Athletics requires us to move faster than our opponents. No matter what your sport and regardless of your strategy, you will ultimately need to move with some degree of speed and power to win. Therefore, every serious athlete want’s to train for explosive power to get a competitive edge.
Not All Strength Training is Training for Explosive Power
You can’t just do any kind of training for explosiveness. So just because you’re in the gym, doesn’t mean you’re training for explosive power. No amount of endurance running, for example, will make you the fastest sprinter among your competition, and high volume sets of weight lifting with reps over 10 per set won’t increase your power.
What is Explosiveness?
Speed and power boil down to the contractile force of the muscle fibers. The harder you can contract your muscles, the more potential you have for being explosive. That means the first step to training for explosive power is to lift heavy weights where you can only complete less than six reps per set.
However, while working the higher intensity lifting ranges does increase your strength, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll improve your speed. This is what’s referred to as power in the strength training world. It’s the speed at which you can move a heavy weight.
How to Train for Explosive Power
The strategy I like to use most to train for explosive power is called Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT). There are different ways so implement it, and we’ll break down the concept here.
Compensatory Acceleration Training
CAT is pretty simple in practice. You simply focus your mind on moving the weight as fast as possible, even in your light, warm-up sets. This trains your nervous system to contract the muscles harder and faster. You can use it with just about any exercise.
Using Bands and Chains to Train for Explosive Power
It’s also popular to use lifting chains or elastic bands for certain exercises to force yourself to accelerate the weight. This can be done on any pressing exercise, squats and deadlifts as these lifts all have an ascending strength curve. Meaning, you get stronger at the top of the rep due to a mechanical leverage advantage. Therefore, you don’t have to push as hard after the sticking point. Bands and chains add increased resistance later in the rep, so you’re forced to continue to accelerate the weight.
Using Weight Lifting Complexes to Train for Explosive Power
A complex is another way to utilize CAT, and it’s one of the very best ways to train for explosive power. You super-set two exercises for the same muscle group, one loaded heavy followed by one loaded light. The heavy load excites the nervous system and builds strength, while the lighter load conditions your muscles to move faster once they’ve been primed by the heavy load.
This is the same concept as holding weights in your hands for a while so they’ll feel lighter once you’ve put them down. Your nervous system over compensates for the demand of more force during the heavy load. Then you teach your body to move with more speed in the second half of the super-set.
How to Implement A Complex
Selecting your exercise is important. In the upper body, it’s best to choose a compound lift, like the overhead press, and a partial range version of the same exercise. You perform the partial range movement first. That’s your heavy load. It needs to be heavy enough to make partial range reps necessary so your nervous system will get the desired effect. Then, you use the lighter load in the full range movement and focus on moving the weight as fast as possible. The light load should be about 35% less than the heavy load, and there should be no rest between the two exercises.
For the lower body, I love to use a plyometric jump with a deadlift or a squat. I included this in my program, Relative Strength Training 1 (link below), and my absolute favorite plyo exercise to use is the depth jump.
How to do the Depth Jump
To perform the depth jump, you stand on top of a bench, box or platform that’s somewhere around knee height. Step off of the platform and jump as high as you can as soon as your feet touch the floor. It is critical that you jump as soon as you feel yourself touch the ground. You want to overcome your downward momentum when you jump. If your feet are touching the floor for more than a second, you lose the effect. Do about six reps per set.
Do not face the platform when you drop. You should not jump right back onto the platform for your next rep. I know it seems convenient to do that, but the reason I don’t like it is because you’ll want to pull your knees up to get back onto the box. That takes away from the actual jump. You should focus on contracting the posterior chain muscles and actually pushing your feet a little bit behind you as you make your whole body arch. Also, it’s good to have a little pause between reps when training at a high intensity. Don’t make this a cardio exercise. We’re trying to build power.
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