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Establishing Point b: speed-strength

The 100-meter dash is the perfect sporting event to see what speed-strength looks like in real life.  Going all out for 100 meters in just under 10 seconds elicits the maximal momentary effort from the sprinter.  The intent of their effort is to generate and exert maximal force at the highest attainable speeds.  This represents a true test of speed-strength in athletics.

Speed Strength Defined

Let's break down the definition so we can understand further.

Speed-Strength is the ability to exert maximal force during a high-speed movement.

Allerheiligen 1994

WHat is the ability to exert maximal force?

The ability to exert speed-strength starts with the ability to generate maximal force.  The ability to generate maximal force is the definition of maximal strength.

Maximal strength is the maximal amount (ie magnitude) of force that can be (voluntarily) generated.

Platonov, 1997

The definition of maximal strength is embedded in the definition of speed-strength!

For that reason we can update our understanding of speed-strength as maximal strength at the highest attainable speed during movement.

Speed-strength: a multifaceted nervous system based capacity

Speed-strength is a two-part nervous system based capacity.  Think of the first part as the "strength" component.

The nervous system possess the ability to stimulate and recruit the largest motor units which control the fastest muscle fibers.


Because the largest motor units innervate the fastest muscle and it is those fast muscle fibers that are responsible for generating the largest magnitude of force in the shortest duration.

The second part is the "speed component".  This simply means how fast can the nervous system stimulate and recruit the largest motor neurons.

When these two parts are generated and synthesized by the nervous system you get strength at optimal speed or speed-strength.

Maximal strength is a prerequisite for speed strength.

From our understanding of speed-strength it is logical to conclude that maximal strength is the strength prerequisite for speed-strength, both in training to acquire more and generating during sport performance.

Simply, an athlete who possess a suboptimal maximal strength capacity will be constrained in the training for and generating of speed-strength!

To understand this, look at Ben Johnson's 9.79 sprint performance in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.  Johnson was strong and fast.  Carl Lewis, Johnson's main rival who finished 2nd, was just fast.

A sprinter who is fast but not strong, like Lewis, will hit a strength barrier.  This neurological stagnation will impact performance in negative ways.

Johnson was so strong and fast out of the blocks that it was thought he was false starting.  Your could tell that he possessed the optimal level of strength-speed relative to his competitors.  When instant replay had to be used for the first time ever in sprinting to prove that he was not false starting.  Instant replay just proved he was much stronger than his competition.

In addition to being stronger and faster out of the blocks, Johnson but no speed barrier when he was up and sprinting.  He only continued to accelerate, picking up speed until the end of the 100 meters.  It is evident he possessed optimal strength capacity in order to attain optimal speed-strength.

When doing the same analysis is on Lewis, it is equally evident that he possesses submaximal maximum strength capacity.


1. He doesn't get out of the blocks as explosively 

2. He clearly hits a strength barrier, making him fast but not strong


The "strength" component when training for speed-strength is acquired by training for Absolute Strength.

Maximal strength is understood to be the strength capacity the trainee acquires through the training for absolute strength.

Absolute strength is a prerequisite to acquire the optimal Point B.

Keep in mind, speed strength is multifaceted. If an athlete was only training for absolute strength they would end up hitting a speed barrier because of the amount of maximal load needed to optimally train.

Case in point, watch Ben Johnson squat 545lbs. Thats the slowest you'll ever see him move, but it's still moving fast, all things considered.

Take not that he also got more than 1 repetition with 545lbs, so the load is submaximal to him.  Meaning his true 1 rep max is somewhere north of 600lbs.

Speed "strength"

Speed-strength is a "strength".  In order to acquire more of it an athlete must possess adequate maximal strength levels.  Therefore, maximal strength is THE prerequisite strength capacity of speed-strength.

Think of training for speed-strength as training work that converts maximal strength, which generally moves slow, into strength at faster speeds, specifically the highest attainable speeds.

Again, Ben Johnson utilized the back barbell squat to train to acquire and sustain maximal strength, the ability to generate force.

Then he concurrently utilized sprinting at different intensities with different intents to convert his ability to generate maximal force, to the ability to do so at the highest attainable speeds throughout the length of 100 meters.

Remove the maximal strength training and Johnson is only fast, not fast and strong.  He then becomes the second place finisher Carl Lewis.

training for speed-strength

To optimally train for speed-strength , we need to be able to control training intensity.  The exercise science community agrees that intensity governs strength adaptation.

We use maxims of strength to control intensity.  The maxims of strength are load, effort, and intent.

When training for speed-strength it's the coach's responsibility to put the athlete in a training environment to optimally align the maxims of strength to elicit the proper adaptation, learning to generate maximal force at the highest attainable speed.


Submaximal loads are utilized in the training of speed-strength. 



Because if maximal loads were used, you cant move at optimal speed (ie the highest attainable speed).

The relationship between force and velocity enables us to know with certainty that when force is high, velocity is low.  Where when force is low, velocity is high.

Velocity is speed plus direction and speed is what we're after!  Therefore, submaximal loads are used to optimal speed.


Because the load is submaximal, the effort will also be submaximal.  This simply means that speed-strength training will not elicit the maximal momentary effort.

The training work is stimulating but not fatiguing to the point of deceleration.


The intent of the athlete is to move submaximal loads at a dynamic effort, ie the highest attainable speeds.  The constraining of conscious intent to move and exert maximal force at the highest attainable speeds will stimulate and recruit the largest motor neurons and fastest muscle fibers to do work against submaximal loads.

Normally the largest motor neurons and fastest muscle fibers are only stimulated and recruited with a maximal load or the training for absolute strength.

However when moving against submaximal resistance, the weight will move at the highest attainable speed-which is the sole aim of this work!


If concious intent was not constrained to move at the highest attainable speeds, the motor units and muscle fibers targeted would not be optimally trained.

amplifying speed-strength training: accommodating resistance

Elite power lifter and founder of Westside Barbell Club is accredited with taking Dynamic Effort (DE) strength training to another level by adding accommodating resistance via band tension.

The purpose of training with bands is to create overspeed during the eccentric phase of the movement which can almost totally reduce bar deceleration in the subsequent concentric phase.

training for speed-strength: concurrent training

Training for speed-strength requires concurrent training (ie conjugate method).  The athlete must train to get faster and stronger at the same time.


An athlete that does not train maximal strength, will hit a strength barrier when doing their speed-strength training or performance, as they will lack optimal strength.

Inversely, an athlete that does not train at the highest attainable speed will hit a speed barrier.  The nervous system will generate and exert maximal force, but at submaximal speeds.

Speed-strength training requires strength and speed to be trained in parallel (simultaneously).  The coach must use conjugate method programming, not linear block periodization.

Possessing speed-strength also requires high functioning joints and connective tissues.

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