Q&A: How many reps should I do? Speed Edition

One of the questions I get asked the most is, “How should I lift to get faster?  Lots of repetitions with light weight, or low rep training?”

It’s not as tricky as you think, but before you can understand training for speed and quickness, you have to understand the chart I made (above).  Basically, low rep training develops maximal strength, while higher rep sets lead to hypertrophy and eventually, with even higher reps, muscular endurance.  Of course, this is a simplified depiction of what really goes on, and there is some “overflow” of each quality;  i.e. training for 6 or 8 reps will build strength, while also developing hypertrophy and making your muscles grow.

Great.  Now, what about speed?  Well… strength makes speed.  The stronger you are, the faster you will be able to move a given mass.  So, first you need to get strong with some heavy low repetition training.

“…but won’t grinding out slow, heavy reps, and moving slowly make me slower?”  Yes and no.

You definitely perform the way you train.  So, if all you ever do is super heavy/super slow sets; you will eventually get slower.  However, low rep training is also the most effective at training your body’s “fast twitch” muscle fibers, so stick with the low reps.  Don’t worry about speed right away.

Once you’ve developed a base of strength, you can start to be more concerned with your speed development.  Now it’s time to reduce the weight that you’re training with… but don’t do more repetitions!  Instead, continue with low rep training using a load that is about 60% of your 1 Rep Max.  Move that weight as FAST as possible (known as a ballistic tempo) for each repetition you complete.

Finally, speed is created AFTER your time in the weight room.  Strength training gives your body a head start, but the gains you make in the gym are only truly converted to sport specific speed by practicing your sports.  If you’re a sprinter, sprint as fast as possible.  If you’re a boxer, box as fast as possible.

At the end of the day, the only way to get faster is to move fast.

Good luck!