Updated: Jun 21
After being in the fitness and sports performance industry for nearly 2 decade, I am able to look back and realize that there have been certain research articles or readings that have been revelations on how I look at strength training. One such revelation came from a 1993 research study that I read back in 2006. At the time, I was engulfing as much training information as possible from any sources I could find. This particular article stood out to me for a variety of reasons.
The lead author was Dr Davis Behm, a professor from Newfoundland-which is my home town. Secondly, the other author was Dr. Digby Sale, one of Canada’s best-known neuromuscular researchers. Finally, the research was about improving strength, something I was passionate about. So naturally, with so many boxes being checked, I dug right in!
Here was my revelation from reading this particular article- When resistance training, it’s not about how fast the weight moves, but rather the intention to purposefully move the weight as fast as possible- that will ultimately determine the speed specific adaptations one can incur from that training.
Let’s break this down a bit further. It would be expected that training at higher speeds would have speed specific adaptations, while training at lower speeds would have less of the speed specific adaptations. However, and interesting to me at the time- this was not the case. The speed of the movement was not the factor that determined the specific adaptation. Instead, it was the intention to move the weight as quickly as possible, no matter how fast the actual speed of the movement was, that was the most important factor.
This was even true when attempting to move an immovable object- where no movement occurred. The idea of moving slowly but still getting speed adaptations was fascinating to me and it helped shape my subsequent training and program design in the years to come. I realized that I could accomplish the adaptations I desired, through more training methods than I had previously believed.
For an athlete this is extremely relevant. If we can get speed specific adaptations (improvements to rate of force development and other neuromuscular adaptations) with heavier loads moving at slower overall velocities, we get the combined benefits or improvements in absolute strength (typically seen to occur above 70-80%+ of 1 rep maximum loads) as well as satisfying the requirements needed for muscle building processes to occur. Slower contraction velocities at heavier loads, increased total time under tension, increased mechanical tensile stress to both active & passive tissue structures and an increase in overall total motor unit pool recruitment. All of these adaptations can occur from heavier loads, moved with more intention and at slower total speed/velocities.
The practical applications of this are valuable to nearly everyone:
Those seeking strength adaptations (absolute or relative)
Speed sport athletes
Hypertrophy focused lifters (those seeking or needing increases in total muscle mass)
Time efficiency (we can accomplish more total tasks on average by using slightly higher loads and lower speed training)
While attempting to move a heavy weight as fast as possible and being deliberate with every repetition, you can achieve a vast number of training adaptations. Imagine you are about to throw or launch the weight. To apply this training approach, exert yourself maximally on each repetition once the weight starts to move and continue using this maximum intentional exertion method even as the speed of the bar slows down near the end of a set.
In the 80’s, famous powerlifter and bodybuilder- Fred Hatfield employed this technique to great lengths and even wrote about it in regards to his own training methodologies. He became commonly referred to as ‘Dr.Squat” and coined the method of maximal intention to be termed compensatory acceleration technique (aka. CAT).
The next time you hear a coach yelling at you to push fast or faster, we just want to get the most out of every rep despite the actual speed the weight is moving. Intention matters and can dictate much of your adaptations. Give this technique a try and I am confident you will be pleased with the results in the weeks or months to come!
Source: Behm, D. G., & Sale, D. G. (1993). Intended rather than actual movement velocity determines velocity-specific training response. Journal of Applied Physiology, 74(1), 359–368. doi: 10.1152/jappl.19126.96.36.1999