The Significance of Speed in Weightlifting and Methods to Develop It

The Significance of Speed in Weightlifting and Methods to Develop It

Sokolov, L. N.

Tyazhelaya Atletika. Sbornik Statei. Fizkultura i Sport, Moscow, Publishers, 1971: 111 – 118,

Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.

Sportivny Press©

        For a long time weightlifting exercises were in fact strength exercises. Then as one of the basic technique components of these exercises evolved into speed, they became speed strength exercises.


high speed descent under the barbell
high speed descent under the barbell


        True, initially only the so called tempo exercises (the snatch and the clean and jerk) belonged in the speed strength category with the press still a strength exercise (E.K. Zhukov, 1959; N.V. Zimkin, 1964). At the present time the press is considered a speed strength exercise.

        In recent years the weightlifter has changed as well. The athlete with poor mobility and large muscles has yielded to the athlete with good flexibility, dexterity, and jumping ability. The build of the modern lifter is similar to a thrower in Track and Field or of a decathlete.

        There is sufficient basis to predict that one of the main tends in the evolution of weightlifting will be the increased speed of executing the exercises. Therefore, it is extraordinarily important to understand how to develop the speed the weightlifter needs and to develop the optimal ratio of strength to speed.

        First one has to determine the type of speed a weightlifter needs to possess. Speed of movement can be divided into three forms: the time of reaction to an external irritant, the frequency of execution of separate movements, and the speed of a single movement (N.V. Zimkin, 1956; V.S. Farfel, 1959; V.M. Zatsiorsky, 1966). Since weightlifting exercises are a cyclic and are not begun from a signal, it is rather obvious that a lifter needs to possess single movement speed, i.e., the ability for quick movement under conditions of large muscle tension.

        The speed of the barbell diminishes proportional to the increase in its weight, and, correspondingly, the relative height of the lift diminishes. So, one of the most important tasks in lifting a limit weight is to achieve the necessary speed of movement and, consequently, sufficient height of the lift.

        The quicker athlete is better able to communicate his force to a moving apparatus (V.N. Tutevich, 1955). All things being equal, the quick athletes generate greater force and apply it to a moving apparatus for a longer period of time.

        The ability to generate maximum force in the minimum time is determined by the speed strength formula of I = Fmax/tmax

where I is the speed strength index; F max is the maximum force produced for a given movement; tmax is the time to achieve the maximum force.

        Weightlifters need to be able to move the body quickly in accordance with the ability to execute a single movement at high speed. For example, in the first phase of the snatch (similarly with the clean and jerk and the press) the knee joints straighten, bend to shift the knees under the bar, straighten again in the explosion, and bend again during the entry into the squat position. And, all of this occurs in a fraction of a second.

        The faster the switch from one movement to another, the more force the athlete’s muscles are able to generate in each individual movement.

        D.M. Ioseliani (1955) found a high correlation between jumping ability (jumping is an indicator of speed of a single movement) and weightlifting results. There was a higher correlation between jumping and the snatch than the press. V.F. Lomeiko (1968) obtained similar data later on.

        We obtained a high correlation between the results in the tempo exercises and the movement frequency of the lower extremities (L.N. Sokolov, R. F. Kozovoi, 1969).

        It is known that the successful execution of any sport exercise is connected with the athlete’s skill to fully utilize all of the motive forces, including the force inertia (D.D. Donskoi, 1960; V.M. Dyachkov, 1967). These forces occur in the weightlifting exercises as a result of the athlete’s interaction with the barbell. Specifically, it occurs when the sportsman switches from the explosion to the squat under in all of the classic exercises and when he switches from the thrust to the split in the jerk. In mechanics it is common knowledge that a moving body has kinetic energy, which is expressed in the formula of Ek = mv2/2, (1) where m is the mass of the moving body; v  is the speed of this moving body.

