Training for speed strength


An outline of speed strength development, looking at traditional weight training methods, time controlled speed strength development and plyometrics. The text is an extract from the author’s Level III qualification dissertation under the Australian Track and Field Coaches Association’s coaching scheme. Although written for young discus throwers, the speed strength development aspects are applicable to most power events.


Speed strength is the ability of the neuromuscular system to produce the greatest possible impulse in the shortest possible time. The two aspects to speed strength are starting strength and explosive strength. Starting strength is the force developed in 30ms from the start of a concentric contraction. Explosive strength is the ability to continue the initiated force as fast as possible. The time period is approximately 150ms. It is the maximum rate of force development (RFD) in a maximum isometric contraction.

Types of exercises

Olympic lifts (snatch and clean) and their derivatives have potential for power outputs higher than the so-called “power” lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift). Other exercises such as bench press throws (using Smith machine) and multiple repetition jump squats may provide an excellent alternative or supplement to the traditional Olympic weightlifting style movements for the development of speed strength and for athletes of lower strength levels. The power produced during jump squats or bench press throws can actually exceed that of the Olympic lifts.


For effective speed strength development a loading of 80-90% of 1RM (2-5 reps) is recommended for Olympic lifts whereas for bench press 50-60% of 1RM is desirable. For the jump squat 30-40% of maximum may be more appropriate. The percentage for jump squats must take into consideration the athletes body weight.

For example, a 100kg athlete with a 1RM squat of 180kg has (total system weight 280kg) x 40% = 112kg (only 12kg above body weight). Jump squats for this athlete need only be done with 12kg loading.


The use of heavy and light loads in the same training session is referred to as the contrasting load method.

Russian Complex: The Russian method involves a continual alternating between heavy and light loads in the same training session.

Back squats: 2 sets x 2-3 repetitions at 90% of 1RM. The eccentric and concentric movements are executed slowly. Rest 3-4 minutes between sets and 4-6 minutes after second set.

Drop jumps: 2 sets of 10 repetitions (height needs to be established to suit the individual). Rest 3-4 minutes between sets. The complex is repeated 2-3 times per training session with 8-10 minutes rest between complexes.

Bulgarian method: The Bulgarian method begins with high intensity exercise working down to resistance against body weight. For example: 90% (4) 95% (3) 97.5% (2) 95%(4) 90% (4) (For maximal strength) Rest 3-4 minutes between sets and 5-6 minutes after all sets.

Timed squats: Perform as many repetition squats in 10 seconds at 60% intensity. (For explosive strength).

Jump squats: Perform as many repetition squats in 10 seconds at 30% intensity. (For explosive power).

Jump-ups: Perform as many repetition jumps in 10 seconds without any load. (For speed strength).


TCSSM controls the duration of the rest intervals between the sets and between the repetitions. The duration of rest between sets should be 5 minutes. Taking for example the bench press throw for upper body speed strength development, it is desirable to work in an intensity zone between 50% and 60%. Using TCSSM the number of repetitions are established by feedback of the time per rep and the recovery time between reps. After the first repetition it is important that the second, third and subsequent reps are executed with a speed reduction of below 10% of the first rep in the preparation period and below 5% of the first rep in the competition period. To do this the lift must be done with speed and without deceleration (the reason for bench press throws). If the speed reductions are too great and incompatible with the training goal of speed strength they imply strength endurance loads and induce left transformations of the fibre spectrum.

Referring to table 1, if working at 50% of 1RMN the athlete could lift rhythmically up to 5 reps and stay below 10% of speed reduction in the preparation phase but, working at the same intensity in the competition phase, would need a rest between reps of 9 seconds for 5 reps in order to keep the speed reduction below the desired 5%.

Table 1

Rest between reps. (sec.) Speed reduction 10%
Reps per set in prep phase
Speed reduction 5%
Reps per set in com. phase

12 10 7
9 10 5
6 7 4
3 6 4
0 (i.e. rhythmical) 5 3


The advice from Professor Tidow is that the sequence of HM, NAM, TCSSM can be repeated three times annually as follows:

  1. 4-6 weeks of hypertrophy methods (up to 8 weeks is permissible if the athlete requires muscle mass)

  2. 3-4 weeks of neuronal activation method.

