Improving Speed in Fitness

The development of speed is extremely important for any CrossFit athlete, and the development of this speed through strength work transfers directly to the sport. Through strength programming, athletes should be developing “speed strength” or the ability to rapidly generate a large amount of force. Some of the most effective tools we have for building this speed strength are the Olympic lifts and their accessory exercises. Thus, any effective strength program for CrossFit athletes should focus primarily on the Olympic lifts and build up from there.


Tactics to Develop Speed in the Lifts

A common approach that I take with my athletes when developing speed is to work the Olympic lifts in a ladder format at least once a week. For this type of work, we will build up to 85 or 90 percent and then back off for a minimum of two sets to a lower percentage (somewhere around 75 to 80 percent). These final sets are there specifically to develop speed under fatigue and build an athlete’s confidence at moving heavier weights quickly.

Think about many standard metcons involving barbell movements within the sport of CrossFit. An athlete will always be operating under fatigue, and they need to be confident in knowing that they will always be able to exert their maximum force quickly in that situation. Aside from providing better results and times in workouts, this also serves to protect the athlete from injury due to lack of commitment to a lift while tired.


Speed is an Indicator of Preparedness

I tell athletes this quite often: speed of the barbell during the peak of training is an overall indicator of how successful that athlete will be with their program. A primary difference between novice lifters and advanced lifters, aside from the obvious, is that advanced lifters generally lose little if any speed on their lifts even during the peak of their training volume. Amateur lifters will often be less consistent through their working sets during the hardest parts of their training cycle. This inconsistency leads to a reduction in overall power output and possible strength gains.

If an athlete is able to maintain speed throughout their training, chances are that athlete will make significant strength gains and are almost guaranteed a PR or “peak performance” at the end of the cycle. This diagnosis works with both weightlifters and CrossFit athletes as they get closer to their respective competitions – athletes moving with greater speed and force while tired will be able to recover to a higher level of performance than athletes suffering under the workload.

Speed development is crucial in both weightlifting and CrossFit; now more than ever the two sports have become closely related. Using the Olympic lifts as a basis for strength development in your athletes and building speed through these movements in training will provide superior results to the slow lifts in the long run. Aside from this, using overall speed as an indicator of your athletes’ preparedness and adaptation to a training program should become an invaluable tool in your coaching arsenal. If you are looking for tips on where to begin or would like to pursue further education on the subject, please visit my website at

Justin Wright | Wright Performance

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