For all competitive athletes, whether a strength athlete or field sport athlete, being explosive is a key component to success. Just about every sport requires their athletes to accelerate force or change direction quickly. While some people are naturally more explosive than others, it is an attribute that can be trained and progressed. There are many avenues to increase explosiveness, but there are a few methods that have stood the test of time that I will talk about here. Training for explosiveness is no more complicated than strength training, but the approach is a little different. Another name for explosiveness is power. Power, in scientific terms, is force times velocity. Producing power is all about exerting force with speed. So, when we think about training for explosiveness, we need to think about moving fast.
Barbell Speed Work
Powerlifters will be very familiar with this idea, but it is an effective method of training for power. The idea is very simple: move the barbell as fast as possible. This is generally applied to the back squat, deadlift, overhead press and bench press or their variants. When doing speed work with barbell exercises, the focus has to be to move the bar as fast as possible. So, we should not load the bar too heavy. The intensity should be in the range of 50 to 65%, but probably never about 70%. There will probably be some nuance to that, but I think that that range is about where it should be. For example, a person who can deadlift 500 pounds, should stay in the 250 to 350 pound range. I also think it’s good to take a high number of sets and low reps approach to programming it in. For example, someone could do eight sets of two reps. What is most imperative about speed work is the trainee’s mindset and approach to the bar. Even though the intensity might only be 50%, the intent of the trainee must be 100%. That trainee has to move that bar as if it is 1000 pounds. Move that bar as fast and as violently as possible. Of course, good technique and stability are important and must be practiced.
This is another idea that powerlifters will be familiar with. The idea of accommodating resistance is to make the entire movement of a lift equally challenging. The lockout of a lift is easier than coming out of the hole. Using accommodating resistance will make the lockout just as difficult as coming out of the hole. This is often accomplished using bands and chains. When using accommodating resistance, I have only used bands, so I will talk in the context of bands, but the principle is the same for both. What a trainee will do is load a barbell with about 50% to 60% of their one rep max and attach bands to the barbell and a fixed point on the rack, platform or bench. At the bottom of the lift, the tension of the bands should be zero, or as close to zero as possible. As the trainee extends into the lift, the band tension increases throughout the movement, adding resistance to the barbell. The trainee has to move with ever increasing force throughout the movement. If there is 225 pounds on the bar and there is 100 pounds of band tension on top of that, the barbell will have, in theory, 325 pounds of resistance at the top of the lift. If the trainee moves the bar with 225 pounds of force throughout the lift, the bar will not move very far. It can be tricky to measure exactly what the band tension is, but that is besides the point. The point is to teach someone how to drive force through the bar and accelerate through the entirety of the movement. The rep scheme should be similar to that of speed work.
If you’re not someone who has access to a gym that has a fancy rack with pin holes so you can attach bands and whatnot, don’t worry. You can build explosiveness with something as simple as a sturdy box. Plyometrics have been in use for quite some time, and it is a relatively cheap way to train for power. Plyometrics don’t require a lot of space and storing the boxes is as easy as shoving them in a corner or in a closet. The general concept is simple. Jump from the ground on top of the box with a stable core and good hinge pattern. Plyos can be done bilaterally or unilaterally (with two feet or one foot). Progression can be accomplished using taller boxes or medicine balls to add load to the jump.
Anyone who has played football has likely had to do power cleans and snatches. While a lot of strength coaches are starting to lean away from programming olympic lifts, they are without a doubt great at building power in athletes. All Olympic lifts, the power clean, jerk and snatch, all require the lifter to be stable and fast in their movement with the barbell. There is no wasted movement and any slack in the technique can lead to energy leakage and that leads to a failed lift. Outside the context of competitive Olympic style weightlifters, it is not necessary to perform these exercises with a super heavy load. A moderately heavy load with good form and violent intent will build power in athletes. The purpose is using speed to build power, so it is not necessary to be overly concerned with how much weight is on the bar. As long as technique is solid and the movement is snappy, then the objective is being met. The only downfall with Olympic lifts is that they are technically complicated. It can be difficult to learn the movements.
Prowlers and Sleds
It’s very hard to beat the simplicity of using sleds and prowlers. Just load them up and go. Prowlers and sleds are both simple to use and not likely to lead to injuries. I don’t think it’s really necessary to go into a lot of detail about this. Load up with a moderately heavy load and move the implement with as much force as possible for a short distance. Take a short break to recover, then do it again. You will need a little space to use these. Some gyms have turf, but they can be done outside on the concrete or grass.
Whatever method you decide to utilize in your training to build power, always remember that it is the intent that matters: increasing the speed of force violently. It is important to remember that the intensity cannot be so light that no real force is being utilized. It is equally important to not use too much of a heavy load and that force will not be able to move fast enough.
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