12/10/09, Speed-Strength Emphasis

There’s a subtle difference between emphasis being place on Speed-Strength as opposed to Strength-Speed.  Ideally, the power generation produced by a given exercise/movement performed in each modality would be the same, though.  A quick observation of the meatball power equation (really, this is all we need be concerned with) reveals that, assuming the exercise/movement distance remains constant (and we will – the distance of movement in one’s deadlift, for example is, for all practical purposes, always the same), all we have to manipulate is execution speed and external loading.  For any given loading, an increase in execution speed results in an increased power output; that’s speed emphasis in a nutshell.  Now, increase the loading without realizing a reduction in execution speed and,  ah-ha, we’ve further increased power output.  Fine tune this with some auto-regulation with an eye toward maximum power generation in your desired rep range.  Once execution speed begins to falter, pull the plug on the exercise.

Here’s what went down at 6:15 this morning at the Rocky Mount, NC YMCA:

15 minute, sprint/plyo-intensive warm-up with plenty of dynamic stretching, then –

  • cns prime: sprint starts, 20 meter/20 meter/40 meter/20 meter, approx. 5 sec pause between each start
  • GHR (glute/ham raise): 45 x 5; 60 x 5, 4; 65 x 4, 3
  • Barbell Muscle-up: 115 x 5; 135 x 5; 145 x 4, 4, 3
  • cns prime: reverse grip to regular grip muscle-up combo (pull-up variety) x 2
  • weighted reverse grip pull-ups: 45 x 5; 90 x 3, 3, 3, 2

5 total rounds.  Speed on the concentric portion of every rep was fast as possible.

A couple of questions I hear in person, or field via email:

“Dude, you do a lot of pull-ups…”

I consider pull-ups analogous to sprints for the upper body – the most fundamental of fundamental movements.

“Dude, you do a ton more posterior chain work than you do quad/squat work…”

1. I do a lot of fixie riding, which is mostly quad-intensive work.

2. It is my contention that the body is designed more for “pulling” in this fashion than it is for squatting.  I know well the arguments to the contrary, and I agree that every human being squats while taking a dump.  However, I don’t know of many cultures that take a dump with 500+ balanced upon their backs.  Seriously, though – I personally gauge lower-body performance in terms of sprinting vertical jump ability; in my experience, increasing one’s squat past a certain point (2 x bw is a general rule of thumb) doesn’t do much for an increase in speed or vert height.

9 responses to “12/10/09, Speed-Strength Emphasis

  1. Great post as always Keith,

    It comes at a good timing for me since I just realized that I was held back in both squats/deadlifts and vertical jump by a weaker posterior chain compared to quads.
    So at 170 lbs, my deadlifts plateau at 286 lbs (unless I take a sumo stance) and my squats at 320 lbs unless I compromise on depth, in which case I can easily go to 350 or 400 lbs if the emphasis is put more on the quads (at this point my back is the one threatening to give up).

    By the same token, although my squat has been improving for the past year, I didn’t see improvements in my vertical leap, so along with the above, I’m guessing that my posterior chain is the weak link.

    I’m thinking of focusing on the posterior chain for now, but I’m not quite sure where to start. After some research it seems that GTRs and romanian squats are my best bets. Any other recommendations for developping the posterior chain (with emphasis on power/speed stricly, mainly for basketball and sprints, and with as little mass gain as possible since I already have massive quads)?

    Also, I never tried GHRs, but according to several people on the internet, it is common not to be able to complete a single rep properly at the beginning. I haven’t tried it yet, but if I wasn’t able to do one full rep to begin with, what exercise would help working towards that?

    Thanks in advance!


    • GHRs are a favorite of mine, if you have access to a GHR bench – otherwise, I’m not a big fan of the movement as (1) it’s uncomfortable as hell on the knees, and (2) you’ll have to wedge your heels under something or secure a spotter. Just my opinion – I know many people who have no problem performing them on the floor. Maybe I’m just spoiled to having access to a GHR bench? Yeah, guilty as charged. RDLs, as I described here, are also fantastic, as are Oly lifts and their variations (high and low pulls, especially). And, of course, deadlifts are an absolute staple. Always remember, though, that raw strength is desirable to a point, but that it’s power output in a given movement that makes the athlete – unless we’re talking about power lifting or strong man – and even these endeavors are bettered by power work – though not to the same extent as in other sports.

