Tips for Explosiveness
Written by Fritz Nugent
What is Explosiveness?
In human movement, explosiveness is the ability to produce power! Simply put, power is work performed over time and can be quantified. Explosive power usually describes the work performed in very short increments of time – seconds or milliseconds.
How to Improve Explosiveness
To help you improve explosiveness, I will highlight three tips – first, a mindset (think fast -> move fast), second, a piece of equipment (bands!), and third, a training paradigm (power complexes).
Mental Strategy to Improve Explosiveness
Think fast, move fast. If your goal is to become more explosive, then you must bias your training towards the speed end of the strength spectrum. When you perform training that allows for intentional changes in movement speed like Olympic Lifts, power lifts and their derivatives, plyometrics with bodyweight or medicine balls, running…(the list here is huge and limited only by your imagination), make your number one priority to move FAST without degradation in technique or mechanics.
How to Train Muscles to Fire Faster
Accelerate through the concentric (muscle shortening) phase of movements. If you are jumping or throwing, moving smoothly and increasingly more quickly through the eccentric (muscle lengthening) phase, you will steadily train your mind to fire your motor units faster (and eventually you CAN fire more motor units) in the correct sequence to produce increases in power. Get to know more about muscle contractions.
Using Bands to Improve Explosiveness
The second tip for improving explosive power is to incorporate bands into your training. Bands can yield rapid and measurable improvements in power. But first, we must briefly delve into physics to understand how bands can be utilized to improve power production and strength.
How Bands Work in Weightlifting
The mass of a barbell and its plates are fixed, meaning the number of molecules doesn’t change as you lift them. However, when speed is applied, the weight of those molecules, which is relative to gravity, changes. This means that the bar feels lighter and imposes less resistance to the bone and soft tissue when in motion. In addition, a faster bar (moving against gravity) weighs even less.
For example, when you stand up quickly during a squat, while the bar mass is 50 kg, in the center of your assent where the bar is moving fastest, the resistance is much lower than 50 kg. This is where bands make a difference. Bands allow for constant and increasing resistance as you drive upwards against their tension, providing a constant and hopefully optimal loading stimulus to the bone, soft tissue, and nervous system.
Now that you understand the loading mechanism, we can move onto how bands help facilitate increases in power production. As you push on an unbanded barbell, that bar weighs less in motion. We’ve established that so far. When you add bands, the tension becomes constant and increasing as the bands are stretched, even through high velocities! Therefore, bands demand that our nervous system continues to fire with many motor units through the center of the movement. This drives neuromuscular adaptation towards greater ability to accelerate resistances and your body weight, which is crucial for improving explosive power.
How to Use Bands in Weightlifting to Increase Power
You can add band tension to squats, deadlifts, snatch and clean pulls, bench press, hip thrusts, and even overhead pressing and various pulling tasks. Each task here has multiple ways to create band tension.
Some squat racks have hooks for bands and allow for simple band training set-up. However, if you don’t have specific connections for bands, you must be creative. For squats and bench press, looping bands around dumbbells or kettlebells and then looping the other end around either side of your barbell can work.
For banded deadlifts, snatch and clean pulls, simply draping a band over the barbell and standing on it works well.
Band Resisted Pull-Ups
You can also hook that banded kettlebell or dumbbell up to a hip belt for band-resisted pull-ups. Ideally, pick a load that will not leave the ground as you complete your reps. Band rows are simple – loop a band around a rig post and pull away.
You can creatively find a safe and effective band set-up to accommodate most movements.
Power Complexes to Improve Explosiveness
Combining various tasks at different resistances and velocities into training complexes can provide a potent stimulus for inducing any desired adaptation. The simplest form of this is a power movement followed by a speed movement.
For example, squats followed by sprints. The more rest you sprinkle in, the greater you can push load, intensity, power, and speed. These complexes will sound very similar to some traditional CrossFit workouts yet differ in prescribed rest and intended stimulus.
In CrossFit, interval training with low rest is highly aerobic. If you were to lengthen out the rest, you could push through each interval faster and use greater resistance, you could turn those aerobic intervals into an anaerobic power complex.
How to Create Power Complex Workouts
If you try any of these combinations, please ensure that you are thoroughly warmed up and ready to lift, sprint, jump, throw, etc. These complexes are meant to be performed at high intensities and movement velocities, so if you’re not ready to sprint, jump, lift, and throw at 90-95% of maximum effort, then please dial it back to 70-80%.
After a few weeks to months of consistent training while steadily increasing the intensity, when you feel prepared, THEN push your output into the 90-95% range. Stay away from 100% unless you are a competitive athlete. The risks outweigh the benefits at that threshold (read more on that), and plenty of worthwhile adaptations can be reaped from training at submaximal intensities.
Power Complex Sets
The prescribed sets for any of these combinations is 2-5 with short a rest between movements and a longer 3-5-minute rest between rounds.
Power Complex Repetitions
The repetitions for each loaded movement should roughly reflect about 1-2 shy of failure at 70-80% of your 1RM for unbanded lifts, and about 50-60% of your 1RM for banded lifts. Lastly, if CrossFit is your sport, sprinting can be conducted on any nonstructural modality (sprint, row, ski, bike, swim).
Power Complex Workout Examples
Here are some fun complexes that I have successfully utilized during my own post-collegiate training and with other high-level track and field and strongman athletes:
- 3-8 power cleans + a short sprint (30-50 meters)
- 3-8 front squats + a long sprint (100-200 meters)
- 3-8 overhead squats + a sled sprint
- 3-8 snatches from hang + broad jumps
- 8-20 loaded lunges + bounding, hopping or galloping
- 30-meter loaded carry + various jumping and sprinting tasks
- 3-5 banded deadlifts + box jumps
- 8-15 banded hip thrusts + a sled push
- 3-5 banded bench presses + explosive push-ups or medicine ball throws
- 1-3 jerks + medicine ball throws
- 3-8 pull-ups/weighted pull-ups/band-resisted pull-ups + medicine ball slams
And if you need more motivation to incorporate plyometrics and sprinting, here are a few articles from the Invictus staff to pump you up:
Verkhoshansky, Y. and Siff, M. (1999). Supertraining. Denver: Supertraining International.