Jump For Joy
Have you ever been high off of speed? I'm talking about how everything looks brighter, colors are more vibrant, and you feel like you have the lightning of Zeus himself coursing through your veins after just a few sets of explosive speed work. (What did you think I meant?) While jumping and throwing are both *fantastic* for anyone wanting to train for high-speed athletic events and sport, you don't need any desire whatsoever to improve your vertical jump or 100 meter dash to incorporate some speed drills into your workouts.
All you need is the desire to feel amazing!
Well, you also need to have a bit of (recent) exercise experience and generally healthy joints so you don't hurt yourself while leaping into the air or hurling medicine balls at a wall. If you do have joint issues that limit what you can do safely, first focus on progressing pain-free movements with proper form and control before you ramp up the speed. If a movement doesn't feel great going slow, it'll probably feel downright awful, and possibly injurious, trying to go fast, so first things first. That said, assuming you can handle jumping and throwing medicine balls without pain, let's talk about exactly how to do that so you can get the maximum effect on your mood and energy levels. Let's talk about how to get high off of speed!
There are 3 major points I want to emphasize here that will ensure your speed work doesn't turn into slog work:
Don't do too much Pay attention to how you feel Quit while you're ahead
It's all too easy to rapidly feel exhausted and sluggish if you don't adhere to these points, and that is the exact opposite of what we're going for, so respect the following guidelines if you want to get the most HUZZAH! out of your efforts.
1) Don't do too much
This applies whether you're using speed work to enhance your performance as an athlete, or to get your fix as a mood-junkie. The thing about speed work is it needs to be done fast, but the thing about fatigue is it makes you slow as shit!
The solution to this is simple, even though it my feel wrong to our hardcore sensibilities.
You have to minimize fatigue.
If I ask someone if they've ever done plyometrics or speed training, there's a decent chance they'll say something like "Oh yeah! At the gym I go to we regularly do sets of 20 box jumps as quickly as possible and slam medicine balls for 60 second rounds."
NEIN! That's not what I'm talking about.
I know that the popularity of high-intensity interval training generally, and CrossFit specifically, has made a lot of people think that box-jumps and medicine ball slams are meant to be done over and over again until you're crushed by fatigue, but the problem with that is your performance drops so significantly that you're not actually jumping or throwing anywhere close to as hard as you *could* if you were to do less reps at a time and take time to recover between sets. One of my favorite coaches, Christian Thibaudeau, is a venerable master of explosive performance and he has a saying that's fitting here:
"Chase performance, not fatigue."
If you want to get the most out of every rep of speed work, you need to stop trying to make yourself exhausted (chasing fatigue). Instead, try to keep your jumps and throws as close to the maximum output you are capable of as possible (chase performance).
Sets of 1-5 reps are ideal.
If you're used to doing 20 jumps in a row, then this might sound crazy (pitiful, even), but think about how fresh you will feel if you jump as high as you can or throw a ball as hard as possible just a few times before taking a break. The amount of fatigue accumulated each set will be minimal, but the effect on your nervous system (lightning of Zeus coursing through your veins) will still be significant.
Speed work always amps you up to some degree, even if you're slogging through long sets, but fatigue has an opposite dampening effect. If you want to maximize how incredible you feel, then you want to get as amped up as you can while accumulating as little fatigue as possible; the difference between the two is basically how high you will feel! This is one of those cases where less is more. You want to get AMPED without getting tired, and that means low rep sets with enough recovery each round that you're not getting exhausted.
2) Pay attention to how you feel
This ties into the above points about minimizing fatigue. How much recovery between sets is ideal? Enough that you can perform as well, if not better (jump higher, throw harder) on the next set, but not so much that you cool off and lose your vigor. This could be anywhere from 20 seconds to 2 minutes depending on what you're doing and how fit you are, so it's hard to give precise recommendations on rest intervals. How many reps are ideal? As many as feel absolutely top quality, and not one more. Again, this is typically between 1-5 per set, but how many you actually do should depend on how they feel. The key is to pay attention to every rep and back off if you start feeling even a little sluggish. If you do 3 box jumps, but then the 4th feels noticeably harder, stop. You only needed those first 3, and you definitely shouldn't do a 5th rep. Save it for the next set. If you rest for about a minute before another set of medicine ball slams, but feel surprisingly out of breath and tired after that next set, you probably should have rested a little longer. Maybe give yourself 90s or so before the next set and see if it feels better. If after a couple sets of throws you are feeling like a little boy who just watched the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie for the first time, but then you sit down and get sidetracked on social media for 5 minutes, to where your next set feels like you lost all that pep in your step, then shorten up your rest periods so you can maintain focus and energy between rounds. The important thing is that you are mentally tracking how everything feels and adjusting your reps and rest on the fly so everything feels as crisp as possible with minimal fatigue. Easier said than done, but with mindful practice you will get better at it.
Speaking of crisp, part of paying attention to how you feel is making sure you're giving a strong effort on each rep. If you're only going to do a handful of reps, and you want those few reps to make you feel amazing, then...
Make sure you're putting max intention into every rep.
Don't just hop up onto the box; jump as high as you possibly can so you catch some hang time. Don't just toss the medicine ball at the ground haphazardly; slam it as hard as you can, like you're trying to break the damn thing! Again, this point applies whether you're trying to enhance your athletic performance or just maximize your mood. Instead of dozens of half-assed reps, you're looking for a modest amount of total reps all done with 100% intention and effort.
