Speed Training for Non-Speedy People

Recently, the Reimagym team went to a weekend-long continuing education conference. During the event, I had the opportunity to attend a number of inspiring sessions. One of the themes that emerged from the talks I chose to attend was healthy aging. Another session that stuck with me was called Speed Training for Non-Speed People (The speaker was Boo Schexnayder, renowned track and field and strength coach). Inspired by those talks, I’ve been thinking a lot about speed and power.

A brief definition of terms: while speed is a fairly straightforward concept and pretty readily translates to the idea of running really fast…what we’re talking about when it comes to speed training does not necessarily mean sprinting. Or even running. What we’re talking about here is developing the qualities associated with being able to run–or move–quickly.

Going a step further, power represents the ability of your muscles to generate and exert force quickly. What makes pursuing some form of power training worthwhile is that once we enter adulthood, power declines at a much faster rate than even strength…absent an intervention (like regular strength–and power–training).

The trick of it is that you can get much stronger and feel much, much better by engaging in regular strength training. However, it’s easy to get into the habit of doing all of your strength training at a relatively slow and measured pace…which is great, don’t get me wrong. Mindful movement helps to develop, improve and maintain your sense of connection with your body. 

And, it helps to make sure you’re lifting with proper technique, keeping your muscles and joints safe and happy.

There is room, however, for tremendous benefit from adding some speed into the mix here and there.

Speed/Power training can stimulate neural adaptations (meaning your muscles become more efficient at generating force, ie. stronger), endocrine adaptations (meaning hormonal adaptations which promote muscle growth, improve how your body uses insulin to manage blood sugar, among other things) and it builds resilience and strength in your tendons and ligaments.

All of that is well and good, but there are a host of reasons why it might not be wise to jump right into jumping up and down and making all of your strength training reps fast ones.

One easy and obvious reason is that we don’t want to throw good form out the window. None of us wants to get hurt by moving weights too quickly.

Also, some of us have achy and/or cranky joints (knees, for example) that would not tolerate ballistic movements well.

So what to do?

First, an idea that can be applied across multiple exercises and/or movements. With any given exercise that you feel confident performing, how do you feel about trying it:

  • A little bit faster?
  • A little bit harder?
  • A little bit higher? (where applicable)

At Reimagym, we regularly include ladder drills in the dynamic warm-up section of training sessions. An easy example here would simply involve trying to do them a little bit faster.

We also like to throw medicine balls at the floor (or wall). With these exercises, you could try throwing the ball either faster or harder…or both.

An example of a progression that you could try involves using squats. But first, some guidelines:

  • Start at the step that feels most appropriate to you and where your fitness level is at right now. 
  • Add that step to your regular workout routine for one or two workouts. (If doing it once leaves you feeling sore, wait until the next week to do it again. If not, train it twice that week).
  • Repeat for 4-6 weeks before moving on to the next step.
  • Please know that you certainly don’t have to do every step. There are benefits to be gained at each step and if you arrive at a point where you don’t feel like you can safely progress, please don’t feel like you have to. Reach out and we can chat about where to go from there.

And of course, please be sensible. We’re embracing a longer-term approach to health and fitness here, so there’s no rush to progress faster than your body is ready for.

A speed/power approach to squats:

  • Squats (bodyweight) Move at a comfortable tempo. We’ll build up to speed as we go. 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps.
  • Fast Squats. What’s ‘fast’? That’s all relative and up to you. 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps.
  • Drop-Squats. Stand on your tip-toes and then quickly ‘drop’ to the bottom position of a squat. 2-3 sets of 5-6 reps.
  • Med Ball Drop-to-Squat. Same as the Drop-Squats only start holding the medicine ball up in the air. Drop the ball and aim to catch it at the bottom of your squat. If coordinating that proves tricky, it also works if you hold onto the med ball the whole time. The key is the fast transition to the bottom of the squat and arriving there with the med ball in hand. 2-3 sets of 5-6 reps.
  • Fast Med Ball Squats. Hold or hug the medicine ball while squatting up and down quickly. 2-3 sets of 5-6 reps.
  • Jump Squats (bodyweight). You may have found that while on the way up during the fast squats that sometimes you nearly leave the ground. Now, try to leave the ground on purpose. 2-3 sets of 5-6 reps.
  • Box Jumps. We typically start with a 6” Box and then build from there. Because Box Jumps are about the takeoff and the landing (where you practice absorbing force), be sure to choose a box height that allows you to land as quietly as possible and where you get into a squat shape at takeoff and landing. 2-3 sets of 5-6 reps.

There is, of course, more to this conversation: we haven’t covered speed/power training with heavier weights. That one we’ll have to save for another time. In the meantime, feel free to play with the above ideas and let us know how it goes!