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  • Nathanael Littauer, CSCS

Improving The Olympic Lifts With Speed Squats

I think a lot of people like to see and perform heavy lifts. There's something fun about it, or that leaves a set of accomplishment. But what happens when we swing the strength pendulum too far in which direction? Is that a thing in weightlifting?

Weightlifting, in it's essence, relies heavily on the physical abilities of Strength-Speed. We need to be able to move near maximal weights at high velocities. Yes, building maximal strength is important, but we need to move weights fast as well in order to develop the Strength-Speed qualities needed for success in weightlifting.


So how do we train both? How do we keep our strength but learn to move fast?


Here's how I like to approach it:


Louie Simmons, in his use of Max Effort and Dynamic Days, utilizes some form of alternating heavy and light days in the training of his powerlifters. I like to take a very similar approach to Louie's, while combing it with traditional weightlifting principles of high squat volumes throughout the week.


Usually, I have athlete's squat 3-4 times per week, alternating between high speed and high load. For example, an athlete may squat on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in a split that looks like:

Monday-Front Squat

Wednesday - Back Squat

Friday - Front Squat

On each alternating week, I switch which variation is used (front squat becomes a back squat).


Now, if an athlete is more strength dominant, which is usually the case for most people coming into the sport of weightlifting that has weight training experience. They've spent years lifting weight in slow and controlled manners, which has left them with the adaptation to move the bar slowly. When this is the case, that training split may look like the following:

Mon 1: Front Squat - 8x2 @ 50%

Wed 1: Back Squat - 5x2 @ 85%

Frid 1: Front Squat - 4x3 @ 75%

Mon 2: Back Squat - 8x2 @ 50%

Wed 2: Front Squat: 5x2 @ 85%

Fri 2: Back Squat 4x3 @ 75%


Now, depending on what the true ability of an athlete is, these loads or volumes can increase each week or over a two week microcycle (which I like because I can program more variety than I can program in a single week). The actual percentages and volumes can vary, because there are two main things that we want to account for: total tonnage and bar speed.


If we look at the total tonnages for the above outline, you'll notice that the tonnages would be relatively the same across the week. For an athlete with a 500lb back squat and 400lb front squat it would look like this:

Mon 1: Front Squat - 8x2 @ 50% = 3,200lbs

Wed 1: Back Squat - 5x2 @ 85% = 4,250lbs

Frid 1: Front Squat - 4x3 @ 75% = 3,600lbs

Mon 2: Back Squat - 8x2 @ 50% = 4,000lbs

Wed 2: Front Squat: 5x2 @ 85% = 3,400lbs

Fri 2: Back Squat 4x3 @ 75% = 4,500lbs


As you can see, the load stays fairly steady or undulates slightly over the period of time, with some days being higher intensity based on percentage, and others based on volume. The higher percentage days still have roughly the same tonnage, but they will contribute to maximum strength more dominantly. The lower percentage days are there to work on bar speed and how fast one can move the bar.

Now, the mid range days are the ones I find to be the most important. Those mid range days have a great ability to develop Strength-Speed, as they can be done close enough to a max strength session to utilize some amounts of potentiation, and can be moved a bit more quickly.


Over time, the ultimate goal is to add tonnage to the squats as a whole, while adding the most to the lighter weights. This may have lifters doing upwards of 10 sets of squats at maximal velocity at the given load (at 50%, I like to shoot for an average velocity of 1.0 m/s+). One principle that I took from Louie's writings on dynamic effort days was the use of short rest periods. On those low-weight-high-speed training days, there is only about 60 seconds of rest between sets. Part of this is to create repeated efforts that lead to power endurance, but also because we don't want sessions lasting 4 hours.


I will say that I have used this method with the Snatch and Clean & Jerk as well with success for myself and my athletes. However, while those lighter/faster days tend to be more structured with prescribed loads and percentages, the max effort or heavier days tend to utilize more variations in the form of Snatch complexes or Clean & Jerk Complexes.

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