        Kinetic energy is able to perform work. When the moving body comes to a stop, the kinetic energy of the moving body is dispersed to perform work, i.e., Mv2/2 = FS, (2) where F is the average force the moving body generated; S is the path over which the kinetic energy is dispersed.

        At the instant of completing the explosion (or the thrust), the athlete is moving vertically with great speed. In the next instant he has to stop moving up in order to begin the squat under. It is during the pause that the kinetic energy of the body moving upward is transferred to the barbell and acts to lift it. It is obvious from the formula that the magnitude of the kinetic energy depends directly on the mass and speed squared of the moving body.

        It is obvious from formula (2) that the force which results from the cancellation of the speed of movement depends on the magnitude of the path over which the motion was cancelled. The shorter this path, i.e., the faster the switch from the explosion to the squat under, the larger this force.

        Special calculations have revealed that during the switching from the explosion in the snatch, for instance, middleweights generate a force exceeding 200 kilograms.

        When force exceeds the weight of the barbell, it contributes to increasing its vertical speed (creates acceleration). If the force applied to the barbell is equal to its weight, the speed acquired at the end of the explosion will be maintained. Finally, if the aforementioned force is less than the weight of the barbell, the athlete will be unable to maintain the speed of nor accelerate the barbell. The positive influence on the barbell’s vertical movement will be diminished by the braking action of the force of gravity.

        The speed of the entry into the squat contributes to the increase in weightlifting results. When the athlete’s body exceeds the acceleration of a free falling body during the entry into the squat, the force of inertia which is created from the athlete interacting with the barbell contributes to lifting it. Since the force of inertia is equal to the product of the mass times the acceleration, then this force will increase along with the speed of the squatting, which in turn enhances the effectiveness of the movement.

        So, speed of movement in weightlifting enhances the utilization of the internal and external motive forces.

        Speed is of the highest importance for the snatch where the speed of the barbell reaches 2 – 2.2 m/sec with limit weights. Speed is a little less important for the clean and jerk where the maximum barbell speed reaches 1.6 – 1.8 m/sec. And, finally, speed is the even less important for the press where barbell speed is almost one half that of the snatch.

        Sport practice has confirmed this position. Improvement in speed of movement is comparatively short lived. According to S.I. Filatova (1966), jumping results improve from ages 7 – 17 for children not participating in athletics. According to V.F. Lomeiko (1968) improvement in jumping is possible up to age 20 for the non athlete. Athletes can improve jumping up to age 22. On the other hand improvement in strength increases over a longer period of time. According to A.N. Vorobeyev (1964), strength increases continue up to ages 35 – 40.

        This non uniformity in the development of strength and speed leaves its mark on the growth of results in the classic exercises. The rate of improvement in the snatch, where speed is of great importance, diminishes very noticeably with age. A similar situation, but to a lesser degree, is observed in the clean and jerk. It is not uncommon for the rate of improvement in the press to even increase after ages 20 – 25. This is indicative of the fact that although the press is a speed strength exercise, strength is the decisive factor.

        It is extraordinarily important in the training of weightlifters to take into account the non uniformity of the improvement of results in the classic exercises. It is necessary to devote maximum attention to the development of speed in the beginning, which will further the improvement of the tempo exercises, since youths are now beginning weightlifting training.

        It is not possible for youths to employ strength training with large weights. First, these exercises involve straining which is contraindicated for youths; second, they would help the press which is undesirable in the beginning stages of training.

        The fact of the matter is special research (L.N. Sokolov, 1965) has shown that intensely strengthening the muscles of the arms and shoulder girdle (and this is an obligatory condition to obtain high results in the press) has a negative influence on the assimilation of the technique of the tempo exercises. With quite the opposite relatively weak muscles of the arms and shoulder girdle noticeably facilitate the assimilation of the technique of the snatch and the clean and jerk. This is on account of the strength developed that is in accordance with the necessary physical qualities of the sport technique. The strengthening of the muscles of the legs and trunk (which are the key muscles) facilitate the assimilation of the technique of the tempo exercises. The press should be 7.5 – 10 kg less than the snatch. Subsequently, the press results will gradually even out with the snatch.

