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Dear StrongerAthletes.com: Slow Training
We received this e-mail from Mr. Karoly Haasz concerning the emphasis we put on training at slow speeds. Our comments follow in [Red]...
Just found your site and comments about common sense and speed. I don't know the full range of your views, [We get this a lot and have to restate what we believe again and again. That is OK but when this happens writers always accuse us of being ignorant of fundamentals such as Power=Work/Time but we'll get to that soon enough] but it seems that what you say is contradicted by [some] things... that training has to mirror the event trained for, so it is possible to get stronger with slow weights, in powerlifting, for example. But to train for speed one has to use speed, at least part of the time. [We agree on that however we feel that if an athlete needs to get faster running down a track he should run down a track at high speed... if the athlete needs to get faster at coming off the line of scrimmage he should practice starting off the line of scrimmage at full speed.] I admit that Olympic lifts may not transfer to other event training, but as far as I know no Olympic lifter trains slowly, and theirs is a strength sport... [But Olympic lifting is their sport. That is the movement they need to perfect at high speeds so that is what they practice. Their movement is sport specific.
To say, "It is obvious that if the weight can be moved quickly then the load is too light to develop significant power," is nonsense, since again Olympic lifters are lifting limit lifts at very high speeds in both competition and in training. I would not want to suggest that they are using "light" weights nor that they have not developed power. [We will concede just an inch on this point. Yes, Olympic lifters are developing power as they train with Olympic lifts. However, we feel that more efficient strength gains are made when these athletes squat and dead lift for example. Now, with additional strength they can produce more powerful results as they increase in their quick lifts.]
"Power" is not the same as "strength", and since "power" is strictly defined in terms of the ability to move weights fast then fast training is literally more powerful than slow training, provided the loads are similar. (Of course, I may be lifting half the weight you are lifting, but if I lift it 3x faster I am more "powerful", I have shown greater ability in terms of ft/lbs per second, although you may be stronger.) [OK. Understand that we have the same understanding of Power as you. Power=Work/Time. Where others misunderstand our point is when we maintain that Work/Time is showing, or expressing, how much Power one has at that moment. Keep in mind we are in the weight room to develop not express. Expression of power is for the field of competition, not training. To further illustrate this point we need to break the formula down even farther. So, if Work=Strength*Distance then Power=Strength*Distance/Time. If we can increase the Strength element we can thus increase the Power output. We simply feel that it is safer to develop Strength in the weight room.]
I don't wish to over prolong this correspondence, but I was simply making the point that you have to train for what you wish to achieve, I did not claim that Olympic lifting does transfer, I don't have the experience of coaching to make that claim, but still argue that speed has to be developed specifically - as with any other attribute. [We totally agree with your statement, possibly more than you yourself. "I was simply making the point that you have to train for what you wish to achieve." While to you that may mean train fast in the weight room to be fast on the field, to us that means train fast on the field to be fast on the field.]
Zatsiorsky (in The Science and Practice of Strength Training) points out that there is a difference between developing maximum force regardless of time, and the fastest RATE of force production, a shot putter is stronger than a javelin thrower and develops a higher amount of force, but the javelin thrower develops his force much more quickly. Indeed, it is impossible to develop maximum strength in extremely brief time frames, thus really heavy training with maximum weights will not benefit the javelin thrower, whereas it clearly does benefit the shot putter, who would be wasting his time with very fast training. [We disagree. Please se our comments above concerning Power=Strength*Distance/Time.]
The best sports scientists do not simply make the claim that all athletes should develop strength with Olympic lifts - it is inaccurate and unhelpful. Zatsiorsky specifically addresses a number of different ways to develop strength, and unusually for a sports science text, addresses the needs of bodybuilders! It is equally unhelpful to claim that fast lifting should never be used. I agree that Olympic lifting is a specific sport, not a training protocol, but the best coaches in that discipline have based the undoubted success of their lifters on massive amounts of research! If it were true that slow training were the best way to train for fast expression in any athletic endeavor, then the Russian and Bulgarian coaches (for example) would have applied this to Olympic lifting. [Again, we do not have an issue with Russian, Bulgarian, or American Olympic lifters training with Olympic movements. Quite honestly, I do not have enough first hand knowledge of Olympian training regimens to comment on this point, but I would be surprised if they did not include some form of heavy squat and deadlifting.]
