Slow is Smooth and Smooth is Fast
© 2010 Power by Pavel, Inc.
This article was inspired by Marty’s insightful Rep Speed: Velocity Versus Grind piece and its title by Jordan Vezina, RKC Team Leader.
“Slow is smooth and smooth is fast”. If lifters picked up this paradoxical cue from shooters, there would be lot more strength to go around.
Understanding a perfect ‘grind’ calls for a short lesson in Newtonian physics. F=ma, force equals mass multiplied by acceleration. This formula has at least two implications for a lifter. First, to quote influential Russian coach Sergey Smolov, ”…more strength is needed to lift a heavy [weight] fast than to lift it slow and, accordingly, the slower is the… lift, the greater weight can be lifted.”1 Say, F equals 4 units (forget Newtons for simplicity’s sake). You can arrive at F of 4 by different combinations of m and a: 2×2, 1×4, 4×1, etc. If the first number represents mass, it becomes apparent that you will lift the heaviest weight with lower acceleration: 4×1, not 1×4. (Theoretically, one would lift the most weight at a near zero acceleration—e.g. 4=400×0.01— but then we run into an endurance problem as one’s max force output drops off in seconds.)
The second lesson from the F=ma formula is that acceleration must remain positive until the completion of the lift. If you have been moving as fast as you could from the start of the lift, you will be forced to slow down at the sticking point because you are at you most disadvantageous leverage to exert maximum force. This deceleration will finish off your already low force output, compliments of Newton. The moral of the story: do not accelerate when it does not count, so you can when it does. According to Dr. Thomas McLaughlin, an expert max lift is characterized by relatively even, low acceleration.
You should teach yourself to lift in such a way that even the heaviest weight is slightly speeding up towards the lockout. Boris Sheyko, Marty Gallagher’s Russian counterpart, emphasizes that “The barbell must leave the platform unhurriedly but afterwards it should move with constant acceleration…” I would like to underline that he said “constant acceleration”, not “constant speed”.
Senior RKC Dan John has a few things to say on this subject. “My Coach, the late Ralph Maughan, taught us the key to throwing anything was “Constant Acceleration”. Anybody can start fast, but speeding up after starting fast gives little [explosion]. Starting by grinding your “off foot” and letting things build allows you to snap the implement at the right time. “It is difficult to teach this as the beginner wants to generate all the speed at the start and coast to the finish. And, by the way, the beginner is REWARDED at first with this method as the neophyte’s light weights can be jacked overhead. That is why many people love the first months of training, but success comes when frustration arises. After missing over and over with just enough to demand better technique, the athlete tends to give in, grind it up, snap it at the right moment and continues on the path. “That is why so many people like to “dabble” with the first fleeting success of lifting. Then, then try 5K runs or bike races or whatever. Greatness comes when you decide to be patient enough to take the time to lift/throw right.”
Dan has a brilliantly simple self-correcting method of teaching one to smoothly squeeze the barbell off the platform and “constantly” accelerate it: use a thick bar. If you jerk, your fingers will peel open. But if you think like an expert marksman, “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast”, you will make the lift. Consider using the double overhand grip and taking a pass on the chalk in your deadlift warmups to learn and reinforce this lesson.
Let us sum up.
A grind is a non-ballistic lift done with a low positive acceleration throughoutthe range of motion.
A grind is a professional mindset for lifting the most weight. A mindset that takes years to practice and perfect.
A grind is not jerky or panicked. It is not sluggish or artificially slow either.
A grind has composure. Like a space shuttle, it lifts off at its leisure and slowly picks up with the unhurried inevitability of an unstoppable force.
A grind displays the confidence of real strength.
In spite of fatigue, at the end of the second day of the RKC kettlebell instructor course at least one third of the students (38% at the course at which this photo was taken) set strict military press PRs. We teach them how to ‘grind’.
Photo courtesy www.DragonDoor.com