Units…Motor Units : Why Lifting Makes You Lean and Mean

Units…Motor Units : Why Lifting Makes You Lean and Mean

Me when  people say they don’t want to “look like them” and point to one of my specimen coaches when talking to me about our training programs…







Let’s have a little talk about biology…or physics…or whatever just listen. It’s time to talk about speed, intensity, and how lifting weights burns calories and fat better than any other fitness endeavor we can embark on.

Think back to Thursday (today or yesterday, depending when you read this) and the last part of the strength. The bench press work was a little look into speed work and the whole concept of speed versus absolute max weight and the role it plays in our fitness.

Speed work ultimately is a powerlifting thing in origin, but is really in all kinds of programming. It is done as a complimentary training protocol to maxing out. This is done in the name of saving our asses. See lifting lots of weight often makes us strong as beast. Hulk strong even. The problem is lifting to be Hulk strong is hard. Not just like it’s hard to do, but it’s hard on our body. This is why PEDs are so prevalent in strength sports. Sad but true. I’m sure many of you know the feeling that I have at 34 after 2-3 days of heavy lifting in a row. Complete destruction comes to mind. Broken I another descriptor. This isn’t a blog about PEDs so I won’t get into how regardless of their ability to work and improve many strength athletes for many years past their prime, using PEDs makes any competitor a scumbag loser. That blog isn’t this blog. This blog is ultimately about looking sexy. Just wait.



Speed work like Thursday’s bench work were invented to try and ease the pain!  The idea is alternating from heavy days (called Max Effort or ME days) to speed days (called, um, speed days, or also Dynamic Effort, DE, days) as the powerlifter is trying to preserve the body. Simple explanation is DE days use less absolute weight overall but especially less singularly loaded weight on one’s body at a given time. We will get into it more in depth as we go but essentially it’s about simulating the load of ME day lifts by creating the same load (intensity) through the speed in which a lesser load is lifted.

Lost yet? And you thought you were just benching! Bear with me, though, because this all makes sense eventually, and comes to and end that leaves us with a path to sexiness.

More What and Why on Speed Days

This simulating works because of the way our muscles work. Muscles are stimulated to do their thing by things called motor units. Motor units are the nerve parts connected to muscle fibers that make up the important parts of the Periphery Nervous System when referring to how we move the body. They are ordered small to large, meaning literally the smallest motor units/muscle fibers fire first up to the largest firing last based on the needed exertion, the latter dictated by intensity. It’s like the readout of a mixing deck that shows the volume of various parts of sound for a recording where the furthest right lights, usually red and meaning “this shit is blowing the shit out of these speakers”, only light up if the yellow and green before them do as well, and before. This order always happens this way.

Since exertion is determined by intensity, and intensity is created by lifting a load of a certain combination of weight, distance, and speed, “science” has determined how to adjust these 3 variables to create training days the differ in said variables but create similar desired intensity levels. Love science, wish I knew them personally.

I know this is upper intelligence stuff here so try and follow…

The idea of speed days (and accommodating resistance days which are an excellent addition as well but won’t be mentioned again in this blog) were created to replicate the intensity of a heavy ass day. Let’s take a max effort squat day. In a male powerlifter’s training his might mean squatting 600-700# many times. Putting that kind of weight simply on one’s back, even if they can lift it many times much distance and quickly, is insanely strenuous. Think relative to your own lifting ability, your 95% max squat you can stand out of the rack all day, but it still feels heavy right? The thing is weight is weight, and 600# is 600# regardless of one’s ability to manipulate it. In other words, it’s heavy as shit to even those strong enough to lift it, and they feel it just like we would.

Speed days are meant to take some of this strain off the athlete day to day so they can live to see another one. Speed days would mean taking a certain percentage, usually 40-65% of this usual max, and have the athlete lift it with as much speed as possible. Since speed is part of that formula of variables that creates intensity, we can simulate this need that makes us stronger if done correctly and with the right weight.

Now, you might ask well doesn’t this mean you are still just as broken down after a speed day if the intensity is the same? Science says no, when I meet them I’ll take a picture. But basically, the training still creates intensity and therefore broken down athletes, just not to the same degree as a max effort day because of the overall load lifted. The key to making this true is deeper than we have time for, but rests in the relationship of constantly monitored percentages and speed, the latter of which despite all the technology in the world these days usually is judged by the eye or self reporting. It seems like quite an outdated system but is one that works very well.



The bottom line is moving a weight with speed can create intensity just as well as moving a much heavier weight with little speed. Sometimes even more so with the right reps performed.

In fact, think to when we talk about time caps to WODs. I often choose these caps based on when intensity is going to be lost by the average of our community. You all know the feeling of how 15 minutes of a workout can actually be better than 25 of the same thing due to your ability to “go hard” from start to finish both physically and mentally. The same goes for weightlifting and intensity of a lift. While maxing out is needed for many reasons to be talked about another time, there are days when the goal is getting stronger that speed needs to be focused on greatly. Moving something like 85% slow as shit will get you nowhere, and you are better off moving 75% for the same reps fast as f**k, just like doing that WOD for 15 minutes gets you fitter than slogging through it for 20. The easy part is you can never go wrong with lifting weight as fast as possible no matter the reps or the weight. Always be trying to lift fast like Ricky (Bobby).

Even if you aren’t trying to get strong like bull, the bigger motor units that are connected to bigger muscle fibers also burn more calories which = quicker beach body. It should be understood but probably isn’t as clear that moving muscle in our body burns calories and fat much quicker than any other action we do. This is why CrossFit, BootCamp, and HIIT in general works, because it’s the perfect combination of lifting weight and moving quickly that creates the maximum intensity possible for anyone to expend.

However, the above situation means that you should always try to be doing whatever work you are doing to the absolute fullest, meaning with the heaviest weight you can move with speed and as constantly as you can throughout a given training session. Those of you out there who always go lighter are just hurting yourselves in literally every way possible. Going lighter when the prescription doesn’t call for it is just cheating yourself and holding you back.

You aren’t going to get too big by going heavier, you are just going to burn more calories and fat, and get damn sexy sooner than every one else.

So fine, go lift the small weights, just leave the Coach Bud to being sexy all summer…(did you guys know he lifts?).




Strength : Snatch
5-5-5-5, done E3M

  • Warmup with at most 2 sets of 5 (after warming up as needed for snatching) then start together with class. Goal is max, any snatch, but you all know what it should be…

Hero WOD : “Coe”
10 Rounds
10 Thrusters 95/65
10 Ring Push-ups

S: Front Squat 75/55, Scaled Regular Push-Ups
L1: Thruster 75/55, Scaled or Plank Deficit Push-ups (hands on plates or DBs)



Core : 15 Minutes Total
a: 3 Rounds
20 Side Plank Hip Raises (each side)
15 Hollow Rocks
10 Sea Turtles

Right intp

b: 3 Rounds
20 Lemon Squeeze
20 Hanging Both Knee to Opposite Elbow (10/10)
20s (accumulated if not UB) Hanging L Sit

Right into

5 Plate Getups
10 Jump Feet to Hands and Back (straight arm plank, hands on plate)
15 Flutter Kicks

Conditioning: 15 Minutes, 1 minute each element including rest

Assault Bike
Double Unders
– Rest after 3rd movement regardless of start

The Program

1. Strength and WOD

2. 3 Rounds, each round 4:00, rest 2:00 after
30/25 Cal Assault Bike
15 Thrusters 95/65
15 Hang Power Clean
Row remaining time

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