Explosive strength is one of the most overlooked areas of training. Every single athlete needs to train for explosive strength.
Explosive strength is defined as the ability to contract your muscles as quickly and powerfully as humanly possible. It is essentially moving as fast and powerfully as possible. Explosive strength training is needed in every single aspect of sports and fitness.
Sprinters, football players, tennis players, triathletes, weightlifters, power lifters and even marathoners need explosive strength.
So why do so few coaches and trainers program explosive strength into their programs?
Well, the answer is simple and you are not going to believe it. It is because most trainers and coaches don’t actually know how to train explosively themselves.
In this brief post we are going to see a good training technique for building explosive strength.
The True Secret Sauce Of Training Programs
You know when you see an advertisement for a brand new supplement and it makes all these promises to be the “secret sauce”. Well, what exactly is this “secret sauce”?
The true secret sauce of any great athlete and fitness junkie is explosive strength. Think about most sports. What is the most important thing to look for in a good athlete? It is how fast he/she can move.
Yes, I know, endurance and stamina are still important too. But even the types of endurance that are necessary to win marathons and Iron Man’s are, in some way a version of explosive strength. The technical term for this is explosive strength endurance. You can read more about it in my Soviet Strength Training article.
Think about it, who will win a marathon, the person running at a consistent 6.4 mph pace, or the person running at a consistent 7.5 mph pace? Obviously the person running 7.5 mph. Why can he run faster and longer? Obviously he has good endurance, but he is also stronger and more explosive than the 6.4 mph runner.
Bottom line, if you want to be a better athlete or be in the best shape of your life, you need to add explosive strength training into your program.
How To Build Explosive Strength
Ok, so now you understand how important explosive strength training is. The next question is, how do I build explosive strength?
Your explosive strength will increase WITH your maximal strength increasing. They are NOT mutually exclusive. A person who lifts a 500 lb. squat will have more explosive legs than a person who can only squat 250 lb. Pretty simple to figure out.
But training only explosive strength will not at all increase maximal strength. Look at olympic weightlifters if you want proof of that.
So what do you do? Do you train maximal strength first, or explosive strength first? The answer: neither.
Explosive strength and maximal strength should NEVER be trained in separate training cycles from each other.
Most training programs out there focus on linear periodization. This is the old school training philosophy where you segregate your training into stages of endurance, hypertrophy, strength and power. Each training cycle usually lasts up to two months.
But anybody who has been in this game for a while can immediately spot the flaw with this approach. By the time you get to the final stages of the training cycle, most if not all of the adaptations from the first two cycles (endurance, hypertrophy) are completely gone.
Plus, if you wanted to train explosively, why not just train that way to begin with?
Train Explosively Every Week
The best approach for explosive training is on a workout by workout basis.
Instead of spending a whole two months training, do it several times every week with your max strength training.
So if you workout 6 days a week, then divide the week up into three max strength sessions and three explosive strength sessions.
The first two exercises should be performed for low reps (1-3 reps) for each workout. On your heavy lifting days, this can be done for maybe 1-2 sets. For explosive days, you can do 10-12 sets.
The reps should also be kept low for BOTH days. Both explosive strength and maximal strength require low reps to function optimally.
After this is done, you want to then train muscle endurance. This is where assistance work comes in. Both strength and explosive strength alone are completely useless unless they can be maintained over a prolonged period of time. Therefore, you need to train this ability with simpler exercises.
These exercises should have lower weight and more repetitions per set (around 3-6 sets of 10-15 repetitions). The more volume you can handle, the better. Plus, you also want to be as explosive as possible with each and every repetition. This will build more explosiveness.
You now have the information and theory down, so now lets see a real world example of this theory put into action.
Joe is a 24 year old recent college graduate looking to compete in his first triathalon. He wants to build his endurance to his top level without losing too much strength and power.
On day one he is training maximal strength for his lower body, so he is doing squats.
Joe loads the bar up and starts his warmup. After the warm up he keeps loading more weight on the bar, only doing singles, until he reaches a max set. Once he reaches his maximal weight for the day, he records his weight and stops the exercise.
Joe then moves onto his assistance work next, starting with high rep front squats for two sets of eight reps. After this, he then moves onto three to four smaller exercises for high reps.
He starts with Bulgarian split squats for 4 sets of 15 reps each leg, followed by hack squats for 4 sets of 10 reps and finally wrapping it up with GHD machine for 4 sets of 20 reps with band resistance.
Finally for more endurance work, he goes outside and pulls a sled for 6 sets of 1200 feet.
On day 2, Joe is running for 5 miles, biking for 10 miles and swimming for 1 mile.
On day 3, Joe is training maximal strength for his upper body, so he is doing the bench press.
Same drill as the squat, he loads weight onto the bar and works up to a max set on the bench press. Then he wraps up with some pause bench presses for two sets of eight reps for some extra assistance work.
Followed by incline dumbbell bench presses for 5 sets of 10 reps, dumbbell tricep roll backs for 4 sets of 15 repetitions and reverse flys for 3 sets of 20 reps.
Joe then trains his anaerobic capacity by doing weighted sandbag carries for 8 sets of 50 meters down and back.
On day 4, Joe runs 3 miles for speed, bikes 15 miles and swims for 10 rounds of 100 meter sprints.
On day 5, Joe trains speed work with the weights. He does squats with 50 percent less weight than his max single on day 1, but he adds 25% band tension onto the bar. The bands force you to accelerate faster and therefore become more explosive.
Plus the extra tension from the bands will really cement this explosive movement into you.
Joe will perform these explosive squat for 10 sets of 2 repetitions each.
After he is done, he will then perform all the exact same assistance work he performed on day 1. Except this time he will try to add more weight, even if it is only 5 extra pounds.
On day 6, Joe will run 10 miles, bike for 5 miles for max speed and swim for 2 miles.
On day 7, Joe performs explosive strength work on the bench press. Same drill as day 5, 50% of the max bench press weight from day 3 with 25% extra band tension for 10 sets of 2 reps.
Then Joe will perform all of the assistance work on from day 3 and he will try to add more weight to the exercises.
Conditioning is optional here since it is day 7 and rest will be needed for the upcoming week.
After about three weeks with this kind of training, you will need a deload from the heavy and explosive training.
Most of the time, the muscles themselves are perfectly fine, but the nervous system gets overloaded with too much stimuli. It will need a break.
But with an approach like this, you can maintain your strength and your explosiveness all year round while still training for an event. Of course, when your event actually comes, you want to back off the volume slightly and gradually starting 1-2 months prior to an event to allow the body to rest.
Hope this answers the question!
P.S. If you liked this article, I would greatly appreciate it if you would share this information with anybody who would find it helpful. Not only would it make my day, it would make my whole week. Help me spread my call for common sense training.