Spectrums of Absolute Strength vs. Absolute Speed

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Today’s guest post comes to you via strength coach, Adam Rees, owner of GRITGym located in Iowa City, Iowa (the home state of one Capt. James T. Kirk, thank you very much).

I’ve long championed the notion that strength is the foundation for everything else.  You can’t have power, agility, endurance, a great hair day, without first having a solid base of strength of which to “pool” your resources from.

In today’s post Adam dives into that very topic and helps break down why strength is so important.


Strength and Conditioning could be fairly well simplified with:

-Lift heavy loads slow.

-Lift light loads fast.

-Jump and run.

However it gets more complicated when we take on an individual’s age, training age, demands of their sport, the time of year, and shear physical and mental capabilities.

This is the Absolute Strength vs Absolute Speed Spectrum of which all of Strength and Conditioning programs are based and how it applies to the programming for athletes.

This is more reasoning for why we should be doing less Olympic lifting or training for power in general. As well as a guide to when and where we want more or less emphasis on sprint and agility work throughout the year. Basically, we need more strength.

There is no speed without power, and no power without strength.

So emphasize strength first, then we can start thinking about the stuff that gets kids noticed, like 40-yd dash times and pitching velocities (of which neither can be trusted simply because of the human thumb, and cheap radar guns lie), not to mention the ‘fishing story’ principle.

I should also mention that getting noticed and getting recruited are two different things. A kid that throws a legit 85 MPH (emphasis on legit) in high school but gets taken yard three times a game because he’s throwing belt high and down the middle every pitch or he’s so weak and has such little lower body strength that he’s incapable of lasting more then four innings….won’t be setting off any recruiting alarms anytime soon, even though there’s untapped potential.

A fast 40-yd time is similar if a player is unable to put a hit on anyone because he crumbles every time he tries. There’s no use in a guy who looks like Tarzan but plays like Jane.

Absolute Strength vs. Speed

In Season

During the competitive season athletes are already getting enough running and jumping during practice and competition, there is little to no need to program extra.

They need to work more towards the opposite end of the spectrum because they are spending a large amount time on the absolute speed end of the spectrum. In season training should consist of controlled reps of 70-90% 1RM, much further towards the Absolute STRENGTH end of the spectrum and away from the already satisfied absolute speed end.

Post Season:

After the season athlete’s bodies are in shambles. They’ve just torched themselves for a few months and it’s time to take a more rehabilitative/corrective approach to training and promote recovery.

There’s little need for plyo and sprints, but increasing med ball work as well as power movements is beneficial as they aren’t performing nearly as much now that the season is over. This portion of the year is simply to bridge the gap to their off season and prepare the body for it, which in many ways will be just as stressful on their bodies as their season, but in a much more controlled and supervised manor.

This portion will only last 3-5weeks.

Off Season:

Now that the body has recovered and is ready to perform we need a balance of the entire spectrum.

This is the fun part of training.

Note from TG:  Of course, if you’re Kansas City relief pitcher (and long time CP athlete), Tim Collins, off-season training includes riding your unicycle around

In the offseason we can tailor workouts daily with grip and vertical jump measurements (auto-regulation) as well having a more “open” schedule to work with, which is where we can make huge gains.

This is where we spend quite a bit of time at BOTH ends of the spectrum. The idea of spectrums is that if we ‘master’ both ends, we’ve mastered everything in between. During the offseason we’re spending the majority of our time at the two ends with this very thing in mind. We still bridge the distance with some power work such as using speed pulls and kettlebells, but the majority of our time is spent on both opposing ends.

Pre Season:

During pre season we’re starting to move more towards the specificity of the sport, which outside of long endurance races, means more speed and more skill work.

This means we’re going to be spending more time towards the absolute speed end of the spectrum. Not necessarily moving away from the absolute strength, however we’re not going to be trying for a 1RM during this time.