If Olympic lifting is an exception - a speed strength sport that does require speed strength training - then logically the exception "proves" the rule i.e.; it puts the rule to the test and implies that there may be other exceptions, other sports where speed strength is expressed and where speed strength training is required. [We see you point here but do not agree. The reason Olympic lifting is an "exception", like you say, is because that is the sport itself. Let me give you a parallel example to illustrate what I mean. If using the main element of another sport, such as Olympic lifting movements, to create a better soccer goalie then I could create a better Olympic lifter by drilling soccer balls at him as he attempts to move quickly in all directions to stop them from going into the net. No! That would be a waste of the Olympic lifter's time. So why ask other sport athletes to waste their time?]
I am not arguing with the rightness or wrongness of your approach, only that the argument on your website clearly argues against ANY benefits of fast training. But there appear to be exceptions to the rule in the real world of sports, and you are now admitting an exception but asking for it to be left out of account. This is not consistent or logical. Either speed is not useful in ANY case or it is useful in some or all cases. [OK, one more time. Olympic movements good for Olympic lifters=Yes. Why: Because they are practicing their sport specific movements. Olympic movements good for athletes in football, basketball, track, etc...=No. Why: 1) Risk outweighs the benefits 2) The movements are not developing power as efficiently as other movements, and 3) To assume the movement will transfer to sport-specific skills defies the Principle of Specificity.]
You CAN argue that Olympic style training IS useful BUT only for Olympic lifters. You could then reasonably state that the risk of injury is too high for e.g.; recreational athletes, or junior athletes etc. and I would have to agree with you in those cases. However, once you admit the exception in the case of high level Olympic lifters you would have to argue on a case by case basis why fast lifting should not be allowed to other high level athletes in "fast" sports. [We feel that we have done that.]
And to risk impertinence, I offer a correction of your correction. An individual who improves his performance by becoming more efficient may be more "powerful" than he was before, but I was speaking of comparing two different athletes and I must state that the dictionary definition of power and the one used in sports science literature is that power refers to the ability to accomplish work over time, a faster athlete with the SAME load IS more powerful than a slower athlete, although the slower athlete may actually be able to move a much heavier load. The slower athlete may be stronger, but power in its scientific sense has to do with speed and work done, not simply work done. [True.]
Best wishes, I have not written to cause offence, but to point out that there is another side to the equation. [We thank you for your comments and hope our readers can benefit from this dialogue.
In addition to the comments made above, our general response follows...
I think where we disagree is that you believe that because a sport involves speed one must train with speed. We do not believe this is true. In fact, even though most shot put coaches train their athletes with fast Olympic movements, I have been training shot putters for years with success and we do nothing but slow, controlled movements.
Where the speed comes into practice is when the athlete is perfecting their sport specific skills. For example, I will train shot putters with their skill work first. They will do 1/4 turns, 1/2 turns, 3/4 turns as fast as possible to develop efficient neuromuscular pathways. They do the same drills every day followed by strength training on certain days.
Our weight room is for building strength with slow controlled movements. The field is where we develop skills in an explosive manner.
To say that making an exception to Olympic lifting does not make sense. IT IS THEIR SPORT. They are developing their neuromuscular pathways as they are strength training. Plus better form lessens the injury potential.
Anyway, for any other sport to use the Olympic lifts is not productive. Many coaches are asking football players etc... to do the Olympic lifts and these athletes are not performing them with very good form which really increases their chance of injury. We feel that it is unprofessional and unethical to ask a football player (or any athlete of any non-Olympic lifting sport) to do these lifts because it is not their sport. They have many other skills to perfect and should spend the majority of their training time doing it. But coaches still have them do these quick lifts knowing that their form is not that good (because they do not have the time to spend perfecting it) in hopes that this will make them a better "on-the-field" player.
Anyway, how can these high school athletes get better form? They usually have one weight room supervisor, if he is doing his job, for 40-60 athletes.
It is true that not many athletes get injured in any strength training program but when they do, it is unfortunate and many injuries have been caused by the Olympic lifts and their variations not to mention that these lifts predispose you to injuries that could occur on the field or can occur years from now. I know many athletes that have injured lower backs that attribute it to their high school and college lifting days of the Olympic lifts and it is time that coaches sit back and analyze their program and do some research to see what other types of programs are out there that are more productive, more efficient and safer.
I feel that the brainwashing years of the Eastern Bloc training "secrets" will come to an end. I just hope it does so quickly for our young athletes. Quality of life diminishes greatly with lower back pain. I know this for a fact and want to do everything possible to keep our athletes as healthy as possible.
I do understand that slow, controlled lifting can create injuries as well. These lifts are much easier to learn and master and good supervision is the key.
I appreciate your thoughts and time in this useful discussion about strength training and wish you all the best.
If you are really interested in slow movement speed in strength training. Ken Hutchins literally wrote the book.