Build Explosive Power

By Andrew Heffernan |

Life happens fast.

You down a quick breakfast before rushing off to work. You race from task to task, dash from meeting to meeting. And then you hurry home to fix dinner.

In the real world, we move quickly all too often, and yet we tend to avoid quick movements when we train.

Slow, controlled pushups, squats, and downward dogs are certainly good for you: They build strength, burn fat, and help protect against injury. They also help you develop good form. But they won’t fully prepare you for the blazing pace of life outside the gym, particularly if your life includes any high-velocity activities — like sports.

“If you plan on moving fast, you’d better practice and train moving fast,” says Andrea Hudy, MS, CSCS, USAW, assistant athletic director for sports performance at the University of Kansas.

In gym-speak, that means training for power. “Power is force times velocity,” she explains. “Being strong means you can exert force. But being powerful means you can exert it fast — and slow down fast as well.” Strength is a barbell squat; power is a vertical leap.

Strength is a barbell squat; power is a vertical leap.

It’s also a topspin forehand, an uphill sprint, a long drive down the fairway — athletic performance in general. Says Hudy: “I don’t know of too many sports where the coach says, ‘Go slowly.’”

Off the playing field, power is equally important: One 2012 study linked loss of power to functional limitations in older adults.

In an earlier study, researchers found that, without proper training, power declines at a rate of 30 percent per decade — that’s three times the rate at which you lose slow-and-controlled strength.

The good news? Power training — which includes jumps, throws, and variations on the Olympic lifts (the snatch and the clean and jerk) — is fast-paced and fun. And often it’s a welcome relief from the isolation-based squeeze-and-hold moves in a typical gym workout.

When you train for power, you perform the concentric (lifting) phase of each rep as explosively as possible, using virtually all the muscles in your body.

The Explosive Power Workout

Before you can safely focus on developing power, you need to establish a basic fitness foundation — and the strength, balance, and coordination that comes along with it. “Speed comes last,” says Andrea Hudy, who designed this workout. If you’re new to exercise, stick with two or three sets of each power move at the start of your strength workout. Once you have workout experience and are comfortable with gym standbys like deadlifts, squats, and overhead presses, you can perform up to five sets of each move — or put them all together for a fast-paced, sweat-inducing, power-based workout.

  1. Aim for five reps per set, but stop sooner if your form starts to break down. Each rep should be an all-out effort with good form.

1. Vertical Jump


  1. Repeat four more times for one set.

To make this movement more challenging, draw your knees quickly to your chest at the top of the movement, or perform quarter, half, three-quarter, or full rotations, alternating left and right.

2. Overhead Med-Ball Throw


  1. Repeat four more times for one set.


  1. Alternate sides to complete three reps per side.

3. Jumping Pull-Up

  1. Repeat four more times for one set.
  1. Advanced exercisers can pause at the top or release the bar for a split second at the top of the move.

4. Hands-Elevated Explosive Pushup


  1. Repeat four more times for one set.

To make the movement easier, use a higher platform. To make it harder, place your hands on a lower box or on the floor in a standard pushup position. Once you’ve mastered lifting your hands slightly, experiment with clapping between repetitions.

Perform these exercises on their own, or as part of the Explosive Power Workout in a circuit. Each movement works the entire body and helps build explosive power and strength. Remember to warm up first and focus on proper form throughout. Start with two to three sets, working up to five sets of each exercise.Alternate hands as you slam the ropes up and down, whip the ropes from side to side, or trace different patterns with the ropes — inward or outward circles, or a sideways figure-eights.As you lift the ball overhead, rotate your body slightly to one side and slam the ball to the floor a few inches to the outside of your right foot, catch it, then slam it to the outside of your left foot, alternating sides on each rep.

Shifty Shoulders

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