Force, Velocity, and Weightlifting
I talk about the Force-Velocity Curve (FVC) a lot. When it comes to training, it’s one of my favorite topics because understanding it has a tremendous ability to positively impact the benefits we can derive from a program.
Especially when it comes to Weightlifting performance, and by Weightlifting performance I am talking about the sport of weightlifting, it is important to understand how utilizing knowledge of the FVC can increase an athlete’s ability to hit higher totals on the platform.
One of the things that many seem to struggle with in Weightlifting is not understanding when to go heavy and when not to. For the most part, everyone leans towards lifting heavy consistently and forget to target different adaptations that will help increase the Snatch and Clean and Jerk. We often think that to get better at these lifts, we always have to focus on strength because the sport is won and lost based on kilograms. Kilograms are the measure of mass, which is part of the Force equation (Mass x Acceleration), and so people tend to lean more towards increasing the weight on the bar because it would seem that it would automatically make the lifts go up.
But that is only true in part.
When we look at the Olympic Lifts, we have to consider the factors at play that go beyond Force. Weightlifting is dynamic. It has fast aspects and slow aspects, and each needs to be addressed. So while Absolute Strength, the ability to produce maximal force, is necessary, we cannot neglect the need for developing Strength-Speed and Speed-Strength.
First, we have to understand the need for Strength-Speed, as I find it one of the more crucial physiological adaptations for weightlifting. When we pull a snatch or clean off the floor, it moves slowly to the knees, at which there has to be a rapid increase in bar velocity to hip and through the extension. If we don't move fast enough in that portion of the lift, noted in most weightlifting teachings as the second pull, then we won't achieve as explosive an extension and create a sense of weightlessness of the bar. That weightlessness is crucial to then making successful lift. Obviously, Absolute-Strength will help get the bar to the hip, but it won't make the bar momentarily weightless.
Second, we have to consider the act of pulling or pushing under the bar in the Snatch, Clean, or Jerk. This is where Speed-Strength comes in. In order to move the body under the bar, it needs the capability to move a sub-maximal load (your bodyweight) fast enough to get under the bar. This quality is what often separates good lifters from great lifters. Strong lifters may move the bar upwards with some force and get it to float, but they may fail to get under the bar quickly enough to get into good positions. Great lifters are usually those who possess the ability to get under the bar and into positions that allow them to display their abilities.
So how do we use this information?
After assessing the weak points in our lifts, we want to take an approach that biases the needed qualities for a lifter. This usually looks like planning one or two sessions in a training week that are based more on the desired quality. For example, if you have a six day training week, and you need more Speed-Strength and the ability to move fast it may look like this:
Day 1: Speed-Strength
Day 2: Absolute-Strength
Day 3: Speed-Strength
Day 4: Strength-Speed
Day 5: Speed-Strength
Day 6: Absolute-Strength
Day 7: Rest
A layout like this would allow adequate recovery between Absolute-Strength days, while biasing Speed-Strength for three of the six days. The other day is focused on Strength-Speed. The reason why there is Absolute-Strength twice instead of Strength-Speed twice is due to the presence of both Maximal Force output and Speed Adaptations happening, so we hope to get a bit of adaptation for Strength-Speed by training the adaptations adjacent to it.
This is where we get training those qualities within a session.
When we look at training Speed-Strength, this can often be targeted through the use of lighter weights in the 50-65% range, and doesn't always have to be a full Olympic lift. Especially when we see that Speed-Strength can aid in getting under the bar, using drills that target the pull/push under the bar can be highly specific and beneficial. The main goal with these faster Speed-Strength days is obviously biased towards Speed. Anecdotally (based on what little information and personal experience is available), I find that Speed-Strength Days are best targeted with Peak Velocities in the ~1.9+ m/s range for Snatches and ~1.6+m/s for Cleans.*
Then we look at Strength-Speed, which can be targeted both with Power variations (caught above parallel) and full range lifts. Something to consider here is that Strength-Speed contributes largely to the second pull and full extension at the hip, so using partial ranges like Hang Snatches, Hang Cleans, or Block variations can be very helpful. When we look at Velocity Ranges for Strength-Speed, I like aiming for ~1.7-1.9m/s for Snatches and ~1.35-1.6m/s for Cleans.
When we look at Absolute Strength, Velocity can get a little more tricky, depending on how you plan to develop it. If you are doing the full Olympic Lifts and using Peak Velocity as a marker (which is likely the better metric for them), then I find Snatches between ~1.5-1.7m/s to be considered Absolute-Strength, and Cleans in the Ranges of ~1.15-1.35m/s. For other Absolute-Strength exercises like Squats, Presses, and Snatch/Clean Deadlifts, I like measuring Mean Velocity. Across the board, and based off of the writings of Dr. Bryan Mann, Absolute-Strength for these movements can be developed at Mean Velocities between 0.45-0.1 m/s.
However, we don't all have fancy training technology to measure velocities, so I like to think of it like this in terms of percentages, as those velocities mentioned above are more so based on my tracking of them at certain percentages. Those percentages look as follows:
Speed-Strength: 50-65% of 1RM
Strength-Speed: 60-80% of 1RM
Absolute-Strength: 80%+ of 1RM
So whether or not you have the training technology or not, you can start to see improvements by chasing the adaptations needed to get the right end result.
*This data is not conclusive and are based off of tracking my own lifts over the last few cycles. I couldn't find much information on pure weightlifters to cite, so these are anecdotal even though I find they represent what those numbers would be for a moderately competitive lifter. Dr. Mann does have some research that he has cited, of which the velocities do change by the height of the person lifting the barbell