The Theory Behind Explosive Strength Training

Studies have shown that resistance training improves the muscles ability to generate force, but there is much less evidence showing that this improved ability can be transferred into improved performance such as vertical jump, short sprint speed and other high velocity skills like throwing or kicking. However, if the players in a strength training program are allowed to continue to practice a skill while training, the evidence suggests that improvements in strength can lead to gains in high velocity performance (speed, vertical jump, etc.).

This has much to do with the bodies ability to control the rapid rate of muscle contraction (and simultaneous relaxation of antagonist muscles) around a joint like the knee and hip. Strength training, even if performed at slow speeds, will definitely improve the muscles ability to generate force, but the poor transfer to performance may be because of this interaction between opposing muscle groups. Muscle coactivation is necessary to balance joint forces. If one muscle contracts to get you off the ground, and other muscles around that joint are not simultaneously relaxing in a coordinated manner, the speed of the motion will be reduced. This reduction in speed will result in a reduction of power, and this usually leads to less than ideal sprint speeds or jump heights.

But some exercises have been shown to actually increase the neuromuscular coordination responsible for this coactivation. Olympic lifting and true plyometric activities (both relying on stretch shortening cycle) can teach the body to work in a more efficient and explosive manner. In my opinion, programs that are built around Olympic lifting and plyometric fundamentals set the stage for explosive performance. But why then do we squat, lunge, bench press and dead lift?

If we are trying to build fast, explosive athletes, why do we bother with these other exercises? The slower exercises do two things, 1) build a base of strength from which we will be attempting to transition to power and speed, and 2) promote stability around a joint. In our program we begin with the slower, less complex lifts to teach stability, rhythm and to set a foundation of strength. Meanwhile we are also unloading the body and working into a plyometric preparatory program that is allowing the body to jump, land, bound, turn, leap and hop at a speed and rhythm that is enhancing the neuromuscular coordination that will be necessary as we begin to introduce the Olympic lifts.

So in closing, we first must set a base of strength and stability while simultaneously developing free, unloaded, coordination-based athletic movement. Next, we begin to move more explosively with lighter loads in our preparatory lifts (jump squats, etc.). This is the transition phase, so we choose exercises that closely mimic the actual athletic movement so that they athlete can begin to make the connection between resistance training for power and powerful athletic movement. Finally, we begin to load up these movements with the Olympic lifts (clean, snatch and variations of the jerk).

From day one, our players are getting better. Whether through coordination based activities that will improve the confident way they move, or by improving their stability through simple resistance training which should transition in to better body control, deceleration speeds and reduction of injury risk.

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  1. Arabatzi, F, and K Eleftherios. “Olympic weightlifting training causes different knee muscle-coactivation adaptations compared with traditional weight training.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 26.8 (2012): 2192-2201. Print.




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