Speed Hides Need

If you have to blast through a movement to get from point A to point B, you don’t own the positions required to do it with control.

An old adage of the strength coaching sphere tells us that “speed hides need.” This is a concept that any experienced strength coach understands and applies to find areas of weakness, deficiency, or “need” in their athletes. Understanding this concept and watching for the tendency to arise in your own training gives you one of the most valuable tools in the self-assessment, self-coaching toolbox.

This rule has two applications. The first applies to speed and power development movements such as sprinting, jumping, kettlebell swings, and the Olympic lifts. These are meant to be as fast and explosive as possible by design; their benefit lies in their speed. However, this speed can obscure weaknesses in certain ranges. It is immensely important to use slower movements with careful control to bring awareness to the entire range. In other words, be sure that you own a movement pattern before introducing speed and power. Periodically revisit these slower, controlled movements with the intention of examining the entire range.

  • You can use deadlifts and good-mornings to develop awareness and proficiency in the hinge pattern to more safely and effectively train the kettlebell swing and Olympic lifts.
  • You can develop awareness for your foot position, foot strike, hips, and knees while standing and walking before introducing explosive sprint and jump training.

Do You Own the Whole Movement?

The second area to apply the rule comes when you require speed to move through difficult ranges of motion during movements intended to be more controlled. This is almost certainly a sign of a strength or mobility deficiency (or both). This tendency typically presents itself in one of two ways: during every repetition of a set, or only during the later reps in a set.

Both represent two sides of the same coin and inform similar aspects of your training. If you find yourself moving quickly through certain ranges right off the bat, you either lack the strength to control the movement in that position, or lack the mobility to access that position without momentum to take you there. If you find yourself moving with control and grace through the beginning of a set, but relying on speed to complete the set, your body has told you the places that fatigue first.

Regardless of how this tendency might arise in your training, simple awareness of this rule makes you a much more astute self-coach. Paying attention to when you put on a burst of speed shows you where you need to examine further.

Check out the video below for common examples of where I typically find that speed hides need.

  • Speed through the “roll and rise” phase of a Turkish get up typically betrays core and lat weakness.
  • Bouncing through the bottom position of a squat typically shows a lack of strength in the full-depth position or an inability to achieve it without dropping quickly into it.
  • A quick lurch of speed to top-out in a pull up shows a lack of mobility to access (or hold) this position, whereas speed out of the dead hang in a pull up typically means weak or inactive lats or the other muscles associated with shoulder activation and scapulae retraction (pulling your shoulder blades back and down).