Over time, you will learn to intuitively feel when the next rep is going to be worse, and you'll develop a sense of when you've rested just long enough to have another great set. As you're building that level of awareness, err on the side of caution; it's better to end a set too early than too late, which leads us to the final point.
3) Quit while you're ahead
Once you start to get the hang of this speed stuff, you're going to find that ramping yourself up over the course of a few sets is relatively easy, but stopping before you start to lose that feeling is a bit tricky. We're not talking about diminishing returns, but negative returns if you keep going after you've peaked. Remember: less is more!
Let's say you do 5 sets of jumps and throws, with every set feeling better than the last one. You feel like you could jump into the sky! You could throw a football over them mountains! You think, how great might I feel with a 6th set? Even incredibler, right?! Maybe! OR... maybe you've already peaked and a 6th set is going to bring you back down a bit instead.
This is another thing that will take a lot of time and practice to develop an intuitive feel for; you will eventually learn to recognize when you're feeling about as amazing and explosive as you possibly can, and that's the point at which you should stop. You'll know in your soul that another round is more than likely going to create more fatigue than it's worth; you'll have learned that by repeatedly doing one rep or set too many and feeling the dampening effect immediately. When in doubt, stop.
Not sure your next rep will feel awesome?
Stop and rest.
Not sure your next set is going to ramp you up any more than the last?
Stop with that movement.
Not sure you can feel any better or faster than you currently do? Stop the speed session. You're done.
Keep in mind that not every movement needs to be ended at the same time. Let's use an example of a simple speed circuit: Box jumps Medicine ball slam Overhead medicine ball toss Let's say everything is feeling awesome for the first 3 rounds, but something about your last set of overhead tosses tells you that the next set will probably be sluggish. Your jumps still feel like they could get a little jumpier, your slams could still be a little slammier, but you're pretty sure you've peaked on the overhead toss. Stop. You're done with that movement. Go ahead and continue with the jumps and slams, but similarly drop either or both once they, too, feel peaked.
That's it. If you can consistently nail all the above points, over time you'll develop a strong sense of exactly how to reach maximal performance and mood elevation without over-stepping. Now that you understand the how and why, let me focus on the what with a short list of some movements that work well for both athletic performance and mood enhancement. I've already mentioned jumps and throws, but we can expand the list and include a handful of variations for each category as well as some press variations, in order from simplest to most complex.
Depth Jump: drop off a low box or bench and stick the landing. Your landing should feel more solid each set.
Box Jump: jump up to a low box or bench and stick the landing. You should feel like you're catching more air each set.
Vertical Jump: jump as high as you can straight up and stick the landing. You should feel like you're jumping higher and landing softer each set.
Broad Jump: jump forward as far as you can and stick the landing. You should feel like you get further and land softer each set.
Overhead Slam: reach overhead with a medicine ball, then slam it into the floor hard. Your slam should feel more forceful each set.
Overhead Throw: push your hips back while holding the ball with your arms hanging down, then explosively hurl the ball backwards over your head, jumping slightly. You should be tossing the ball a little further back each set.
Vertical Throw: hold the ball at your chest, dip your legs slightly and then extend your arms up at the same time you jump. You should toss the ball a little higher each set.
Wall Throw: hold the ball at your chest as you stand sideways to a wall, then pivot and extend your back arm toward the wall hard. You should be rocketing the ball harder into the wall each set.
Push-up: lower with control, then press up as fast as you can while keeping your body straight. You should feel like you're shooting up more quickly each set.
Bench Press: lower the bar with control, then drive it up as fast as you can while keeping your butt on the bench. (Do not throw and catch the bar!) You should feel like you're accelerating the bar more forcefully each set.
Push Press: stand holding a barbell at shoulder level, then dip your legs slightly before using your whole body to press the bar overhead. You should feel like you're accelerating the bar more forcefully each set.
This is not a complete list by any means, but this is more than enough for you to get started and develop a taste of the sweet, sweet high that comes with speed work. Short sprints, Olympic lift variations, boxing jabs and more can all be used to the same end, but if you want to incorporate these more advanced movements that's something best learned in-person with a competent coach.
You may be wondering, when should you do these speed movements if you also do normal workouts? If the goal is to build athletic speed, do these before you lift or do cardio in order to maximize performance on each set; you'll be too tired after a regular workout, and you don't want to push through these movements while fatigued.
If the goal is to enhance similar lifting movements, do them before or between sets of that movement. For example, you can make heavy squats feel noticeably stronger by doing a few vertical jumps to warm-up and/or between your work sets. Explosive push-ups or throws between sets of bench pressing can have a similar effect.
If the goal is to enhance your mood and focus, either do them on their own day between your other workouts (10-15 minutes of speed work is a great way to reduce fatigue and feel fantastic on what's otherwise a rest day), or do them right before a long, easy cardio session, which is an incredible combination in my experience.
You'll lose a bit of the "Zeus lightning" by going on a long jog or bike ride afterward (due to the fatigue), but overall you're going to feel phenomenal, and you'll likely find the cardio feels a bit easier/smoother when you get amped up with some explosive sets first.
Let your own experimentation and how things feel for you be the final word on what works and when. For example, if you can do some heavy sets of deadlifts without getting too tired, you may find that transitioning to speed work after feels way better than doing it beforehand. Great! I agree.
Just remember that when it comes to speed work: don't do too much, pay attention to how you feel, and quit while you're ahead. Now, go jump on some shit and throw some med balls around until you feel like... like...