Heavy Dynamic Lifts - Oxymoron?

During my first year of Grad school I wrote a research paper over ballistic and speed style lifts. Exciting stuff, I know. I was from the school of thought that said if you want to be stronger and more explosive you have to lift heavier weights. If you can move a heavy weight slow then you can move a light weight fast. Force always trumped power in training. Or so I thought. I began writing this paper with a skewed bias but by the end my research told me something completely different. Performing ballistic movements at lower intensities and higher speeds (35-45% 1RM) improved overall 1RM equal to heavy lifting and it improved on field performance even more. Likewise performing submaximal (70%) power versions of the olympic lifts produced more power than their full and heavier counterparts. I was flabbergasted. Everything I had learned from working with the college teams was technically wrong. As a powerlifter I didn’t want to believe, but as a coach to athletes it made sense.

So why would I make my powerlifters do heavy, not so fast, dynamic lifts? I’ll explain.

In the field of strength and conditioning there is an understood concept called the Force Velocity Curve. The theory is that the more force necessary the less velocity can be generated and vice versa. Obviously, if someone can produce a ton of force then their curve is going to be skewed one direction and if someone can produce a lot of velocity it will be skewed the other way. The FVC theory is a great concept but when it comes to actual training it gets a bit muddy. I looked at training from a sports transfer aspect. Lower force, higher velocity sports athletes need to be skewed towards velocity (tennis, soccer, etc) while higher force lower velocity sports athletes might want to skew the other way (Football linemen, powerlifters, etc), and then some athletes need to be in the middle (running backs, oly lifters, etc). A powerlifter doesn’t need to be that fast. In fact, a powerlifter needs to generate high amounts of force with just enough momentum to overcome mechanical disadvantage (sticking points). We’re more like forcelifters. Performing high velocity low force lifts creates a unique adaptation towards the velocity side of the curve, but when high force is applied that adaptation becomes mute. On the other hand, performing high force lifts with faster velocity can create an adaptation of faster heavy lifts. The idea is that you train the neuromuscular component to speed up the contractility of muscle during high force lifts. Increasing the speed of a 500 pound deadlift from 1 m/s to 1.3 m/s could potentially have more carry over than increasing the speed of a 300 pound deadlift from 2 m/s to 2.3 m/s. So why do so many weightlifters perform higher speed lower resistance lifts? One of the reasons is because the Russians founded the theory of the speed deficit. When they trained Olympic weightlifters they would notice that their force lifts would increase while their speed lifts didn’t. They devised that the velocity adaptations where lagging behind the force adaptations, so they would alter the program to have the lifters perform submaximal lifts at high speeds. And it worked. That being said, powerlifters do not need a very high speed adaptation to complete the lifts (just enough to overcome inertia and drive momentum).

It is inarguable that speed style training, and force style training elicit their own specific neurological adaptations. This means that lifting fast creates a speed adaptation while lifting heavy causes a force adaptation, with only minor crossover between the two. This truth has caused a lot of researchers to assume that you must move fast to become faster. A lot of researchers, but not all. Behm (1993) showed that speed adaptations can occur from intention of movement and not just movement speed. Subjects were broken into two groups where one group moved a light resistance at a high velocity while the other moved a higher resistance at a fixed slower speed. Both groups were cued to move the resistance as fast as possible, and both groups showed similar speed adaptations. This would seem counter to what I concluded from the paper I mentioned earlier. That is, until I take all of the research I mentioned and I critically break it down. All of the subjects in the studies that suggest using lighter weights faster were team sports athletes (rugby, soccer, football). The majority of them also had less than a 1.5x bodyweight back squat throughout the testing. This tells me that their overall force production is statistically lower than that of a competitive powerlifter. This could suggest why they saw a force adaptation from the squat jumps. For team athletes like football or soccer this still makes sense to me. In general a lot of them have lower overall strength (excluding higher level football players) and then need to be faster for the on-field performance. However, when we look at powerlifters who are pushing 2-3x bodyweight lifts these studies should be viewed with some prejudice. If anything, powerlifters should care less about velocity and more about rate of force development (RFD). The RFD tells us how fast someone can generate minimal to maximal force. The majority of research suggests that heavier training elicits better 1RM and RFD adaptations. For a powerlifter, lifting a heavier resistance with a “LIFT FAST” cue should elicit an improved RFD adaptation and 1RM improvement.


This may still sound like black magic. It is very anti-Russian-weightlifting and those guys were some of the best at the sport of barbell juggling. That being said, I’m talking about powerlifters not Olympic lifters. In powerlifting, the speed deficit is less of an issue. All a powerlifter has to do is maintain enough momentum to get through stick points. The faster the RFD the greater the momentum. Likewise improving the speed at which higher forces are moved can theoretically increase RFD. If you move a lot of weight pretty fast, then moving even more just fast enough is the goal. Calling a slightly not slow deadlift a dynamic effort pull is kind of silly. The measured velocity leaves many people wanting more. What we can’t see is the neuromuscular recruitment and adaptation that comes from intending to lift that heavy weight extra fast. Programming for this kind of lifting requires us to dump the 50-60% 1RM speed lifts and jump up towards the 80-90% 1RM speed lifts. Likewise a lot of research suggests that getting between 6 and 8 sets will add even more adaptation towards this. The heaviness of these lifts will require a bit more rest – enough to maintain a similar speed throughout the training.

I’m not going to hold you down and force you to believe me. I probably won’t argue with you when you tell me that my logic is stupid because (blah blah blah). I get that there are some amazing coaches out there who don’t do what I’m saying to do. The great thing about different models of programming is that you have to take stuff from inside the box and then drag it outside to create a brand new way to get people even stronger. As raw drug free lifters get closer and closer to suited lifters lifts we need to realize that doing it the same way may not be the best way. Give it a try and see what happens. Or nah.

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About Me

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BS, MS - exercise Physiology
EPC - Board Certified Exercise Physiologist

Published Thesis
The impact of three different forms of warm up on performance

The Effects of Glucose Supplementation on Barbell Velocity and Fatiguability in Weightlifting - A pilot study"

The Accute Effects Of Different Squat Intensities on Vertical Jump Performances
The Accute Effects of Different Squat Intensities On Jump Performance

Graduate from Midwestern State University, founder of Endunamoo Barbell Club, and Endunamoo Strength and Conditioning. Working to help athletes physically reach their goals and achieve scholarships while spiritually pouring into as many people as possible on all platforms.