration of the bar, so it is impossible to calculate the force needed. The acceleration will likely vary between people but the general concept and pattern of bar motion, velocity and acceleration is consistent. There are also other variables such as stretch reflex, leverage changes, etc., which influence how difficult a specific portion of the lift is. However, this is a simple way to show limitations of only training with free weights.

This environment over time can can create strengths and weaknesses at different points of the lifts. This is where we integrate bands and chains to change the behavior of the work portions of the lift differently.

Bands and chains are forms of accommodating resistance that allow the body to have to conform to an environment not seen by traditional weights. It forces a lifter to have to contract at a more consistent force output throughout more of the lift. This is a result of the resistance to the muscles becoming greater as the bar is concentrically moving.

So, instead of letting inertia and bar motion reduce the amount of force needed to complete a lift, the bands and chains increase the load used by the lifter. This will help teach him how to strain with maximal intensity, as well as maintain bar speed.

The amount of bands and chains added to real weight is an important aspect, and usually I see people adding too much in accommodating resistance, or too much actual weight. (I use between 185-200 lb of accommodating resistance and bench 620.)

The author working up to a 500 lb Incline Bench:

Speed bench - 10 reps in 6.58 seconds
with 205 lbs + 40lbs  in chains + 120 lbs band resistance:

600 lb Raw Bench, 2012:

The goal is to keep the rep difficult for the entire range of motion. If the bands/chains are too much, we see the opposite problem. At the bottom, no real force is needed and then it increases to a near maximal at the top. Also, this scenario isn't allowing the lifter to produce a high enough amount of force throughout the entire lift and is actually opposite to the way weights will feel in a competition.

Especially for speed days, you should be moving the bar explosively from start to finish. The accommodating resistance allows the lifter to not reduce force applied at the middle as well as the top. The bar will still be decelerating; it has to since it comes to a complete stop, but you do not need to actively reduce the force applied to the bar. The applied force will be more consistent with bands and chains.

Just as with any program, you should base your training on fundamentals first, then your needs come second. You need to do max effort in order to strain, you need speed work to increase force production and you need a certain amount of volume with reps (accessory work) in order to bring up specific muscle hypertrophy and correct weak points. 

It is not always the person who trains the hardest who makes most gains -
it takes smarts as well. 

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