Every top notch athlete needs to be explosive and there are many ways to achieve this quality. Being explosive simply means having the ability to exert as much force as possible in a given amount of time. Maximum strength, in and of itself, is a highly sought after capability in athletics, but possessing incredible strength and the ability to produce it rapidly are quite different. Merely being strong does not necessarily mean that one is also fast. In most sports, it is far more important to display force quickly rather than to just display as much force as possible. Athletes usually don't have enough time to develop maximal force in actual sporting movements, and success often depends on the rate at which force is developed.
A classic example is the shot put event in track and field. Shot putters tend to be large and very strong athletes, many of which having bench presses of over 400 pounds. The force required to move a barbell that heavy is far greater than is required to throw a 16 lb shot put, and takes considerably more time to produce. The time it takes to throw the shot is significantly less, and the implement would be out of the athletes hands long before the force required to bench press 400 pounds would be achieved. The most critical aspect is how much force can be developed during the short amount of time that the shot is in the athletes hand. This does not mean that the development of maximal force cant aid in throwing the shot, but it will be limited. The rate of force development is the most important quality in training for explosive sports. But remember, power is simply an expression of ones strength. Without strength, there is no power. Basic strength training should be utilized first to build the necessary structural integrity and stability of an athlete. There may not be such a thing as excessive strength, but there comes a time when training for more strength is not as important as more speed, increased rate of force development (RFD), MORE POWER!
Athletes and coaches have been experimenting with many different approaches to training this quality. These methods have often included weightlifting, which has much support in both research and practice. However, these lifts are far from the only methods available for developing explosiveness and, depending on the circumstances, other methods can prove to be much more effective. These circumstances include, but are not limited to, amount of time the athlete has to devote to developing enough skill to perform the movements effectively, the coaches ability to teach, the athletes lack of strength, posture, mobility or flexibility to attain proper positioning and mechanics to effectively train the lifts, and available space and equipment. If an athlete has reached a higher level of performance in their respective sport without meeting all of the specific physical requirements to perform a properly executed snatch or clean and jerk, chances are that taking the time and effort to learn these movements from a beginner level will not improve their sport performance that much more than any other type of explosive training.
One of the most popular ways to train explosiveness is with weightlifting variations. These include variants of the snatch and the clean and jerk, ranging from partial movements to different combinations and hybrid exercises. These movements have the potential to help you run faster, jump higher, throw and hit harder, among other things. It is easy to see how the development of these qualities could enhance performance in sports like football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, track and field. Movements like the snatch, particularly from the hang position, are very similar to the mechanics involved when and athlete performs a vertical jump, only performed with added resistance. The pull phase of the clean and the drive phase of the jerk display the same sport specific acceleration pattern. Its important to realize that the athlete never decelerates the barbell during the pull, as gravity does that instead, and the athlete accelerates the barbell upward until the extension is complete. In addition, when proper instruction is given, weightlifting has been proven to be very safe and by comparison, weightlifting participants tend to be relatively injury-free when compared to sports such as basketball, soccer and rugby.
Depending on the actual sport of the participant, the volume and intensity of the training can be varied at different times throughout the year. Such details are beyond the scope of this article. But, in general, the lifts can be performed throughout the year, and are typically performed at the beginning of the training session when the least amount of fatigue is present in the muscles and neuromuscular system, to avoid injury and allow the best technique. Every athlete will have different strong points and weak points, so wisely choosing multiple variations of the lifts can help eliminate weaknesses and imbalances in the athlete. Variations include the full lifts, lifting from different positions in the hang, lifting from different height blocks, power variations, split variations, hybrid exercises such as a power snatch + overhead squat + snatch balance, and even using different training tools like dumbbells and kettlebells. This is a great way to avoid monotonous or stagnant training and further develop athleticism.
There are many alternative methods of training explosiveness that do not use weightlifting specific exercises. Many times this focuses on traditional resistance training in combination with plyometric exercises. For example, the athlete could perform a heavy set of three deadlifts followed immediately by three box jumps at a near-maximal height. Also, the athlete could perform a set of squats followed immediately by a sprint. Sets, reps, weights and distances can all be varied depending on the athlete. This type of training has been shown to improve measurements of power, such as the vertical leap, in as little as 3 weeks. Basically what is happening physiologically with this type of training is an increase in muscle twitch tension after high intensity contractions, leading to improved power performance. Explosiveness by the muscles is improved as the result of increased neuromuscular activation after maximal contractions. This could help develop maximal potential power much faster than traditional weightlifting. The movements are easier to teach, easier to learn, and provides the athlete with more training time and less learning time, which is exceptionally important for collegiate and professional athletes who may have extreme time constraints. Always remember the goal, are you trying to make a baseball player a better weightlifter or a better baseball player?
Other forms of explosive training include using bands or chains to add accommodating resistance to the basic power lifts is a great way to use sub-maximal loads and move the bar at maximal speeds. Throwing medicine balls in various directions and angles of the body are exceptionally beneficial because there is no need for the athlete to decelerate. You simply wind up and throw as hard as possible. Basic plyometrics are also great and implementing these modalities are great for coaches with several trainees because they can create an environment where less individual instruction is required for those athletes who have yet to master the lifts and more athletes can train simultaneously. Combination training is commonly used by training a plyometric exercise like several sets of box jumps before performing sets of squatting exercises, or clapping pushups before bench pressing. Again, the athlete should usually perform the explosive movements first in the training session, or on a separate day, when the body is least fatigued. However, there are times when the athlete will benefit from performing explosive movements while fatigued as well to prepare for the rigors of their sport. Even though the body may not be as fresh as possible, it is widely known that a football player needs to be just as, or more, explosive at 3:00 after already playing since 1:00 the same afternoon.
Your only limitation is your imagination when training for explosiveness. But keep in mind, there is magic in mastering the basics. Most athletes are constantly training their skill while on the field, therefore there is little need to repeatedly try to enhance their specific skill, but more so to develop their general power and explosiveness in their training. Whether you decide to use weightlifting exclusively or a variation of combination training should be based on the needs and the abilities of the athlete. Almost everything works, but nothing works forever. Experiment, pay attention and take notes of your training and you will learn what works for you and what does not. What is important is that you approach training with an open mind and avoid narrow views of how to train optimally. Do not waste your precious time doing things that yield little or no results. Utilizing any these methods can help many athletes start strong in their sport, but more importantly, they can help the most determined champions finish stronger than the rest.