Wrestlers start getting more mat time; football players need more running and ball handling or pumbling work; baseball players start throwing and hitting.

** Baseball gets interesting due to it’s unilateral nature, so we need to program in extra arm care and med ball work as well as certain core exercises for an athlete’s opposing side, so a right  handed thrower and hitter typically may need more shot puts and hip tosses on his/her left side.

Here we’re tailoring workouts based off an athlete’s needs and specificity of their respective sport.

Youth Training:

Train for Strength first.

Youth athletes should already be getting enough speed work during their PLAY that needs to be coming from an assortment of activities such as: Wrestling, Football, Baseball, basketball (but only for the hand eye, the rest of this sport is sickeningly awful for athletic development, especially the mental side), Swim, Snow Board, Rollerblade, Dodgeball, Skateboard, TAG, Soccer, Boxing/Martial Arts, Gymnastics/parkour (although it’s not always kind to the spine), Rock Climb, Fishing, Etc.

This is why youth athletes do NOT need these speed camps that are becoming increasingly popular(or the kettlebell movement that’s taken hold, kettlebells are a power movement).

Strength first, not speed, and not power, but strength.

Note from TG:  for those interested, HERE’s my take on whether or not youth athletes need power or speed training.

Hint:  they need it about as much as much as we need another Kardashian spin-off.

Training for anything else is a waste of time, and a huge waste of money for parents. Speed will take care of itself with more strength. Besides that, from a psychological perspective, the less a kid “thinks” about his running form….the better.

Keep it FUN, get strong (farmers walks, prowler pushes, monkey bars, climb ropes, bail hay-meaning deadlift, beat stuff with a sledge hammer), then go play around, be a kid.

More NON-competitive action and unorganized play like this is better as well. Participate in ONLY ONE season at a time, make sure to get some down time, and get outdoors to do something fun at some point too: rock climb somewhere real, go fishing, canoe/kayak, maybe even hiking.  And for the love of all that’s holy, turn off the tv!

About the Author

Adam Rees is Founder of GRIT GYM, a gym based on results, creating a culture and lifestyle of performance, strength, health and freedom to live life on your own terms.

Adam attended Wartburg College, worked under nationally recognized Strength Coach Matt McGettigan at ISU and is generally a glutton to information and improvement in all forms.

Feel free to email questions to adam@gritgym.com and/or visit his blog at AdamRees.blogspot.com, Facebook.com/gritgym, or Twitter.com/adamrees.



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Comments for This Entry

  • Doug

    Thanks for the interesting post. Sorry if this is a sidetrack, but I'm curious about why you're so down on hoops.

    July 18, 2013 at 10:20 am | Reply to this comment

    • Steven Trolio

      I thought it was a great post. I'm also curious, however, about basketball being "sickeningly awful" for athletic development? I'd say it's definitely more aerobic in nature, but just thinking about the athletic ability (speed, lateral quickness, vertical jump) of some basketball players makes that statement a bit confusing. Not sure what's implied by the "mental side" either. Anyway, totally agree with your other points. Thanks!

      July 18, 2013 at 11:18 am | Reply to this comment

      • jack

        3 potential reasons: 1) Lots of time spent hunched over, spine flexed with forward head posture 2) Lots of jumping, could make an athlete too quad dominant 3) Basketball shoes are pretty awful for the feet/ankles

