How To Use Speed Work For Maximal Strength Gains

09 Jul 2012 18:37

By Ashiem Matthn

I’m writing this article to shed some more light on Speed Work and to suggest some other ways it can be used in your training. Using Speed Work for Strength Training has become exceedingly popular. Strength & Conditioning Certifications list it as a mandatory part of Maximal Strength Training and almost all powerlifting programs have a whole day dedicated to "Speed Training".

Speed Work is about taking a weight that is relatively light and performing few reps at a time, over many sets with the key emphasis being on explosiveness and speed of movement. On the internet, standard Powerlifting templates advocate using “waved loading” on these where you start at about 50% of your 1 Repetition Maximum (1RM) and go up to 60% of your 1RM. Speed Work is also referred to as the Dynamic Effort (DE) Method as has been popularized by Westside. However, as I'll discuss later on, the conventional popularized DE Methodology is meant for geared Powerlifers and this article is not for them so I will not be using this term.

Is “Speed” Work Essential?

No, speed work is not essential - it is not mandatory. I know that this is not the message you have read in most articles about the subject, but you can have your routine devoid of speed work and still be a successful lifter. When it is used, however, it comes in at different times for different lifters.

The professional Powerlifters who use suits to lift, need to incorporate speed work into their training to get better adjusted to the suits. Sometimes they start their DE work and then pyramid upwards and finish off with a heavy single or double – we’ve seen these videos on YouTube. They have two separate days for training a lift; one day dedicated to their heavy singles, doubles and triples and one day dedicated to Speed. On the "Speed" day they start with speed work and then conclude with a heavy single or double. This is because they’re taking advantage of the training effect of “speed” work within that workout itself. I say all this with a disclaimer being that this is what is promoted on the internet and recently emerged coaches who have published new books. There are plenty of Powerlifters who train using unconventional and yet effective methods, not all of which do speed training.

When does Speed Work become Important?

I like to prioritize a certain lift which I am passionate about. Most of the members and followers of Ground Up Strength also tend to do this. So, for those of us who are Deadlift enthusiasts, that means more Deadlifting and less Squatting. What we mean by training certain lifts “aggressively” is basically having the work sets of that lift be in the range of 90%+ of the 1RM. This doesn’t just include Singles or Doubles because we aim to turn our Singles into Doubles and our Doubles into Triples. So for advanced enthusiasts who are performing 90%+ of their 1RM week in and week out for a period of time. Other times, we might use higher volume with relatively high intensities for that volume while working under fatigue. Every so often you will notice a little “sluggishness” on the form. The solution to this is to work up to a Relative 1RM and then perform Speed work in anywhere from the 50% as high as the 80% weight range.

A Relative 1RM is a weight that the trainee can perform on any given day of the week – it requires no celestial favoritism. This Relative 1RM is usually a little less than a trainee’s current PR which is the most weight he/she has ever lifted on that exercise. The Speed work acts as a technique builder here. The percentage we recommend to work with is on the higher side because it makes no sense to spend extended time working at the 50% to 60% range, which is how it is usually done. But it still may help for a lifter to dip into these ranges in order to build up.

On the Speed vs. Strength spectrum you have Speed-Strength Training and Strength-Speed Training. Speed-Strength is about using a very smaller percentage of one’s 1RM – athletes involved in sports where endurance is a huge factor. But for the general population that wants to experiment in speed work to improve their 1RM, using low percentages of 50-60% and focusing just on that is pointless. These trainees need to focus on the Strength-Speed side of training and should be using 65% - 80% of their 1RM for Speed work.