        The training of our own distinguished champion Vladimir Belyaev is a good example. He began weightlifting training at age 16. At age 22 he set a world record in the snatch. Shortly thereafter he became a world record holder in the clean and jerk. At this time he had a relatively low result in the press. His press lagged 12.5 kg behind his snatch at this time.

        In 1966, at age 26 V. Belyaev’s press result became equal to his snatch. This same year Belyaev won the world’s championships over some of the renowned lifters of that time, D. Veres, N. Ozimek, H. Zdrazila, with a world record in the total of 485 kg (147.5 + 147.5 + 190).

        One should remember that as far as developing speed is concerned, the ability to quickly execute a movement depends not only on the level of speed development but on a number of other qualities: dynamic strength, dexterity, flexibility, and the ability to concentrate volitional tension.

        In order to develop speed for weightlifting one needs to use small loads executed within the structure of the classic exercises. Weights which are 55 – 70% of maximum are the optimal training weights for developing speed;  75 – 90% weights are the optimal training weights for developing speed strength qualities.

        Various jumping exercises with a barbell which are the best means for developing special speed should have a special place for developing movement speed in weightlifters.

        The optimal state of the central nervous system is a necessary condition for effectively utilizing speed exercises. Speed exercises should be done first in workouts and not last, which one observes with people who do jumping exercises. This should be true with the use of resistance exercises as well.

        Repetition is the basic method for developing speed. The rest period between exercise bouts of speed exercises should be of sufficient duration so that the speed of execution of the next bout is not diminished. The Abalakov method is employed to check on the progress of speed training: vertical jump height, height of the lift, or recording barbell speed.

        It is desirable to periodically employ competition conditions so that the combination of the psychological lift will usually stimulate improvement in results. In order to avoid the “speed barrier” one should use a variety of resistance loads in the speed exercises.

        The correct dosage is of the greatest importance. The exercises should be done frequently, at maximum speed, and with low repetitions.

        A high muscle tonus can impede speed of movement because increasing the tonus of the working muscles hinders their relaxation (V.L. Federov, 1958).

        Special research shows that lifters who have the highest muscle tonus are those who get carried away with strength exercises. For instance, weightlifters who are good pressers have significantly higher muscle tonus than those who have high results in the tempo exercises (L.N. Sokolov, N.A. Yaroka, 1968).

        Unfortunately, there are practically no works devoted to the significance of relaxation of muscles in weightlifting. Of those treatises, that of I.V. Lovitskoi,  Relaxation Exercises, Fizkultura I Sport, 1964, is of the greatest interest.

        The author recommends special exercises which he divides into four groups. In the first group he has exercises where the muscles alternately switch from a state of tension to relaxation. In the second group are exercises where one group of muscles are relaxed is combined with tension in others. The exercises in the third group involve moving parts of the body with muscles of the other part where the moving parts are shifting under their own inertia and are relaxing. And finally, the exercises in the third group involve the person volitionally relaxing specific muscle groups to maximum.

        Relaxation of muscles needs to be given an important place in the beginning period of sport training. There is a constant reminder of the importance of relaxation of muscles in some foreign sport schools; slogans and banners are posted in training areas to encourage athletes to “Remember, only those who are successful in sport are the ones who master the skill to relax,” and  “It’s not the result, it is the freedom of movement.”

        As a result, a weightlifter needs to master:

1.        The speed of a single movement.

2.        The ability to switch from one movement to another.

3.        The ability to develop maximum muscular tension in a minimal time.

4.        The ability to volitionally relax the muscles.

It is imperative that the perfection of these qualities be part of the training of the high class athlete. Besides, this will help solve the problem connected with raising the results in the tempo exercises which we have not successfully managed over the past decade.