Thoughts and Experiences on the Dynamic Effort Method/Speed Work – Part 2

In Part 2 I want to cover how I’ve used the Dynamic Effort method (DE) with the athletes I train. Again, if you aren’t familiar with this concept, more info can be found at Westside Barbell. Almost all of the info on that site is within the context of training for powerlifting. Since I don’t currently train any powerlifters, I’ve adapted and experimented with many protocols for my athletes.

In general, the two biggest populations I’ve worked with over the last 10 years are girl’s soccer and volleyball. The average age being about 16 and with little to no strength training experience. I’m just going to share a few general observations on implementation of the Dynamic Method for non strength-sport athletes (from here on out simply called, athletes, for brevity’s sake) as well as provide a couple case studies.

General Observations

1. Movements -I’ve only ever used this for squatting, box squatting, and deadlifting. I’ve considered using it for barbell hip thrusts or with our new Scorpion machine from Bridge Fitness but something about the smaller range of motion makes me question the usefulness. Maybe the horizontal hip extension exercises would be best as a second movement on days when I’ve had an athlete do speed squats and want them to also do speed work with a hip hinge but without as much axial compression load. It may also be a good variation for in season work for the same reason. TBD.

I rotate between box heights and free squatting for the athletes I train. Obviously this is a pretty big departure from the Westside Barbell methodology, but the sport of powerlifting is so discreet in its competitive manifestation in terms of joint angles and such, that I feel a more varied approach is prudent for other athletes. I don’t see the need to always break up the concentric and eccentric components when this is a biomotor pattern that is considerably less common (than the ecc/con coupled) in  the sports we work with.

For deadlifts, we pretty much always pull from the floor. If there are mobility issues, such as with taller athletes, I may have them pull from blocks.

2. More Sets – I think that athletes need to do more sets and more volume in general than what is typically recommended. Depending on the movement, you generally see recommendations between 8-12 sets. I started out with similar set numbers but have shifted those numbers to 10-18 sets over time. This is mainly due to the fact that the original numbers are based on powerlifters who are much “better” at doing the movements. For a given percentage, they are imposing a bigger workload on their body because their 1RM is closer to their actual physiological max. An athlete’s 50% of their 1RM does not provide the same stimulus as a powerlifter’s 50% 1RM because the powerlifter is so much better at recruiting muscle fibers in a specific way to complete a lift that they are undoubtedly more familiar with. To accommodate for this alteration in stimulus, I think it is necessary to provide more volume and one way to do that is to increase the sets.

Another reason to work with higher set numbers is due to the fact that it’s not uncommon for athletes to improve their bar velocity after several sets. I’m not sure if it’s post activation potentiation or just less neuromuscular familiarity with the movement but athletes seem to need more “warm ups” than powerlifters. I’ve found that it’s sometimes just best to extend the number of sets in order to get more true work sets at the velocity you are looking for.

3. Increased Variance of Percentages – This is probably the biggest area that I question my own judgement. What I typically do now is start out at 50% of 1RM in bar weight and 25% in accommodating resistance and then deviate from there. I usually plan it out in three week cycles and shift the bar weight up by 5-10% for each microcycle and then move back down the the original bar weight and change the form or magnitude of the accommodating resistance on weeks 4-6. In the off-season I tend to program a little heavier in the cycles by taking bigger week-to-week jumps and during the in-season, I keep it a little lighter and take smaller jumps. I think the overall workload, including technical and tactical training, needs to be considered when manipulating all the variables, but especially this one.

In my experience, once you get above 65-70% of 1RM, the bar slows down so much that you’re no longer in the part of the force-velocity curve that you probably want to be. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with working at these percentages/speeds, but I find that the athletes may have less to gain. If you deload the accommodating resistance to help bar speed, it deemphasizes the end range of motion and limits the specificity of the movement to the sport (probably, depending on the sport and movement).

4. More Reps – For reasons similar to the increased sets, I’ve also shifted the reps slightly to include more triples and occasionally sets of four. I’ve fooled around some with sets of five but you either have to bring the resistance down lower than I’d like or they can’t keep the intended velocity. I’d love to hear how someone else has had success with higher rep ranges because I just can’t figure it out. Maybe it’s just that fatigue gets the best of everyone and nobody can maintain the high velocity or maybe there are certain types of athletes that can. I’d like to try this with a high level sprint cyclist but none have yet come through my door. If you know a high level sprint cyclist, tell them to call me.

5. Rest Intervals – Put a stopwatch in front of the athlete and have them begin their setup every time the seconds hit :00. This is probably the thing I’ve changed the least over the years. It seems that limiting the rest breaks will help with high threshold motor unit recruitment. All the athletes blathering on about fast-twitch muscles without knowing their ass from their elbow, I got you here. If they can’t keep up the velocity with this pace, you’re probably need to change one of the other variables like resistance or reps. Don’t monkey around as much with this one. I’ve seen Louie Simmons go with shorter breaks for bench press but the setup for squat and deadlift seem to necessitate the full minute in my experience. Also, from a logistic standpoint, it’s a pain to go every :45 or :50 if you’re going off a standard stopwatch.

6. Specialty Bars – I have a couple specialty bars at my disposal: a Safety Squat Bar, a Yoke Bar, a Cambered Bar, and a Swiss Bar. All of them are from EliteFTS, if you’re wondering. I’ve really only used the first three with athletes as dictated by the movement choices (and really the first two are very similar). I use the SSB and the Yoke bar quite a bit for DE work. I find that it’s got a great learning curve for people who aren’t world class technicians at squatting. Also, for my overhead athletes, mainly volleyball, baseball, and swimming, it keeps them out of external shoulder rotation, which they are getting enough of during their sport practice.

Everyone pretty much hates the cambered bar and has trouble getting comfortable under it. I would normally be inclined to force them to use it but I have such a limited time to work with the athletes that I don’t want to waste any listening to them bitch and moan about the bar selection. Also it’s has a bigger diameter and most of my athletes are small girls and lack the upper back musculature to feel tight in their setup with it. I know the benefits of the bar but I feel like there are more productive modifications to make to the training instead of using this.

7. Measuring Bar Velocity – This is probably my biggest area of concern. Having spent almost ten years in a biomechanics lab with all the most awesome equipment you could ask for, I am now left with very little. I’m not complaining but rather questioning the qualitative nature of my own eyes. I wish I had a Tendo Unit or a GymAware or a MyoTest or something similar. Soon enough one will be mine and I will harness the powers on quantification and bestow its virtues on my athletes. Until then, I guess I’ll just continue using my eyes and my knowledge of what percentages will give you in terms of corresponding velocities.

Part 3 will cover a couple case studies that I’ve been working on for the past couple years and talk discuss my recommendations for getting an athlete started with this type of training.

Here is a preview for the individuals I’m going to discuss:

MK – 17 year old female, sprinter, track & field, one full offseason of trying to put a square peg in a round hole

ES – 16 year old female, forward, soccer, 3 years of offseasons, awesome natural squatter

KL – 21 year old female, forward, soccer, longest tenured athlete, 8 years of training, 4 years using DE method, most explosive athlete I’ve trained

AD – 18 year old sprinter,  swimmer, 5 years of training, 2 years with DE, plauged by inconsistency but still found value

BB – 18 year old female outside hitter, volleyball, 18 months training, 12 months with DE, enormously strong athlete that needs to create force faster

My Own Training… Part 1
In the Training of Athletes… Part 2
Case Studies… Part 3
Where to go from here… Part 4