Rest Intervals During Speed Work

Popularized internet based programs advocate resting between 30 and 90 seconds between sets for Speed Work. The logic here is that if you’re using just 50% of your 1RM, you don’t spend much “energy” therefore your immediate recovery is quick and therefore you can do this “quickly” and get the “feel” of having done some solid speed work! Well, that’s one way to convince yourself that you’ve worked hard at the gym. But, Strength Training is not really based on “feelings” but on results: it is performance based. Keeping that in mind, with Speed Work, you should be resting for as long as it is required for you to keep your speed up. If you end up the work session with half the speed you started with, you've missed the point. The goal here is to perform the rep(s) as quickly as possible using the best form you can manage, so performance should be held as constant as possible. So, if resting for 30 seconds does the trick for you, that's great. But if you need 2 whole minutes to recharge and be prepared to perform a good rep: stick to the 2 minutes. In the end: your speed on the set will determine whether you rested enough or too little or too much.

back squat speed training DE

ME and DE Work in the Same Session

One of the questions I’ve come across being asked on internet forums is “Can someone do DE work on the same day as ME work?” What they are basically asking is whether it is a good idea to perform some sets focusing on speed of the bar and other sets focusing on the weight on the bar within the same workout session.

The answer really depends on how it affects you, but the short answer is yes, speed work can be done in the same session as maximal work.

For myself, if speed work is used it is usually within the same workout as our “ME” work (or “Aggressive Training” as I’ve described earlier) but it is done differently for different trainees. Beginners usually do Speed Work prior to their heavy sets whereas more advanced trainees have their speed training after their maximal sets. This is simply because beginners usually cannot be explosive or maintain good form after maximal work, it is too hard for them. As you advance, however, not only can you generate good speed and maintain quality for speed work following max work, but you might find that the preceding maximal work helps you be even more explosive for your speed work, a kind of potentiation.

So, let’s assume a Beginner trainee needs to use Speed Work on his Deadlift Day to work up to a 300 lbs single. The “Speed” part of his session might involve him starting with 65% of his 1RM i.e. 195 lbs and performing 8-10 singles. After this, the trainee will work up and finish his workout with a 300 single. Over the course of the next few weeks he will work in the entire spectrum of 65% - 80% of his 1RM (300), i.e. 195 lbs to 240 lbs. During that time, the relative max might be done but it is not required for all sessions. For a more Advanced trainee, the exact opposite will be done. He/She will first perform a Relative 1RM and then do the speed work, in the same way the Beginner performed the singles.

Not more that 2 reps is ever done for speed. This includes lighter pressing like bench press. Although some say that 3 reps is okay for these lighter lifts, most will never be able to keep up the same speed for 3 reps.

Workload / Volume for Speed Work

At the GUS forum, we're very averse to giving blanket recommendations or standards for anything because it perpetuates misinformation. What I want to do is provide very general guidelines for Workload and Volume for Speed Work that people tend to practice here at GUS.

All “Speed Work” is within 65% to 80% of a trainee’s 1RM. However, safety is a primary concern because we do not want someone turning a Squat into a Jump Squat because the weight is too low. At the same time, we do not want someone to “anticipate” the weight to feel a certain way and then compromise on form. So, often we start with something a little lower just to get the trainee used to Speed Work but then intensity is increased.

For Squats and Pressing work, we usually perform doubles. For Deadlifts we usually stick to singles and occasionally doubles. When a trainee is supposed to work within 65% to 80% of his/her 1RM, over the course of several weeks the entire range of that intensity is practiced and because we believe in training to be fluid and non-rigid with flexibility in protocols and trying to get trainees to think on their feet: the volume is also sometimes changed depending on how a trainee feels. Performance determines everything.


Speed Work is one of the many components of Strength Training that is overused and over-hyped. It is not mandatory but it can be beneficial to all trainees at some point in their lifting careers. I do not believe it has to be a cornerstone throughout their career but for trainees who focus on Maximal Strength; Speed Work is a great tool to iron out certain glitches and bad habits that can develop while working with maximal loads. I do not think that speed Work has to have set-in-stone rules. Most such rules and "theories" used to govern speed work are based on nothing but opinion and the idea that endless fast reps done with half your 1 RM will have a direct impact on your max ability is a dream. Max work has more affect on speed than the other way around, at least for beginners. Keep speed work flexible and geared to the needs of the trainee. Benedikt Magnússon once said to the effect of no lift being performed with the intention of it being slow. At the end of the day; performance is the KEY and all lifts regardless of the load should be done with the intention of speed and a commitment to the completion of the repetition.


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