  3. 3-6 weeks of time controlled speed strength methods.

In the week before a major competition TCSSM once only could be enough, three days before competing e.g. lift on Wednesday, compete Saturday.


Plyometric training causes an increase in maximum rate of force development. Verkhoshansky suggests that traditional weight programs which incorporate plyometrics are superior to those that do not include plyometrics. The Russian and Bulgarian speed strength methods mentioned earlier employ plyometrics in the complex.

Plyometrics is a familiar term amongst athletes and coaches and has been defined as exercises that enable a muscle to reach maximum strength in as short a time as possible. This speed strength ability is known as power.

Other definitions include: “Powerful muscular contractions after rapid stretching or dynamic loading of the same muscle group” and “Quick powerful movements that involve a pre-stretch of a muscle just before its contraction.” (Pezzullo) Another term for this type of muscle action is the stretch-shortening cycle.

Muscle elasticity is an important factor in understanding how the stretch-shortening cycle can produce more power than a simple concentric muscle contraction. The muscles can briefly store the tension developed by rapid stretching so that they possess a sort of potential elastic energy.

To use this stored energy and to achieve maximum results with plyometrics the concentric contraction must immediately follow the application of load and the preceding eccentric contraction should be of short range and rapid. In other words the faster a muscle is stretched the greater its concentric force after the stretch. The result is a more forceful movement for overcoming the inertia of an object e.g. a 1 kg discus. Throws coaches will often refer to pre-stretching or pre-tension e.g. pre-tension across the chest prior to delivering a discus. The period during which the muscle changes from an eccentric to a concentric contraction is called the coupling time and the greater force developed is associated with the shortest coupling time. Bosco et al (1982) proposed that individuals with a high percentage of fast twitch fibres in the leg muscles exhibit a maximum plyometric effect when the eccentric phase is short, movement range is small and coupling time is brief.

On the other hand, subjects with a high percentage. of slow twitch fibres produce their best jumping performance when the eccentric phase is longer, movement range is greater and the coupling time is longer. Also the degree of flexion of the limb (e.g. knee when doing single leg hops) should not be too excessive because the larger the eccentric movement the greater the loss of elastic tension. The rate of stretch rather than the magnitude of stretch determines the extent of elastic energy boosting that the muscle receives following an eccentric contraction. (Hennessy).

The stretch reflex is another mechanism integral to the stretch-shortening cycle and is of importance to throwers. The stretch reflex responds to the rate at which a muscle is stretched and is faster than other reflexes. A voluntary response to muscle stretch would be too late to be of any use to a thrower.

Hopping, skipping, jumping, bounding, depth jumps and medicine ball rebounding are exercises commonly used in plyometrics. Cones, hurdles, stairs, benches and boxes of various heights also are used.

Depth jumping is not recommended for the young athlete because of the large forces exerted. 1 believe depth jumps are often the reason for avulsion fractures in young athletes. The young or beginner athlete should begin with less intense exercises such as hopping, skipping and bounding, progressing to jumps over low hurdles and then lead up to the high impact exercises of depth jumping after some years of conditioning.


  • A thorough warm-up is essential incorporating jogging, stretching and general mobility about the joints involved in the workout.
  • The surface must not be too hard or too soft. Concrete is not recommended. A good resilient grass surface or softer type synthetic surface is best.
  • Footwear needs to be of good quality with a cushioned sole and a strong heel cup.
  • Exercises must be selected appropriate to the athlete and to the period of training.
  • Depth jumps should only be performed after a good strength conditioning period and lower intensity plyometrics such as skipping and bounding. The beginning height should then be relatively low and increased gradually. The optimal height of the box should not result in a landing where the heel is forced to the ground by momentum. The athlete should fall off the box in a relaxed state, not jump. The dosage of depth jumps should not exceed 2-3 sets of 5-8 repetitions for the lesser conditioned athlete and 4 sets of 10 for the well conditioned athlete. The rest intervals between sets of maximal plyometric exercises should be about 10 minutes for speed strength development. During this rest interval the athlete can do some easy running and relaxation exercises.
  • Depth jumps are used late in the preparation period of a yearly cycle, but can also be used during the competition period about once every 10 to 14 days and not later than 10 days before a competition.
    By Denis Knowles – from Modern Athlete and Coach