      • Thanks for the quick reply Keith!

        I agree about the importance of power output over raw strength, as I’m mostly after more explosiveness for basketball and general performance in sports. I’m aiming for 2.5x bodyweight squat and deadlift before entirely focusing on power generation only. I’m not sure if there’s a GHR machine in my gym as I never tried it before, but will look for it and also give a try to the RDL and the clean and jerk in my next lower body workout.

        I have another question, totally unrelated (well, I thought about it as a reaction to getting involved in even more lower body exercises). I don’t know if it’s genetic or due to years of basketball, but my upper and lower body are a bit unbalanced. In other words, I have big, powerful legs, but a rather slender and weak upper body in comparison. That shows in squats where my shoulders and back have a hard time keeping the weight still past 330 lbs, and in lifts like the bench press where I can barely muster a 1x body weight max (170 lbs) or the standing press where I can lift even less.

        I’m trying to balance my upper body with a routine of bench press, standing press, chin ups, weighted dips and one-arm bent over rows. I would love to have your input on what modalities and exercises would be best in order to increase both size and power in the upper body and achieve a balance with the lower body.

        Thanks in advance


        • Just my humble opinion, but I wouldn’t put much energy into the bench press (not much carry-over into the real world); I would, however, concentrate on all manner of overhead presses and jerks, dips, ring work, pull-ups and the like. Your traps will get plenty of work via the various pulls and Oly work.

          • Thanks for the advice Keith.

            It seems that my gym has a GHR machine (although it doesn’t have a plate to rest the feet on). I will give it a shot tonight along with your other recommendations.


              • So following your advice, I went to the gym yesterday, and did this (mainly upper body oriented) workout:

                Warm up: “The Cred”: 33 lbs x 5, 44 lbs x 5, 55 lbs x 3

                It was the first time for me to do the Cred, and I noticed that I was using my arms on a few reps rather than hips only. Any tips about making sure the hips do all the work?

                Then I moved on the the bench press (I know, bad, but I want to reach a token 220 lbs max before quitting!) with hierarchical sets ala DeVany:
                154 lbs x 7, 160 x 5, 165 x 3, 170 x 1

                This was the first time I cranked a 1xbw (170 lbs) on the bench press so patted myself on the back for that :D. Will try to keep progressing as I did for the past weeks (+5/6 lbs every week) until I reach 220 lbs, then drop the bench press for ballistic push-ups and other niceties.

                Then I went for standing shoulder press negatives (jerk on the concentric part, then slow negative). Did 2 sets with 110 lbs, first with 6 reps, second with 4 reps (fried by then).

                Then I did 2 cycles of weighted chin-ups (26 lbs)/dips (40 lbs), only doing the negative part and pulling myself up with the legs. Managed to do 3 chin-ups and 6 dips on the first cycle, then 3 and 4 on the second one before I was fried.

                I finished by trying the GHR machine for the first time. However, since it was lacking the plate on which the feet are supposed to rest, my chins would slide, making me unable to pull myself up properly (I feel that I could do at least 2-3 reps if held properly). So I could only pull a little bit (maybe 20 or 30 degrees) after being parallel to the floor (going down from a vertical position was impossible with this setting). I did a few attempts at it and called it a day.

                I was pretty happy with the workout, if it wasn’t for the GHR experience. Just a bit disappointed that I get fried so quickly doing negatives.

                My questions for you:

                – Do you have tips on making sure that the arms are not used during oly lifts (the Cred, clean etc)?

                – Since I really want to do GHRs (seems like a fantastic exercise), I was thinking of finding a way to bind my feet to the machine we have to simulate a resting plate. Any tips on how that could be done? (Bands? Glue?? :D)

                – Any opinions about this workout as for upper-body mass building (i.e. am I going in the right direction)?

                Thanks in advance!


                • Al, I’m going to roll my thoughts on this workout into an upcoming post. I’ve got some other points that will be nicely illuminated via contrast to your workout.

  2. It seems the totality of Keith’s inquisitive following consists of surfer brah’s.

    So dude, how does one perform a barbell muscle up?


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