Every fitness enthusiast knows it’s important to build strength by lifting weights. But few who don’t consider themselves CrossFitters or athletes know the importance of power and explosiveness, and how beneficial it is to move weight quickly and powerfully.
Two key fitness skills — power and explosiveness — don’t rank high on the priority list of most exercisers. That’s a pitfall, because these two elements can help you tremendously in and out of the gym.
With the help of Scott Panchik, eight-time CrossFit Games athlete and owner of CrossFit Mentality, and Joey Thurman, a personal trainer and Openfit instructor, we break down the concepts of power and explosive strength — and why those two skills are important for you, even if you don’t do CrossFit or identify as an jock.
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Defining Power and Explosiveness
In CrossFit, Panchick says, “we equate power to force, distance and time in which the average power equals force times distance divided by time. This measure of intensity allows us to compile measurable, observable and repeatable data.”
This equation basically tells you the speed of movement — in other words, how fast can you get a barbell from the front-rack position to overhead?
Explosiveness, he says, can be related back to intensity or power, which calls on strength. So it’s all connected.
“Power and explosiveness can be overlooked by the average exerciser because they may not know how to implement them into a fitness routine,” Panchik says. “By adding intensity to fundamental movements, we can maximize our fitness routine and improve our strength and metabolic conditioning at the same time.”
This is the main basis to training in a CrossFit gym, Panchik says, but he points out that anyone can add intensity to their workouts through interval and circuit training.
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Yes, You Need These Skills Even if You Don’t Compete
Many people disregard power and explosiveness as skills only elite athletes need. The average gymgoer isn’t tossing 300-pound barbells overhead or regularly sprinting 100 meters. So who cares, right?
Wrong. You should care, Panchik and Thurman agree.
“Anytime we react to a situation in a physical sense, we are using power and explosiveness,” Panchick points out. “Playing with your kids, chasing your dog, moving furniture, putting your carry-on in the overhead compartment on a plane … all call on power and explosiveness in some form.”
And Thurman says having a “well-rounded tool bag of athleticism” is important in and out of the gym. “Even during your everyday life, you may need to quickly pick something up or jump out of the way of a moving car,” he says. (We hope you don’t find yourself in that last scenario, but just in case, you know).
Anyway, “what good is being strong if you aren’t able to move the weight with some authority?” Thurman ponders.
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How to (Safely) Start Training for Power and Explosiveness
Thurman vouches for keeping things simple. Take an exercise you’ve done before — one you’re really comfortable with — and add an element of power or explosiveness. For example, try adding explosiveness to the squat.
“Slowly lower down as you would normally, but instead of trying to go up at your normal speed, shoot out of the hole like you are trying to leave your feet,” Thurman explains. Use a safe weight, of course, one that you can bail if something goes wrong. Perform three to five reps and do just a few sets to allow your body to get used to this new explosive element.
Importantly, “this isn’t something you are trying to do to failure,” Thurman says. “You’re purely trying to build explosiveness.”
When it comes to power, Thurman still suggests starting with familiar movements, but trying to perform them as fast as possible with as little ground contact time as possible. Continuing with our squat example, let’s look at the squat jump.
Descend as fast as you can and jump as high as you can, driving through the heels to come out of the hole. Still try to reach proper depth (parallel or below), but focus more on how high you can jump in the shortest amount of time, Thurman says.
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The Best Exercises for Building Power and Explosiveness
Panchik says Olympic lifts like the barbell snatch, jerk and power clean are top-dog for improving power and explosiveness. But he also recognizes that these movements aren’t always accessible to beginners or people who don’t work out in a CrossFit gym.
He offers a few ideas for beginner or intermediate exercisers:
Single-arm dumbbell snatch: Focus on squeezing your glutes and thrusting your hips forward to gain momentum.
Thrusters: Drive through your heels and blast out of the bottom of the squat. Use the hip extension to send the bar upward with less work from your shoulders.
Burpee pullups: As you come out of the burpee, jump up as high and as fast as possible to reach the pull-up bar.
Kettlebell swings: Power should come from the hips. Squeeze your glutes to fully extend the hips and send the kettlebell upward.
Burpee box jumps: Explode out of the burpee to make a smooth jump to the box. Be cautious when you down from the box.
For athletes of all fitness levels, Thurman tosses out a handful of good options.
Sprints: Each stride should contain power. Think about using your calves, hamstrings, and glutes to propel you forward.
Slam ball throw: Scoop the slam ball up by squatting down to it, scooping your hands underneath, and powerfully squeezing your glutes and hamstrings to help send the ball into the overhead position. Use your core and arms to throw the ball as hard as possible into the ground.
Plyo pushup: Descend into the bottom position; to ascend, press up and away from the floor as hard as you can so that your hands leave the ground.
Deadlift: Explode out of the bottom of the deadlift to develop power, and slowly lower down. Take care not to hyperextend your back when you stand up at the top of the lift.
Tuck jumps: Jump as high as you can and tuck your knees as high as you can, with as little ground contact between jumps as possible.
Long jumps: Start with your ams out in front of your body and swing them back for momentum as you jump. The more power you draw from your legs, the farther you’ll jump.