So the last article I wrote made some people rejoice and made other people pretty upset.  And for myself, since I rarely write articles that get such a divided response, I went back just to double check and make sure I didn’t say anything crazy.  I’m usually a pretty wordy writer and that article was pretty quick.  As such, I don’t think I was as precise as I ought to have been, so let’s run this gauntlet one more time.

My claim:  It’s my professional opinion that “speed work” is not the optimal method for developing maximal force, particularly for trained powerlifters.  Let’s stop there as this will give us plenty to talk about….

Speed Work Defined

The definition in the original article:

“For now, let’s define speed work as anything under a 7 RPE. If you complete a set and you could have done 5 or more reps, it counts as speed work. If you’re doing doubles or triples with less than 75%, it probably counts. If you’re doing singles with less than 85%, it probably counts. If this is just a warm-up to your heavier work, then it probably doesn’t count as speed work.”

Just for the sake of clarity, I’d say those percentages are bottom-tension percentages of a 1RM in whatever lift it is that you’re doing.  Usually peak force is at the bottom of a lift like the squat or bench, so this seems to be the most relevant number.  Also for the record, I tend to place more value on the RPE than the percentage, but I figured I’d put percentages up as guidelines since a lot of you don’t use RPE yet.

The Data

I’ve gathered data on peak force production values in each of the three powerlifts by measuring force with a tendo unit as well as using motion analysis software on videos of the three powerlifts.  Peak force production with highly sub maximal weights (defined above) does not approach peak force production values generated by heavier weights REGARDLESS OF INTENT TO ACCELERATE.  Sure, trying to accelerate produces more force than NOT trying to accelerate.  But it still doesn’t produce as much force as using a heavy weight.  Measurements of peak force production using 75% of 1RM were approximately 85% of the peak force that was measured when using 90% of 1RM for the same number of reps.  In other words, lighter weights produced about 85% of the peak force value that the heavy weights did.

Some people thought using peak force production was an error and instead I should use average force production.  I did collect data on that and average force production was even more linked to bar weight than peak force.  I decided to look at peak force because that was the variable that responded more to outside influences.  Things like intent to accelerate, fatigue, and load all affected peak force.  Load was the only factor that seems to affect average force.

My Thoughts

This is where my observation of the data ends and my interpretation of it begins.

Increasing strength is an adaptation of the human body.  The body adapts to stressors and when it does, it supercompensates.  Couple that with knowledge of mylination, skill development, and the data above and I think it’s fair to say that doing speed work as defined in this article will most likely not increase peak force production values.  The primary drivers of success in powerlifting are force production and technique (mostly because good technique supports force production).

That said, speed work has other training effects that may or may not help you reach your goals.  It gets you more training volume, which is almost always good.  This can support muscle mass, improve skill to somewhat, and improve power generation.  It’s important to note that power generation typically won’t matter to a powerlifter, but it is probably more important to other athletes.  It’s also possible that speed work sessions are easier to recover from than bouts with heavier weights, though some people have the opposite experience.

The real question in any training discussion is not “what works”.  Rather, you should ask, “What is optimal?”  As Dr. Hatfield says, it’s always a question of good, better, best.  The evidence shows we can get higher peak force production by increasing the RPE beyond 7.  To do this, should increase the weight until you are getting RPEs of 8+ for the number of reps you are performing.

Additionally, if you’re seeking a greater volume of work, I think doing that volume with higher peak force values will be more beneficial unless you are having recovery issues (and then speed work acts as a band-aid for a larger problem).  If you’re trying to support muscle mass or develop your technique, I’d suggest that there are better options out there than doing speed work.  Even for pure power development, I think there are better options available.  Remember, good Better BEST!

As I’ve stated, power itself does not play a large role in powerlifting.  Sure, there IS a time limit when exerting Fmax.  You can’t just grind away all day.  But the time component is limited by your ATP and Creatine Phosphate stores.  At maximum intensity, these can last around 10 seconds.  So if you’re not grinding out 1RMs for longer than 10 seconds, you aren’t limited by your ATP/CP.  And even if you do take longer than 10 seconds to complete a maximum attempt, studies have shown it only takes .15 seconds and .25 seconds to reach Fmax in pulls.  My own measurements show time to Fmax as being significantly less (.10 to .17 seconds) in movements with an eccentric component.  If you’re slow, that still leaves you 9.75 seconds to grind away.  If you could double your RFD (which would be quite a feat), that still only gets you an extra .125 seconds.  I can’t remember seeing a lift and thinking, “Man, if he could have just kept grinding another .125 seconds, he would have gotten it!”  I think a powerlifter’s training economy would be better spent developing a higher Fmax rather than focusing on RFD.