        July 18, 2013 at 10:17 pm | Reply to this comment

        • Adam Rees

          Hope you don't mind Tony but I'd like to attempt answering some of these. Before trying to go into this, which will probably turn into a post at the blog sometime, I should mention that this is mostly opinion. H/e, yes, too much jumping would be a concern, and yeah, the shoes suck. The time spent in good athletic position is awesome, but kids aren't often very good at getting/staying in that position. My main thing w/ basketball is that it teaches lazy habits from a movement and work ethic standpoint. Boxing out, playing really close D and driving to the hole are the only times the sport has any merit and even then there's a gray area that they dare not go "too hard" or "too fast" b/c a ref is required to make a JUDGEMENT call on if there was "too much contact". Otherwise it teaches kids how to look at one or two guys doing work while taking a break hanging in the back. And sadly it sometimes teaches them that it's acceptable to blame things on the refs. Every game I've ever played in the opposing team said I played too close D, boxed out too aggressively, and that I drove to the hole like I was playing football. Idk what that was supposed to mean. It's also an extremely simple game, not much mental flexing going on. Set picks, pass the ball, pay attention to where everyone is standing, put the ball in the hoop.....ummmmm. And it's way too easy. It's just not very physically or emotionally demanding. If you take a play off, big deal. Take one second off in wrestling and you're pinned, take a play off in football and you're on your back. Don't get me wrong, the guys in the NBA are some of the best athletes in the world. But for a young kid, basketball is not a good sport for developing athleticism or a mental edge. If they have fun doing it I could care less, but it's simply recreation that's trying to be made into something more. And it's too bad that a society that's often lazy, entitled, and unwilling to think for their self is further and further digging into an idea that it's more than a game. We're murdering "sport".

          July 21, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Bob Gorinski

      Great essay Doug. But yes I too am wondering about that. I have 3 boys under the age of 10 who are involved in youth athletics, and if you want a sport that's terrible for 5 and 6-year olds, it's definitely baseball. My first son played T ball, and ever since we've played wiffle ball in the back yard and we all get a LOT more out of it. [And trust me I love baseball, just not for anyone less than, say 9 or 10).

      July 18, 2013 at 10:15 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Casey

    Love and agree the emphasis on strength and that's a great chart! Only wondering why you're saying "no speed without power, and no power without strength?" Quite broad as there are many athletes who are very fast but don't have any strength yet. I'm on your side when you say strength will turn that speed into a more consistent and well rounded athlete, but do you mean that you can't have elite (college/professional level) speed without that basis of strength? I'm a little confused as you went into the youth sports with that statement. I probably want a kid to have speed first rather than absolute strength as they hit they testosterone stage. Just my opinion though. Thanks for writing the article!

    July 18, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Adam Rees

      It could've been preceded w/ "TRAIN FOR" to be more clear. So train for strength first, when they have ample strength we can start thinking about power, and that's the bridge to speed. It's not necessarily meant for what a perspective athlete necessarily already has.

      July 21, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Benjamin Pickard

    Great info, thanks!

    July 20, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Mike Anderson

    Adam, great post. But, like others, I'm interested to hear why you are down on basketball as a sport that's capable of improving a young athletes athletic development. I agree that basketball has a particular mindset that tends to go along with it, but unfortunately many young athletes nowadays will have this mindset regardless of what sport they are playing. I'm also curious about your thought that we should be doing less Olympic weightlifting. I understand what you mean about working "either end of the spectrum and the middle will get better", but I disagree simultaneously. You can sprint and jump at one end of the spectrum and pull heavy-as-fuck-deadlifts on the other end, but that won't make your power clean go up. Several variations of the Olympic lifts comfortably straddle the line of speed and strength: you can't pull a heavy clean without being both fast and strong. Watch a Wil Fleming or Mikola Tokola video and tell me that they aren't both really damn fast and really frigging strong. Now, I don't disagree with you that kids need to be doing more playing rather than organized sports, that's a pretty common thought nowadays, but there's no reason to not include variations of all different lifts (as applicable to an individual athlete) within the program of a young athlete. Looking forward to hearing back.

