Speed Lifter vs. Grinder – Which Are You & What Do You Need To Improve?

By: Brian Carroll & Beth Thomas

*We are writing this from two distinct perspectives: Beth being a grinder and Brian being explosive.

I like to categorize different types of lifters. Am I missing some types and am I generalizing? YES! Am I some type of movement/kinesiology expert that knows everything about speed and movement patterns of every athlete that exists? NO, I’m not an expert on anything. I like to write my thoughts on paper, use my experiences with both myself, my clients and things I’ve observed to potentially help those that can benefit. To me, the issue doesn’t lie with those that actually want to help and have real world experience but more so with those that have a super duper education and zero real world experience in their area of so called ‘expertise’. This makes me angry, irritated and mad. In what other venture does this crap even exist? Aside American politics, that is.

Back to my topic for the day – I like to keep things as simple as possible. I can be a pretty simple and straight forward guy so I like to do the same with my writing. I like to classify lifters into the following two categories. To identify the characteristics of each lifter, I listed out the common traits they may show or have when lifting

Grinders:

  • Don’t have a ton of explosive speed
  • Great at reps with weights
  • Can handle and respond well to a high volume of assistance work
  • Sometimes hyper mobile
  • Higher endurance
  • Can stay tight for a long time under load and each lift tends to look slow but similar in form/technique
  • Can grind out max weight very well
  • Slow out of the hole or bottom of the lift, but gains speed as the weight moves

Explosive:

  • TONS of explosive power and speed
  • Not good at doing multiple reps
  • Great at single reps
  • Generally more tight overall
  • Lower endurance
  • Can’t stay locked in for too long under loads
  • All lifts are very fast
  • Have little to no grinding power
  • Typically go from an ‘easy’ lift to a bad miss suddenly
  • Moves the weight very fast out of the hole or bottom of the lift but misses in the middle/top as their explosion is not enough to carry them though as their speed fades

I’m sure we all know people that directly fall in cleanly into one of the 2 categories above, right? Not everyone will be cut and dry, but pretty much everyone will lead one way or another. Not all lifters will exhibit every characteristic but typically the athlete will show far more characteristics of one category vs. the other.

With the 10/20/Life Philosophy, form is one of the 5 key points.  We stress form being paramount and the most important thing to have locked in if you really want to get the most out of your strength potential and your strength gains. Once form is solidified and it’s not an issue, we can now move on to the next point.

Of course we are also following the other key point of the 10/20/L philosophy, which is that our assistance work is in order 100% and is customized to our needs to build up the main lifts. We are always doing what we need for our specific requirements and never do shit just to do it! There has to be a reason of why you’re doing what you’re doing. This also includes speed work.

But…. “BRIAN speed work, I love it. WE need it. WHAT DOES SHE DO BACK THERE?”

And that one guy said that everyone needs it! Great topic, thank you for bringing this up. People will need speed work and it’s not just for ‘equipped lifting’!!!!!

If anything, it’s more for raw lifters but at the end of the day and I’ve said it ad nauseam: Lifting is lifting whether you are wearing a belt, an ascot, a bonnet and knee wraps or you lift in FULL LIFTING GEAR. Really, the weakness in gear or out of gear is usually going to be the same.

Back To The Topic

Not everyone will need speed work dammit. This drives me nuts!! You see it all the time – the fastest lifters moving weight super-fast and it looks cool but it is doing nothing for their grinding issues or addressing their weak points.

On the flip side you see people saying “speed work” and it’s moving like molasses and they are using 75-80%!!! If you’re going to do speed work, let go of your ego and do a weight you can move fast!

Neither situation is good for you nor will it lead to a speed or strength gain. It also will not make you a better lifter in any way and could even end up hurting you, if you’re not careful.

do believe that everyone will need form work to practice form and lock in the technique issues we struggle with from time to time. I love form work but I do not need speed work.

The enemy

What Is The Difference Between Speed & Form Work?

Form work: For those that struggle with form at times and need to dial it in. This means simply dialing in your form and adjusting the little nuances that are often overlooked in training or that start to rear their ugly heads when lifting heavier weight. Form work should be at about 50-60% to ensure that it’s light enough to stay in the proper position. If you need a lower percentage to attain this proper position, start with a lower percentage and work your way up. There is no reason to go higher than the 50-60% range though

Speed work: For those that are slow to start the lift and/or slow in speed overall and need to learn how to move the bar faster under load.

Chances are, you should have one of the above in your programming. I can almost bet on it. Figure out which you need and add it into your strength program.

