My boss and I have recently been batting around the idea of speed work as a deload vs. speed work as technique work. Or not exactly versus - is it effectively both? Is it really training spee? Or is it ingraining technique while provide just enough effort to maintain strength without being so heavy you outdo your ability to recover?
This isn't our idea.
Mike Robertson blogged about this back in mid-September:
"Instead of doing 5, 8 or even 10 sloppy reps, they're performing 1, 2 or 3 high quality, technically sound repetitions per set instead.
So its not necessarily the fact that they're training for speed, but the fact that they're really starting to dial their technique in that gives them the most carryover."
(bold in the original)
The idea is you aren't really training yourself to pull faster per se. You aren't increasing your rate of muscle contraction - that might not even be possible. But you are definitely training correct form, which makes for an improved lift, which in turn feeds improved strength. Mike Robertson also suggests that this might have been "Kind of like a forced deload" where the heavy lifters who first started using DE training got a nice physical break, too.
I tended to favor the first over the second - lift fast and groove the technique. But I also see the latter - if your "deload" is a weekly day of benching or squatting or deadlifting fast but light, you are still getting a deload. You are reinforcing patterns but not training hard enough to prevent full recovery.
Dave Tate just wrote Part 6 of his sprawling autobiographical articles on his evolution as a lifter. In it he discussed Dynamic Effort (Speed) training:
Let's face it, a max lift can be ugly. Really ugly. Technique often flies out the window when you're hopped up on ammonia with a grand on your back.
DE on the other hand, is all about reinforcing technique. Doing many, many sets of two or three reps is the most effective way to teach a skill, whether it's a squat, a snatch, or throwing a shot put. What you're really doing by performing 8 sets of 2 or 3 is mentally rehearsing perfect form.
So, again we see DE as technique training. Not training neuromuscular contraction speed, but training fast and hard but with perfect form.
He doesn't mention it as a deload, but the percentages he suggests are revealing:
"A bbeginner should use 70% of their 1RM, whereas a more experienced (raw) lifter should go with 50 or 60%."
Most programs with a deload have you working to - at most - a couple sets close to 70%. You do either reduced reps or reduced sets or reduced intensity. DE bumps up the sets (10 x 3 or 8 x 2, say) but the reps are low (that 3 or 2, instead of heavy sets of 5 or 3 or 1). You never approach more than 70% of your one-rep maximum. You bang the sets out fast, with "pop" on the reps. Technique is king.
I think it's interesting to see both of these lifters discussing this. Dave Tate is more interested in the technique effects (at least in this article), while Mike Robertson is suggesting the possibility of a blend. I think that blend is where you see DE training shine. You can recover from it, but you snap out perfect (or at least better) reps and improve your form. You handle heavier weights better and thus get stronger on your maximum effort days. And you get a day to handle lighter weights and not worry about the mental drain and physical exhaustion that comes with constantly handling maximum weights.