And before anyone balks at the apparent contradiction, let me clarify – it only takes a quarter of a second or so to reach Fmax.  But when using lighter weights, the measured Fmax is LOWER than the Fmax that is measured with heavier weights.  That’s narrow difference, but an important one.

The Drama

I’m not trying to engage anyone in religious debate.  If you care about your training method with religious fervor — to the point where you’re unwilling to try to understand my arguments or form logical ones of your own, then please don’t try to talk training with me.  I don’t insist that everyone agree with what I say, but it’s a good thing for everyone to challenge their own assumptions from time to time.  I’m willing to have a mutually respectful discussion on this or any training topic.  Similarly, if you do speed work and I question its effectiveness, it doesn’t mean I’m disrespecting your guru of choice.  Nobody gets a free pass in the realm of ideas.  No person, because of the things they have done or said in the past, deserves to have their thoughts accepted without question.  In fact, respecting someone’s ideas involves questioning them to see if they hold water.  Good ideas deserve to be debated and questioned.  What’s more, it’s the quality of a person’s logic that determines whether or not their questioning is good.  The notion that the one who popularized some idea must grant someone “the right” to question them is absurd.

I also don’t mean to insinuate that any entire program doesn’t “work”.  Anything will work given the right circumstances.  But as I said, it’s not even about what “works”.  “Does it work” is the wrong question!  It’s about what is optimal.  There is NO program or system that is perfect and we all have more to learn.  What I’ve presented here is something I’ve learned and my intent is to share it so that others can improve their programs as well.

Some of my friends include speed work in their training.  I don’t think it’s optimal, but they don’t take it personally.  Conversely, there are things I do that they don’t think is optimal.  I don’t take it personally either.  We can discuss it like adults.  Hopefully with good discussion, critical thinking, and careful review, we all get closer to the truth over time.  I don’t expect that you, the reader, will change your mind on speed work immediately (though you might), but as a courtesy, just let what I’ve said here sink in for a few days.  Maybe it causes you to question what you were previously doing.  Maybe it doesn’t.  Life goes on.

Mike Tuchscherer is the founder of Reactive Training Systems as well as a competitive powerlifter.  In his own powerlifting career, Mike has racked up wins all over the world including national titles, world records, and IPF world championships.  In 2009, Mike went to Taiwan and became the first American male in history to win the gold medal for Powerlifting at the World Games.  Since, he has been pursuing raw competitions where he has continued to set records and compete among the best on the planet.  Professionally, Mike has coached 12 national champions, 2 IPF world record holders, national record holders in countries throughout the world, pro level multi ply lifters, strongmen, and literally hundreds of lifters who have set incredible personal bests following Mike’s coaching advice


  • Dan Baseley

    The internet is no place for a well reasoned argument – and certainly not one for a thoughtful rejoinder.

  • Chad Stafford

    I have a pretty good understanding of what you are saying and agree with you for the most part. I get lost though when you talk about the RPE. Give me a basic understanding of what RPE is and how it applies to help me better understand your point of view. Thanks!!

  • Pingback: Recent Internet Drama - Page 3 - Ausbb - Australian BodyBuilding()

  • Pingback: Since when did critical thinking lose it’s place in Strength training? | Stand on the shoulders of giants()

  • Jeremy Schraw


    I’m curious, based on your data, if you have a sense of how max force production compares for speed work with accommodating resistance (let’s say bar weight is ~55% of your max at the bottom and 70% at the top) done with maximal acceleration vs. what I would call ‘normal’ repetition work (something like 80% of your max using straight weight) if you don’t accelerate maximally on each rep. Fmax is still lower for speed work in this scenario?

    • Mike Tuchscherer

      What I’ve seen so far is that Fmax is still lower. And that makes sense. You can feel how heavy the weight is and 55% is not going to be a challenge. You might intend to move it quickly, but that’s never going to compare to the biological imperative that heavy weight provides.

