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10 exercises for explosive athletes

Athletes today are bigger, faster and more explosive than ever before. Everyone wants to be able to run faster and jump higher, so why is there so much confusion about how to train athletes? Why does one group of strength coaches tell you to lift heavy weights, another tells you to lift light and fast, and others tell you to only use Olympic lifts?


And they each tell you the same thing, "If you lift our way you will become more explosive." Most of this confusion comes from a failure, by both coaches and scientists, to develop a theoretical framework for training athletes. This framework could be used to explain why some exercises and training methods are more successful than others.


Instead, we have numerous studies that give conflicting arguments and findings. This confusion has led the strength coach to develop training methods based on trial and error. Thus, strength coaches usually tend to drift toward one of these three directions, which is a shame because athletes benefit from each of these types of training.


Another frustration for the strength coach is our inability to standardize basic words and definitions. "Explosive" and "power" are terms often used in exchange for each other. These two terms are related, but can be trained separately and are not always dependent on each other.


Many athletes are explosive, but at the same time lack power. On the other side, an athlete can be powerful, but lack explosive strength. Power output is affected by the speed of movement. By performing movements faster you can increase power, but explosive strength may not necessarily be affected by movement speed.


Conversely, explosive strength is affected by the speed of contraction, regardless of movement speed or the type of contraction. Explosive strength can be high in a contraction where no movement (isometric) is taking place. The distinction between speed of movement and speed of contraction will help clarify power and explosive strength.


Strength and conditioning studies usually focus on training methods and exercises that affect either explosive strength or power measures.[1,2] These measures are tested to see if there is a relationship (correlation) with sprint and jump results.


The inherent problem with this type of research is that these measures are compared against each other instead of examining their combined (synergistic) effects. A better approach might be to examine the exercises and training methods that develop a larger number of athletic measures.


As we will see, power and explosive strength must be assessed, understood and developed for an athlete to reach their full potential. Increases in both speed of movement (effects power) and speed of contraction (affects explosive strength) would be beneficial for any athlete regardless of skill level, sport or weight of external load.


Explosive Strength

In sports, athletic movements need to be performed at high speeds. Fast movements such as sprinting and rapid jumps typically involve contraction times of 50-250 milliseconds.[3] This presents a problem: it takes a longer time (>300ms) for muscle to develop maximum force. Since maximum force cannot be developed with fast movements, any increase in the rate of force developed in the early phase of contraction becomes vital.


Explosive strength is defined as the rate of force development (RFD) at the onset of contraction.[4] RFD is taken from the slope of the Force-Time curve (see Fig. 1). The goal of training for improved RFD is to shift this curve to the left (i.e. create more force in less time). In an isometric contraction (no movement), force can be developed quickly, therefore RFD can be high.


RFD is not dependent on the speed that the segments (trunk, upper leg, lower leg) travel. But, RFD has an important role in fast movements; it allows maximum force to be developed earlier. The increase in RFD is considered one of the most important adaptations elicited from resistance training.[5]


In some cases, RFD will be sacrificed for increases in movement of speed. This can be illustrated by looking at the affects of a countermovement on a vertical jump. Two jumps will be performed:


a concentric-only jump, where the athlete gets into a half-squat position, then pauses, and performs only the pushing up phase of the jump.

a regular vertical jump, where the athlete first bends down (countermovement) and then jumps upward in one motion.

The first jump (concentric) is performed fast, where maximum force cannot be developed, but RFD is high. In the second jump (countermovement), the upper body creates an additional downward force during the countermovement. This downward force causes the contraction speed of the muscles to slow down.


Thus, the muscles have more time to create maximum force, which increases the speed of movement.[6] In this example RFD is decreased in order to increase movement speed. If both RFD and speed of movement can be increased with training, performance will be enhanced significantly.



We've all seen the definitions for Power, but many times they are not fully understood. Power equals Work/Time, and Work is the product of Force multiplied by Distance. Now, what's important in this equation is the distance. The farther the distance a segment (trunk, upper leg, lower leg) travels, the greater the Work and therefore, the greater the Power.


By comparing two types of vertical jumps, we will be able to see how increasing a distance can effect power. One jump will be initiated from a half squat position and the other from a full squat position. If the time it takes to perform the jumps is the same, the jump initiated from a full squat position would create more power since the segments travel a greater distance. Read more here