Upper Body Strength = Fast Times?


I think the upper body has merit to help speed of the body, but how much? Does one need to bench 2 x BW to get under 10 seconds? Should we do one rep max testing like one guru suggested with pull-ups as it’s directly related to how fast one sprints? The answer is of course is the least popular, everything in moderation. Extreme or esoteric suggestions are always more popular but I would focus on getting stronger each year but don’t’ fight improvement curves and artificially allocate resources to upper body lifts. In the Project 60 thread, Josh asked a good question about getting all of the high intensity work in to get a stronger upper body. What is a good middle ground approach?

During each phase I use the Vertical Integration approach to strength building as it’s the most consistent and the last 4 years was a struggle to do it because of indoor track and the snow of the northeast. I find the 4-6% improvement from baseline in the GPP a great start, and the SPP of 2-3% of fall baseline great as well. Finally the 1-2% indicates a gage of loading being optimized not to overtrain the body. I have undertrained athletes and overtrained athletes during the SPP and Comp Phases in the past. HRV and better calculations have made me better with not hitting either end. Some talk about feel with cybernetic training and they end of explaining their rehab programs with torn muscle groups, try to educate us with rehabilitation logs form surgery, but slow and patient loading wins the race at the end.

The fascia craze rehashes that everything is connected. Does that mean that I should train my right triceps to get more connection to my left hamstring? Not really. A good upper body ensures that momentum is conserved. It’s not about anti-rotation as you need to rotate 4-5 times when sprinting, it’s about global strength and balance. Having a strong pushing, pressing, and pulling ability in the upper body helps hold things together, but thinking that a pull-up test is going to evaluate potential is as likely as measuring hat size to indicate who is going to be the best pole-vaulter. So what do I use as an outline? Copy and learn.

I have used classic USATF models for my training and of course added and subtracted some stuff that seemed to improve both performance and consistency. The times that I have not found success when I had bad scheduling problems with the weight room and was forced to give up some of the benefits, but this year I am back to a model based on clarity.My set up is as follows as isn’t very exciting but people in the short sprints improve if they are able to follow the program.

During the GPP I focus on a lot of exercises such as general push-ups, pull-ups, benching with barbells and dumbbells, and doing a higher frequency. At this point hypertrophy increases slowly because the volume is higher in training. During the SPP hypertrophy continues a bit. During the Comp phases it stabilizes. Must athletes gain 6 pounds but loose 2 or 4 during the comp phase but their power is at the highest both absolutely and of course relatively.

During the SPP the total exercises drop and I allocate 50% of the intense days to upper body work. Unlike the GPP where upper body lifts are done during tempo days. I cut the the lifts so that some benching and pulling work is done during intense days; Usually during block work or fly work, but sometimes speed endurance if people feel up for it. BBGS circuits become easier and longer as joint soreness creeps up. I never gravitated to the LSU circuits before I realized that sometimes wellness is needed to balance out the taxing work being done on the track.

Out of 8 lifting sessions with upper body training per month in the weight room (push ups don’t count unless you are dealing with kids) I try to max out 1-2 times. I find that 4 reps and 3 reps is helpful. The so-called 90 percent rule is great for isolated weights and it works, but it should be used only when necessary.

Benching during the season is a great way to see if the body is handling the load. While I love HRV and use it, I find that when the lifts go up without forcing it, good things are happening. When one misses lifts I look at see if the athlete is going through some stresses outside the track or skip a few sessions. It’s better to stall a week then to dig a hole that lasts 4 weeks. I find the conservative approach looses a week of improvement while risks sometimes costs a season.

I love pull-ups but maximal work usually is hard to do with those the olympic lift. I like full range pull-ups to the rib of the shirt, and not the nose or eye level. I use to go to the chin for chin ups but I think it should be called chest ups as people will always sacrifice range for load. I like the 3 rep range work as it stimulates growth. Maybe 2 times a year we go maximally to challenge the load.

One of the biggest challenges is staleness vs DOMS, as changing exercises can often cause DOMs but lack of change can create staleness, or way that creates similar flatness like CNS fatigue. I suggest a minor change in the exercise such as incline bench or a different grip. This is often taken to extreme such as one football team that should call their interns barbell tenders since each set uses different chains and types of bars, making a basic squat workout look like a set construction for Phantom of the Opera. Sometimes lifting in an auxiliary gym or different location stimulates without sacrificing good training options.

PJ Vazel stated he used weights for peaking and it took me 3 years to really grasp the concept with application. I knew the theory for years but making sure it worked wasn’t easy with many real world problems like scheduling conflicts and travel. During the season I have athletes bench less but bench heavier and tend to skip the lifts more all together as one is sneaking to the genetic ceiling more and sometimes absolute rest is better than maintenance work. I skip medium to heavy work but lighter stuff prevents early peaking.

I don’t know the right path or the best path, but I do know a way that is consistent. I have to thank a lot of throws coaches who have helped me make sure that weights had purpose. So long as you improve year to year with a similar program, you are on a great path. The goal is not to have a weakness, but upper body work should be rather traditional. It may not transfer 100% to faster times but it’s a great gage to see how the internal physiology of the body is handling the program you are doing.
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Carl Valle

Carl Valle

Track & Field Coach
Carl is an expert coach who has produced champions in swimming, track and numerous other sports. He is one of the foremost experts in the fields of nutrition and restoration.
Carl Valle

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