How to Build Explosive Power for Weightlifting and Functional Fitness

Explosive power is essential for Olympic Weightlifting and CrossFit®.

For the former, it is a huge contributing factor towards maximising the potential of any athlete’s lifts. For the latter, it will help CrossFit® Athletes cycle through movements more effectively, become faster, improve gymnastic ability and enhance jumps, sprints and other exercises that require velocity, power and speed.

Great speed and force are vital for both sports.

“Explosive strength is the ability to exert maximal force in minimal time.”

“To develop explosive strength and reactive ability you need to do two things. First, you must build your speed strength and second, in the same time frame, you must raise your absolute strength. A shot putter must become stronger and at the same time, faster.” Louie Simmons Westside Barbell

Louie Simmons goes on to explain that the majority of this training combines max effort exercises to increase the strength potential of the muscles, with light weights in order to improve speed. The sum total of this combination is an increase in explosive power.

To improve explosive strength, the movement that is worked must change from eccentric to a concentric action. The following exercises are all great examples of movements that function in this way and will help CrossFit® and Olympic Weightlifters to develop explosive power. Obviously, some are more applicable to one discipline that the other, but all are useful in their respective way.

HOW STRENGTH CONTRIBUTES TO EXPLOSIVE POWER

As discussed above, strength plays a vital role when it comes to power. To put it simply, if you are stronger, the weight will feel lighter and you will be able to move it quicker. In the vast majority of cases, an increase in pure strength will have a positive effect on the ability to generate force and power when it comes to lifting and moving.

CREATINE AND EXPLOSIVE POWER

Creatine supports the renewal of instant energy resources in muscles.

Olimp Creatine improves performance in short-term high-intensity events, for example sprints, squats, jumps and short metcons. It is popular with all strength and power athletes and also used by bodybuilders to increase muscle volume.

CrossFit athletes can benefit from the effects of creatine especially during strength cycles, when they want to improve maximal strength and power. It can also find its place immediately before a strength-based metcon.

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PLYOMETRIC EXERCISES

The term “plyometric” is a combination of the Greek terms plyo, which means to increase, and metric, which means measurement. It was originally developed to train track and field athletes such as sprinters and shot, discus and javelin throwers. The method is an effective way to build explosive power.

Explode through the jumping or pressing portion of each of the following exercises. Adding the jumps or claps into the movements forces the athlete to generate enough power in order to leave the floor.

  • Banded broad jumps
  • Lateral jumps
  • Clapping press ups
  • Jumping squats

Wall balls and box jumps may be more familiar to the everyday CrossFit athlete, and are also excellent examples of exercises that can generate a powerful stimulus when it comes to developing explosive power.

SPEED REPS

Speed reps involve light weight, moved quickly. This will help the body adapt to shifting weight quickly, so that when more weight is placed back on the bar, the increased speed will help to generate more power and move the weight effectively.

A great deal of explosive power comings from the legs, hips and by extension, core. Exercises that get your hips moving quickly from A to B will help to develop explosive power.

You will notice that this pattern runs through the following exercises. Speed reps will help to reinforce this generation of power through different planes of motion and in alternate ways.

POWER CLEANS

The power clean trains “triple extension” (when the ankles, knees and hip joints extend simultaneously) which is a key movement for athletic performance. The exercise also recruits fast-twitch muscle fibres, which generate the greatest force and speed.

DUMBBELL SNATCHES

The dumbbell snatch requires less technique, mobility, and skill than the barbell snatch. It is a great exercise for beginners when it comes to generating explosive power.

Dumbbell snatches force the body to work in a unilateral and coordinated way. They can also be a great way to uncover weaknesses in strength and imbalances or sticking points in the movement of an athlete.

They work and strengthen the shoulders and triceps, back and scapular muscles, posterior chain and core.

KETTLEBELL SWINGS

The swing is a high-power, full-body explosive movement. This again forces a generation of power through the legs and hips.  They build strength in the lower back, shoulders, grip and hip flexors.

The Kettlebell as we know it today originated in Russia approximately 350 years ago. The first appearance of the word in a Russian dictionary appeared in 1704. They were originally used as handled counterweights to weigh out dry goods on market scales.