SPEED WORK IS NOT EVIL

With that said, if you are doing speed work just for ‘recovery’ or rehab or any other reason that makes no sense unless you actually do need it (being lifter #1). Speed work is in some ways harder on your body than heavy lifting. You are pushing a light weight (sometimes with bands and such) as hard and as fast as you can with NOTHING to absorb the force except your joints. The joints also take the load of slowing the weight down on both the descent and the ascent. Think about it- you are still pushing as hard and as fast as you can. It’s still 100% effort but the weight is just moving faster. You’re still exerting the same amount of force on the barbell, it’s just with a much lighter weight.

Who Needs Speed Work? 

Lifter #1 will need a lot of speed work to teach them how to get the weights moving and to move it fast and explosively. They will need to keep the weights under 60% for singles. I like 3-5 singles. I don’t think you need 10 or more but once again, start somewhere and develop a baseline as I always say. Then add or take away as needed A great example of this is Beth Thomas’ offseason training; we programmed a lot of speed work and pause work to get her faster and now it’s paying dividends in her pre-contest work. (Look for an article on this topic soon regarding specific improvements for a lifter’s needs.)

Multiple Reps? Why Only Singles?

I don’t like the multiple and sloppy reps. We are focusing on one rep at a time, staying tight and locked in and not ignoring form. This is exactly how we would perform in a competition setting. I suggest doing this as your assistance work. Assistance work is done directly after your main work or after your main assistance movement, for those that need it. I don’t like advocating a speed day with anyone only because of the recovery concerns listed above – the taxing on the joints and the beating ones body could take. Everything can become cumulative – good and bad. Remember that. It can catch up to you – good and bad.

Who Doesn’t Need Speed Work?

Lifter #2. These lifters move things so fast that speed work, IMO is a gigantic waste of time. They should be doing movements that slow things down, put them in bad positions and teaches them to grind under tension and not quit when they normally might (at their sticking point).

“But Brian, nobody is ever too fast” – very true but once again, aren’t we always doing what we need to do with the 10/20/L philosophy? And if that’s the case, we wouldn’t have speed work very high on the priority list. We will need to attack the weak areas that prevent the finishing of the lift as the velocity slows down and we really have to push to finish the lift. For me, on the squat – speed work is something I haven’t done or needed to do in 12 years. I’m naturally fast but miss in the middle of the squat toward the top – so quad work and upper back work to stay in the correct position when the weight starts to slow down is paramount for me. When I attack and stay on the weak points, much like the example above, my lifts start to skyrocket. This is also true with all my other clients who are naturally fast and explosive.

You often hear the term, “you can’t teach speed” and that is correct to a certain point. You won’t ever take a guy who runs a 5.2 40yd dash and make him a 4.3 guy. However, you COULD POTENTIALLY take a guy who is 5.3 and make him a 4.9 guy with smart, detailed efficient work that will help him become more explosive.

On the other hand, if you are one of these guys or gals who are slow, I highly suggest that you get on your speed work to become more fast and explosive.

Bands & Chains For Speed Work?

There is most definitely a time and place for accommodating assistance in your speed work. I always suggest starting with straight weight and getting a baseline of a weight you can move at a fast speed. Stay with this weight (or move up a small amount of weight) through a full training cycle. If you continue to make gains and progress, why add in bands or chains? Stay with the straight weight until you no longer see progress or it begins to stall. But remember, you may still be progressing on your squats with straight weight but need to add bands or chains to your deadlift or bench work. Pay attention to when your progress slows/stalls for each lift and adjust accordingly. The point of both chains and bands is to add increasing tension as you get towards the top of the lift thus forcing you to push harder and get through your sticking points. The resistance is lowest in the bottom of the lift and highest at the top of the lift. Tension amounts will vary according to band/chain sizes, set-up, the lifters height, how old the bands are, etc. There are a lot of variables to consider when using bands and chains. Once again, pick one size of a band or chain and stick with it through a full training cycle so you have a baseline.

As an athlete wanting to increase strength (for any reason), figure out what kind of lifter you are and work on the appropriate areas of training that apply to you.  As a lifter, you will constantly have to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and alter your training accordingly. Likely, you will not ‘change’ the type of lifter you are (grinder vs.explosive) no matter how much you work on your weaknesses but improving them will most certainly make you a better lifter, overall.

 

 

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Brian Carroll

Brian is a world-class powerlifter with over two decades of elite and pro-level powerlifting under his belt. Coming back from a devastating back injury in 2012 that broke multiple bones and that most experts said he would never recover from, he has returned to the pinnacle of world-class lifting (while 100% pain and symptom-free) and is now dedicated to helping others avoid the same mistakes that he made in the past through private and group coaching in Jacksonville, FL. Brian’s impressive recovery has given him the opportunity to teach and deliver talks to physical therapists, chiropractors, medical doctors, professional strength & conditioning coaches and experts from all facets of sport, on how to avoid injury, while building anti-fragile strength and resilience in athletes.
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