The disconnect between strength and speed


I recently did an interview for Empowered Athlete and one of the questions looks at a topic that comes up often on ELITETRACK: the disconnect that often occurs between strength and speed. Here’s the question and you can find the entire interview HERE

Boyle said, “Many athletes can squat large amounts of weight. Far fewer athletes seem to be able to run fast.” In your experience, what is the relationship with strength in the weight room and speed on the track or playing field? Do you really see athletes getting too strong relative to their body weight to the point that relative strength offers no benefit?

I agree (although, unlike Boyle, I have almost all of my athletes do some form of squat). There’s definitely a disconnect for many athletes between maximal strength developed in the weight room and sprint speed. There are plenty of reasons for this such as strength-elasticity deficits, the far greater elastic and eccentric requirements for sprinting than weight room work, the mechanical proficiency needed in sprinting, and the fact that they are totally different motor skills. Anyone who tries to sell you on the notion that improvements in strength automatically produce improvements in speed has lost any valid claim to being knowledgable about speed development. That being said, the disconnect doesn’t have to be as large as it is for many athletes. Instead of looking at strength and speed as separate entities, I think it’s better to consider them as different outlets for a common stimulus. With most of my athletes, especially those on the more developmental side of the continuum, I see a pretty clear link between improvements in the weight room and improvements in specific areas of sprint performance. For some, this might be mechanics (some lifts help with the lumbo-pelvic-hip rhythm and the mobility necessary for sprinting efficiently). For others it might be acceleration ability (improving max strength in basic lower extremity movements seems to help with acceleration), while for others the ability to run at top end speed (the ability to ‘switch’ from extension to flexion, exert force quickly, and maintain posture under a high eccentric load that are seen in Olympic lifts may carry over well for maximum velocity sprinting). Although, the key is ‘connecting the dots.’ You really have to train holistically and recognize that strength is not a means unto itself. You need to address EVERYTHING (mobility, mechanics, speed, strength, etc) for the gains in strength to be realized in improvements in speed. As with many things though, there will come a point of diminishing returns. So, it is critical to recognize when it’s time to reduce emphasis on strength and shift it to areas that will more efficiently produce improvements in speed. After a certain point (and it seems to be very individualized), chasing big weight room numbers is largely pointless.