Strength or Speed- Is It One or the Other?

Last Friday I wrote a post about the equation F = ma (force = mass/acelleration) and used one of our athletes as an example. He's a decathlete, quite tall, fairly skinny, yet moves heavy-ish weights like it's nothing. The reason, in part, is that this kid lives for speed. He is actually the Flash in a high schooler's body; he has an ability to generate a decent amount of force quickly.

The bulk of his training on the track is on the "speed" side of the "speed-strength continuum." 

Hold up, the what? 

No, it's not something from Star Wars. Instead of droning on and on for paragraphs upon paragraphs, Eric Cressey has an extremely helpful video that explains it succinctly. He's a pretty smart fellow, so I recommend you watch it. He uses a baseball player as an example, so if that's your sport, I definitely recommend you listen!

To recap: 

  • Can apply this to any sport- including weekend warriors
  • Absolute strength = high load, low speed; absolute speed = low load, high speed. The other components are gradients of the two ends with an inverse relationship between load and speed. 
  • Every sport requires power (force output over time; or how fast you can move a load). Strength is the foundation of power so you can make tremendous gains in power output by increasing strength. 
  • Athletes (non-lifters) spend most, if not all, of their time on the absolute speed side, so adding in absolute strength work (i.e. strength training) will not only increase their power output, but allow them to capitalize on the other components of the continuum. 
  • Ideally, us strength coaches want to bring people more towards the center- though people's genetics will pre-dispose them more to one end or the other. 
  • Athletes who do not strength train will eventually find themselves tapped out, injured, and unable to utilize their speed because they don't have the strength to back it up. 
  • Strength is KING. (Well, he inferred that...)

How Does This Apply to You?

Let's talk about our decathlete for a second. The majority of his sport and sport practice is in the absolute speed/ speed-strength end of the continuum. As his coach, I'm going to train him more towards the absolute strength/ strength-speed end. Why? How much faster will he be if he can produce more force each rep? This is easily accomplished by increasing his max strength.

Think about it this way: the high striker game at fairs-

If you can swing the hammer quickly, you'll have a good amount of force behind your hammer (remember, F=ma). Now, if you increase the weight of the hammer while maintaining the same speed, you're going to have a LOT more force upon striking and you'll probably make that bell ring. Apply that analogy to our decathlete: strength training will give him a bigger hammer.

On the other end, if I have a powerlifter in here who is stalling on his lifts, I would take a few weeks to work on the speed end- again, referring to the high striker analogy, increasing the speed of the hammer swing. This way when he goes back to training on the strength end, he'll be able to produce more force overall.  

If you're reading this and don't have a coach to look out for you, (why not? ;) )think about where you spend the most time on the above continuum. If you're an field/court athlete, it'll be on the speed side, if you're training resides mostly in the weight room, probably strength side. Take some time and train on the other end of the spectrum for a few weeks. You'll notice improvement in your performance pretty quickly. 

If you're a fast person, training strength will only make you faster; if you're a strong person, training speed will only make you stronger!