    July 21, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Adam Rees

      The basketball thing.....as a fun driveway/playground pick up game, great. As a sport, it lacks character development, and there's nothing particularly appealing for developing athletic ability. I like the hand eye, close D, boxing out. and driving to the hole, but that's about it. A sport like wrestling is absurdly superior. To be honest. I see very little value in the olympic lifts UNLESS you are an olympic lifter. Takes too much time to learn the oly's when I can put weight (db, kb, bb, trap bar, etc) in a kids hands and have him/her jump and get the same benefit. I think it's a little silly to waste a lot of good training time to learn a lift that doesn't have as high a ROI as front squats and deadlifts. In the video I state how the "power" lifts are there as a bridge. There's nothing wrong w/ training here, it's more so that you'll spend very little time doing so. And anything can be a power movement, even squats and deads. Keep kicking this idea around, I think you'll come to a similar conclusion. Really the genius of the kettlebell is in the swing and the med ball is the half kneeling hip toss, both get kids bodies to connect all the dots on how to move (such as loading their hips) w/o thinking about it. There's all sorts of reasoning during program design.

      July 22, 2013 at 8:46 am | Reply to this comment

  • Brian

    Respectfully, I totally disagree with you about basketball. The sport can develop quickness, acceleration/deceleration, lateral movement, bursts of anaerobic power with constant aerobic demands, high skill acquisition(hand-eye), and high level reaction time. I played basketball, football, and baseball throughout high school and two years of small college basketball, and personally I was at my most athletic during the basketball seasons. You can take a play off in any sport, aside from one-on-one combat sports. That's an individualistic work ethic thing. Trust me, as a K-8 phys ed. teacher and middle school coach, I've seen kids take it easy in many of those sports you listed including soccer, baseball, football, volleyball, dodgeball...they get out of it what they put into it. Going hard 100% is something they have to develop within them. To say the game lacks character development seems odd. Any sport or challenge can develop character in kids when you provide a character-driven, empowering environment to them, and help them realize the great benefits to sport and being part of a team - not just winning. I've coached middle school boys and girls basketball for seven years and I firmly believe those student-athletes walked away from my program more athletic, more skilled, and better kids as we focus on character development throughout the season. I get massive sign-ups every year because the basketball program has a reputation for providing a very encouraging, fun, yet challenging environment. Just because you've had bad experiences with basketball, don't discredit it for others, especially kids who enjoy and benefit from it.

    July 22, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Adam Rees

      Agreed. On many many levels AGREED. That's what I say in above comments, in different words. I'd put basketball w/ soccer. A game to last that long w/ no breaks means it's too easy. Keep in mind that I'm comparing it to wrestling. And pieces of football. It's a game full of grey area judgement calls, passive aggressiveness, and simple strategies. It teaches what people complain about in our society. Entitled and lazy. But like I said, I'm comparing it to wrestling.

      July 22, 2013 at 10:44 pm | Reply to this comment

      • Brian

        You can make strategy in any sport very simple or very complex, including basketball. A game that lasts a long time with no breaks is too easy? Where is the logic in that statement? Basketball is way more challenging to the body than baseball, volleyball, dodgeball, etc., especially when you teach kids how to move without the ball, how to get teammates open, running the floor, crashing boards, pressing, etc. Again, it only teaches kids those downfalls of society if that's what their coach and parents model for them - does not matter the sport! If you teach kids about great sportsmanship, competing with class, and realizing it's okay to make mistakes (including the refs), they can develop their character - yes even in basketball. The greatest character driven, morally driven coach to ever live was a basketball coach. He obviously thought the game had merit in developing young people. His name was John Wooden.

        July 23, 2013 at 6:40 pm | Reply to this comment

        • Adam Rees

          John Wooden taught a different game than is taught today. Keep scrutinizing the game. Eventually you'll probably see what I see. But I get your point. It's a tough sell being in the minority on this one. People love basketball like people love long distance running....see what I mean?

          July 24, 2013 at 8:53 am | Reply to this comment

  • Mark P

    Thanks for having Adam Rees post this write-up. This whole concept is extremely interesting and I've always pondered over the relationship between speed and strength, and the proper ways to train them. Much thanks!

    July 25, 2013 at 11:00 am | Reply to this comment

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