Understanding The Strength-Speed Continuum

“Strength” movements, as we define them in functional fitness, always fall into one of four categories that exist across a continuum.

Absolute Strength <–> Strength Speed <–> Speed Strength <–> Absolute Speed

Absolute Strength: Powerlifts
What it sounds like. A heavy barbell lift that is relatively low speed and heavy, like a power lift. Examples include the deadlift, bench, and all squats. It is a critical component of athletic durability and resiliency. This is your traditional strength training at 85% and up. The size of the muscle cross-sectional area impacts this more than other continuum characteristics.

Strength-Speed: Olympic Lifts
A load that is moved quickly like an Olympic lift. Greatest velocities are attained under conditions of low loading. However, this is where we need to get outside of the box of barbells, as we can develop strength speed in a number of ways, including heavy DB jerks and snatches, and kettlebell swings. Strength movements performed at higher velocities. Many focusing on strength see sub 80% as light, and therefore to be avoided. Strength-speed training isn’t “light”, it’s speed intended to create faster contraction.

Speed-Strength: Explosive Movements
Here is where we begin to skew more towards speed than we do strength, but still with components of each. Explosive movement at reduced load, like a box jump, broad jump, sled sprint, or medicine ball throw.

A Quick Note on Power
Speed-strength and strength-speed have their own little continuum together that creates what we commonly refer to as power. We have “mean” power, which is maintained power over a given interval (think of this as medicine ball slams in a circuit), and we have “peak” power, which is more closely related to power in our lifts, sprints and precise power at a specific instance. The ability to produce peak explosiveness is related more so on the percentage of fast twitch muscle fibers (Type II, IIx) than it is size of the muscle.

Absolute Speed: Minimum Resistance, Peak Contraction
The speed version of your 1R max, a full on sprint for a distance that allows us to stay in the realm of power, not endurance.

It is important to understand that is is a performance based continuum. It would be an incomplete way to look at movement because we have all sorts of movements that fall into the structure category that aren’t definitively categorical in the strength speed continuum.

The reason that this is explained in continuum format and not hierarchical is because they all help one another, and can all easily drift into another category by manipulating load and velocity. Exercises with the heaviest load tend to increase the strength potential of the muscles, whereas fast exercises with light weights improve speed and explosive strength. The one rep max is the industry golden child, but why? It is a needed percentage calibration, but beyond that it is simply a task specific to a goal, not final judge and jury of the entire athletic strength continuum. In fact, many athletes are so focused in absolute strength proficiency that the rest of their strength skills go backwards (poor relative strength, very poor speed strength, loss of “twitch”).

Those who apply strength training focus only at near maximal percentages of barbell lifts (absolute strength) may see huge progress by breaking from that and focusing on reduced load, higher velocity strength like DB Jerks, speed deadlifts, and weighted box jumps (strength-speed, speed-strength).

We tend to cherry pick along the continuum and settle into a focus, but those who train all points of the continuum will get the best well-rounded strength and athleticism results.


Friday, 10.9.20


OH Grip Deadlifts
Barbell Push-Ups
DB Side Raises
100m Run

4 x Max Farmer Holds
60″ Rest