At the base of any athlete’s development is strength. Without strength, the likelihood of injury goes through the roof, and performance suffers considerably. What does this mean for speed development? When should you lift heavy and slow, and when should you lift light and fast?
First, let me clarify “heavy and slow.” The intent of most movements when training for performance should be “move this as fast as possible.” With that being said, if you throw on 90% of your 1 rep max, that movement ain’t going to be performed with any type of speed. Heavy and slow simply implies that the speed of the movement is slowed down because the load forces it to. How does this aide in speed development? That question has many applicable answers, in this post we are discussing the similarities between “heavy and slow” and the start phase of a sprint through acceleration.
At the beginning of the sprint, the amount of time an athlete spends in ground contact is much longer compared to the ground contact time of the max velocity phase. This means that the athlete has more time to develop force! Just like a heavy squat or split squat, the increased time under tension gives the body the ability to recruit more and more muscle fibers to help accomplish the task of accelerating.
When we train our athletes, there is a goal behind the session. If the goal of the session is to target acceleration ability, we do more than some 10 yd sprints. The whole microcycle will be tailored to acceleration via intensity, speed, and direction of movement. The intensity of the main movements will be high. In regards to the force velocity curve, loads will be in the strength speed-max strength areas. The speed of the movement will be slower, but the intent is high. The horizontal force application associated with acceleration will also be mimicked with, hip dominant movements, that primarily occur in the sagittal plane (more so posterior -> anterior). Multijoint, hinging movements such as the Roman Deadlift accomplish that.
Always have a purpose behind your training. If your goal is to improve speed, then break down the phase of sprinting, and focus on the qualities of each phase. Starting/ accelerating require a high level of force production, and you have more time to produce the necessary force to get to speed. While lifting small loads for speed serves a great purpose, it is not always the right answer.
Thanks for your time!
Coach Nate Garcia