Performance is a Matter of Interpretation


The other day, one of my clients/athletes asked, “If I’m doing plyo-press-ups after bench press (think clapping press-ups), does that mean they will help my bench press?”


A good question, and a natural assumption for someone to make as in normal exercise order we train the main lift first, then do assistance work to improve that lift.


However, the athlete who asked me the question is a rugby player. So in this particular workout we weren’t looking to improve bench press strength (which definitely helps, don’t get me wrong!) but rather, to improve the speed at which he can aggressively push away other players and protect the ball in attack and defence.


So the plyo-press-ups were done not to improve bench press strength but pushing speed, and the bench press was done to improve plyo-press-up performance.


This is a kind of upside-down way of looking at a workout, but for more advanced athletes it must be done this way.


Strength is the foundation of all performance, but what if you are already strong enough for your sport…there isn’t much point getting stronger if the sport doesn’t demand it! Crazy idea right?


For most sports, speed is paramount. Once the strength has been built through years of basic exercises and progressions, the focus must shift onto the development of greasy fast speed!

The table below shows how we can use the exact same workout and exercise order to train for completely different goals. (Note; Strength speed is the component of fitness usually known as ‘power’. It means moving against resistance as fast as possible).


Workout Sets/Reps - When focus is Strength/Size Sets/Reps - When focus is Strength-Speed
Bench Press 3 x 5 (increase weight each week) 3 x 3 (increase weight each week)
Plyo-Press-ups 4 x 5 3 x 6 (progress/vary each week)
Floor Press 4 x 10 3 x 5 (increase weight each week)


You can see in this table that we can simply alter the sets and reps to shift performance increases to different goals with the SAME EXERCISES! So in the strength/size column, the focus is improving bench press strength whilst also gaining size, so a higher volume of work is needed.


In the strength-speed column, the focus is on moving the weights QUICKLY whilst still building strength.


This is also an effective way of cycling training phases. You could do a 4 week block of the first columns’ sets/reps then a 4 week block of the second column and repeat like this for quite a while whilst seeing constant improvement. Boring but effective!


Remember this idea when training yourself or writing programs for others:


  1. What is the goal? (strength, speed, sport related etc.)
  2. Do the exercises reflect this goal? (often they do, but see next point)
  3. Are the sets/reps and exercise order correct? (what is most important? Can you train it first? If not, train it second and hard!)


A good example of this is 10m sprint speed. I regularly get my athletes to deadlift heavy, and then do 6-10 sprints of 10m. They then continue with the rest of the workout. The focus is 10m sprint speed in these workouts, but if they sprinted first thing and deadlifted second they could compromise the amount of weight lifted on deadlifts, leading to sub-maximal weights and a loss of strength.


So decide upon your goal, and make it the focus of your workout! Basic strength exercises, sets and reps usually come first (and it’s a good idea to do them first), but then shift the emphasis onto something else. This will ensure that you remember to get and stay strong, and whilst you might train for strength first thing in your workout, you can still focus on a different performance goal for the remainder of the session.