On Being Fast

People sometimes mistakenly think that "StrongFast" refers to getting strong quickly. That doesn't happen so no, that's not what the name means. The two parts refer to separate qualities: being strong and being fast. We talk a lot about the "strong" part. What about "fast"?

Speed is very important for athletes. The most obvious example is running speed, used in sports like football, tennis, track, etc. There's also hand speed, important in sports like boxing, baseball, tennis (again), etc.

Before continuing, let's take a look at Bruce Lee's five "types of speed" as described in "Tao of Jeet Kune Do":

Perceptual speed. Quickness of eye to see openings and to discourage the opponent, confusing him and slowing him down.

Mental speed. Quickness of mind to select the right move to frustrate and counter the opponent.

Initiation speed. Economical starting from the right posture and with the correct mental attitude.

Performance speed. Quickness of movement in carrying the chosen move into effect. Involves actual muscle contraction speed.

Alteration speed. The ability to change direction midstream. Involves control of balance and inertia.

Bruce Lee's "Tao of Jeet Kune Do"

It's a fantastic book (actually a compilation of his notes published after his death) that every martial artist should read.

But the types of speed he describes are not limited to combat. For example, I used them when designing a training program for softball players.

However, speed is not important just for sport.

Falling is a huge problem for senior citizens. It's far too common and can lead to serious, even life-threatening, complications. There are plenty of resources describing ways to reduce fall risk. Improving strength and balance are a couple of common recommendations. One you'll rarely see is improving speed.

A common cause of falls (and not just in seniors...this has happened to me frequently for as long as I can remember) is catching your foot on an obstruction. (Many times, I've just caught my foot on the ground. Go figure.) But in younger people, this rarely leads to a fall. Instead, we're able to recover by rapidly moving the stuck foot forward in time to catch ourselves. That's speed; mostly "initiation speed" and "performance speed." If you can't move your foot forward fast enough, you're going down. That's one huge benefit to being fast.

As mentioned earlier, running is most often associated with "speed" but it doesn't only apply to athletics. There's running through an airport to catch a flight or running after a $20 bill you dropped that's blowing away in the wind and countless other examples.

Sprinting uphill.

Running speed can even literally be a matter of survival. One unusual example for me happened many years ago in Nepal. (Yeah, yeah...I've been to Nepal. Big deal.) I was part of a small group doing a "walking safari" with a guide who was "armed" with a stick when a rhino appeared in the path in front of us. We all stopped and stood motionless for a bit, then the guide said, "Run." So we did. (In retrospect, this doesn't seem like a good idea.) Being fast, I almost ran over another person in our group. As it turned out, the rhino didn't chase us and it was all for nothing, but it's still a fun story about speed.

(Side note: this guide didn't exactly inspire confidence and was in stark contrast to a walking safari a friend and I did in Africa with a guide armed with a rifle. We encountered an elephant in the brush who gave us a stare-down. After a minute or so, the guide held up his hand and snapped his fingers and the elephant slowly turned and walked away. Now that inspired confidence. Although it still helped that he had a rifle.)

Anyway, back to being fast. Hand speed is also valuable in real life. For example, for catching something we drop or knock over, or deflecting something that comes quickly toward our faces; e.g. an errant throw or a drunken sparrow.

Heavy bag punch - hand speed

Foot speed can similarly be valuable to avoid something like a falling tree branch or an excited Irish Setter. Sometimes, you don't need to outrun trouble but merely sidestep it.

As always, being stronger helps but you need the right kind of strength for speed. There are "fast-twitch" muscles (type II) that are used for short, powerful bursts of energy. You can train them using short, powerful bursts of energy like plyometrics, lifting weights at a rapid tempo, rapid punching and kicking on a bag, sprints (running, biking, rowing, swimming), etc. Or you can lift heavy weights. Ideally, you'll do both.

So be strong AND be fast. That's the StrongFast fitness way.

Be seeing you.


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One Comment

  1. I enjoyed the Rhino story. Pretty cool example of needing speed in real life.
    I had a similar encounter with a snail…but I side stepped it…(whew)that was close.

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