WHAT IS CREATINE AND HOW DOES IT CONTRIBUTE TO EXPLOSIVE ENERGY?

Creatine is a nitrogenous compound. Our body produces about 1 gram of creatine a day from amino acids glycine and arginine. Synthesis takes place in liver and kidneys, and creatine is transported by blood to the muscles to perform its function. Enzyme creatine kinase transforms creatine into creatine phosphate (CP).

CP donates a molecule of phosphate to renew the ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is the ultimate source of energy in the muscle.

Energy released from the ATP breakdown initiates muscle contraction – the individual active and myosin fibres start to move. However, ATP lasts only for a few seconds and it must be renewed from creatine.

Add Creatine into your nutrition

BANDED DEADLIFTS

The resistance adds weight to the end of the lift and teaches the athlete to push through the entire range of motion.

This additional resistance often used in the form of bands or chains can also be a great way to change up how you’re loading the body through various movements. Banded deadlifts force the athlete to maintain maximal force output throughout the entire movement, because the band is working alongside gravity to pull the bar down and even offers increased resistance the further the athlete pulls.

If you have any problems with the bar drifting away from your body during the first pull of the clean or the deadlift then try forward banded deadlifts.

Attach the bands to an object in front of you. This will slightly pull the bar away from you. This forces you to apply pressure to act against this external pull. Once you remove the bands, try to maintain the pressure that you exerted and the bar will be automatically brought back closer to your body.

BOX JUMPS

A simple plyometric exercise, box jumps are an effective way to build explosive power and leg drive. Vary the height and rep range that you use in order to test and challenge your body in new ways. Experiment with higher rep ranges on lower boxes and vice versa. A max height standing box jump is a good milestone PR to keep track of alongside your lifts and WOD times. It is an excellent manifestation of explosive power from a resting position.

FRONT SQUATS

Any imbalances, strength deficiencies and mobility issues will be promptly brought to the light with the front squat. It is a great exercise for identifying and solving the following issues:

  • Problems with thoracic extension (the ability to keep your chest up)
  • Overdeveloped pic minor, biceps or triceps that can lead to a hunched forward position
  • Imbalances in the shoulder girdle
  • Weaknesses in the core
  • Front rack mobility issues
  • Poor strength in the glutes and quads
  • Hip mobility issues
  • Lack of ankle flexibility

It is also an excellent exercise to build explosive power in a highly practical way. Mix up the variations that you use, pause squats, dead stop squats, box front squats etc, but work on speed and exploding out of the hole. Keep the weights lighter when training for this purpose.

SPLIT JERKS

The Split Jerk is a movement that requires immense amounts of power and technique and in contrast with the push or power jerk, is used to lift the most weight.

Notes on Form

From a side view, in the catching position there should be a straight line between the bar, shoulders and hips with an even distance between the feet of the athlete. This allows the legs to take the weight rather than your lower back or joints.

Try these simple positioning cues:

  • Is the shin of the front leg vertical?
  • Is the back leg bent?
  • Is the back foot on the toes and correctly aligned with the knee?

If you can drive the bar really high and in a straight line, then your recovery from the split will be even easier.

PUSH PRESS

The Push press is a fantastic exercise to work on the drive, however you must use the leg drive as much as possible by driving up onto the toes and staying on the toes until the end of the press. This may be harder but it will be rewarding.

In contrast, if your leg power is good but your bar path is off, power jerks are a great way to correct the bar path. Many athletes can save a bad split jerk but may be punching the bar incorrectly, using a combination of push press and power jerk can help solve the problem and generate explosive power naturally.

SLED PUSHES

Simple and effective, sled pushes are great for building explosive power because they involve practically no element of skill. It’s all about how much you are willing to suffer. There is no way to reach technical failure with a sled push, you only fail when you are too tired to continue.

Mixing sled pushes into interval training can be particularly brutal and fun.

SPRINTS

Sprints build explosive leg drive, power and speed in a highly functional way.

Throw them into your programming and provide a new stimulus for your body. Interval track sprinting can be a great way to build up your lactic threshold and improve your body’s ability to flush lactate from the muscles. This is a highly valuable asset to your fitness, much more so for CrossFit® athletes.

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