Not the kind of speed where you complete the workout as fast as humanly possibly, the kind of speed where you execute the lift or movement with sound technique and a sense of violent speed that leads to furthering your results.
Too many times beginners and novices take an Olympic lift, throw too much weight on the bar and muscle through it. When you muscle weight up on a clean or a jerk, you’re defeating the entire purpose of the lift which is to increase your strength via speed. Powerlifts such as squats and deadlifts are executed with blunt force, but if you apply that same mentality to certain exercises you are most likely restricting your progress rather than advancing it.
Here are three exercises that must be completed with speed as the priority.
All of them.
We’ve lumped them into one exercise here because the principles are the exact same. Keep the bar moving vertically, and do so with violent speed. Cleans, jerks and snatches are all dependent on initiating the movement of the bar quickly and then pulling or dropping under it even faster. There are two elements of speed and if you perform any one of them slowly then the lift is lost.
Never catch the bar standing tall.
Never catch it on your chest and roll it up to front rack.
The bar should be striking your shoulders with authority!
When we perform push press, we are targeting raw strength. When we perform push jerks, we are targeting speed. While they may seem similar they are vastly different and both beneficial in their own way.
Too many times beginners pile on more weight they can handle and sloppily execute a clean that probably feels worse than it looks. Learn to have patience, to dial back the lift and focus on speed and execution of technique with velocity. You must reach full extension and then learn to pull under with speed and force. Only when you learn this concept is appropriate to start piling on the plates. A clean that is muscled is good for improperly taxing your lumbar and that’s about it.
It’s not just beginners. Often times many of us try to plow through PRs by trying again and again and again at the same weight. You know Einstein’s definition of insanity is?
Typically speaking, a miss on an Olympic lift is more tied to speed than it is to brute strength, and the only way to work on speed is to perform the lift under a load that allows velocity. If you are trying to work through a plateau, scale back 10-20% and apply your focus to one capacity.
Russian Kettlebell Swings
This is another exercise we tend to want to muscle up with our arms rather than explosively drive up with our hips.
When performing a swing, whether it be Russian or overhead you think about one thing and one thing only: violent drive with our hips. One common cue they teach in Russian Kettlebell Certifications that Coach Robby likes to reinforce is to think about cracking a walnut open with your butt cheeks on the upswing. If your swing does not feel fast enough to crack it, then it needs to work. (Further, this activation of the glutes protects the muscles of the lumbar.)
A pretty decent way to tell if you are muscling a swing rather than driving it is whether or not your traps feel taxed. A proper Russian swing that is dependent on the hips and exclusive of the arms will not work your traps in the least, but if you are “pulling” the weight up rather than driving it, your arms will be more tired than they should.
A Russian swing is a glute exercise. Period. The only way to improperly turn it into a shoulder/trap exercise is to perform it without the requisite violent speed.
This one may be a bit obvious, as jumping in and of itself is an inherently fast movement. However, we’ve witnessed many underperformed box jumps that were executed with hesitation, and hesitation results in more drag than needed on a ballistic, explosive movement like a box jump.
The ability to jump is a bit of a pre-requisite to coach here as recently evidenced by Pritz’s 60 inch and Raechel’s 46″ box jumps. If you can jump, it means you understand speed. And if you understand speed it means you can successfully coach weightlifting.
There is a difference between lightly hopping up onto the platform and aggressively propelling yourself upward with authority and a sense of urgency. When you jump at maximum muscle contraction you target the type-II fibers that are directly responsible for strength and power. When you hammer out rep after rep of effortless bunny hops, you only minimally target these fibers. It’s why we typically dislike box jumps for conditioning and always keep them in reps that allow them to be explosive. This is not to say you need to have eyes bigger than you vertical. Remember, there is nothing cool or even acceptable about slamming your shins into something. You can jump more efficiently while on the same height. It’s just a matter of focus that each rep will be explosive and with purpose.
There is a direct correlation to speed and strength, so start jumping, lifting and swinging with more purpose and focus on speed and you’ll enjoy better results.
Dave Thomas is a Level One USA Weightlifting Coach and co-owner of Performance360 in Mission Beach, San Diego.