  • sumoman

    Its interesting that you note that Fmax is reached in ~0.15 seconds for a powerlifting move, I’ve noticed that for heavy partial lifts that it takes around 3-5 seconds to reach max force. One of the reasons I like partials is that it allows my puny body to get used to building up and sustaining heavy forces for strongman type stuff.

    • Mike Tuchscherer

      If you’re talking about a full stop movement like rack pulls, then perhaps. But all the available research (that I’ve come across at least) suggests that it’s 1/4 second or less as long as you intend to be explosive. It’s something that would take instrumentation to measure.

      • sumoman

        In short range heavy partials like this; the time to get the weight moving from the time that actual contraction of the muscles start is 3-5 seconds. You can see on the video how long it takes for me to get the weight moving. This time can also be felt in that I can feel how long it takes to reach max force.

        Such lifts are probably of little use to powerlifting or weightlifting as the force time characteristics and ranges of motion are all wrong, but I have found them useful for my modest strongman abilities.

  • John

    Ok I was pretty sure I understood what you said in the first article but that really cleared things up. So could one still use speed work but do something to change the movement and make it harder so the weights used feel a lot heavier like 7RPE to 8RPE to be more optimal? Say do bottom up dead squats with a percentage of your meet max that makes it feel like a 7RPE to 8RPE? This also validates somewhat a few things Louie Simmons has wrote; he said to use 50-60% of a meet max on a box squat which would come to about 70-85% of a box squat max and in your terms be a 7RPE to 8RPE right?

    • Mike Tuchscherer

      I wouldn’t change the movement. If you change your grip to a weaker grip, it really just confuses the issue. Think of it like a different exercise. The weight might be 60% of your competition grip 1RM, but 70% of your close grip 1RM. Sure, the RPE will be higher and it should develop a higher Fmax. But the bulk of the adaptation is going to be going toward getting you better at the close grip bench. The transference between CG and regular grip bench then becomes another point of debate. Why not keep doing the lift you intend to improve (regular grip bench) and just add a little more weight to the bar so the RPE goes up?

  • Richard

    Mike, In your opinion would it be best to run 4 ME days a per week (2 Squat/Deadlift and 2 Press) so long as the all the exercises were variations? Or maybe 2 days or 1RM and 2 days of 3RM?

    • Mike Tuchscherer

      Exercise selection is a whole different debate. I think the more separation a lift has from your contest lift, the less carryover it will have. So if you were picking specific exercises… maybe. I still wouldn’t go with 1RM’s at that frequency. I think you’d need a higher frequency for that to be effective (as the Bulgarians were). What you need is enough volume to maintain muscle mass, but also enough high-force sets to spur adaptations to your Fmax. There are several ways to get there. I keep a training blog on my website and you’re welcome to check it out to see how I do it for myself:

  • Pingback: Speed Work: Not This Again »

  • Karsten Jensen

    Hi Nick,

    I like you article – great arguments :-)

    Allow me 3 comments:

    1. The way I have been trained there is a difference between rate of perceived exertion and rate of perceived exhaustion. If you attempt to move submaximal loads (in the ranges you mention) as fast as possible, rate of perceived exertion should be maximal, but rate of perceived exhaustion will be lower.

    2. Based on fundamental biomechanics and experience in the gym, I would say that to get maximal tension on the involved muscles during speed work, we have to lower the weight as fast as possible, abruptly de-cellerate and immediately re-accelerate. The peak tension happens in the reversal point. IF the peak tension is more or less than with a heavy weight I am not sure. Just accelerating is not enough. Lowering 55-75 % 1RM fast is very challenging and some would probably argue, dangerous/not worth the risk.

    3. Speed work may teach a lifter who has trouble engaging larger fast twitch motor units to engage these motor units in the heavy lifts. I personally don’t have to much experience with powerlifting, but I would play around in the 55-75% RM range (based on Prlepins table). If the last point is true, a naturally explosive lifter would benefit less from speed work than someone who is more of a slow type.

    With Respect,

  • Pingback: Conversations with Phil Learney | Stand on the shoulders of giants()

  • Pingback: A Terrible War | SUMOMAN()