Developing Explosive Power
I’ve got three things to cover in this post, and I’d like to start with an important area for those seeking improvements in athletic performance and those who may be very strong, but slower than a tortoise.
If you want to be fast, you need to train fast. Maximizing your Rate-of-Force Development (RFD) can help build this type of power.
The simplest way to do so? Lift weights with the intention of accelerating through the range of motion as fast as you can. Even during near-max attempts, the bar might be moving slowly but the mere intention of getting the weight up quickly can make a big difference.
Other methods, such as accommodating resistance like bands or chains, can help improve the ability to produce force at a high velocity. Plyometrics are also very effective in this regard.
Since this topic has been written about numerous times by people who are smarter and more experienced than myself, I’m not going to dive much deeper into the deets here. But here are some great articles to check out if you’re interested.
There are a couple things to keep in mind before implementing this style of training.
First, training for speed and agility is just about useless if you don’t already possess a good level of base strength relative to your bodyweight. Make sure you’re reasonably experienced with strength training and have the skill and coordination to perform compound movements with solid technique. If your form on the squat is shaky, how do you think it’s going to look when you attempt speed squats at maximum velocity?
Second, the idea of training for speed and power is nothing more than simple physics. Strength coaches around the world don’t use these strategies simply because they look cool and sound smart. Keep in mind the basic formulas for force, work, and power.
F=ma (Force = Mass * Acceleration)
W=Fs (Work = Force * Distance)
P=W/t (Power = Work/Time)
Therefore, in order to produce more force you can either increase the amount of mass you’re moving, or increase the speed at which you move the same mass. From there, increased force output will in turn increase the amount of work being done (assuming the load is being moved over the same distance). And continuing on, doing more work will result in a higher amount of power production (assuming that the work is being done in the same amount of time).
To conclude, training with maximal loads moved at sub-maximal speeds combined with training sub-maximal loads at maximal speeds will yield the best results in terms of strength, power, and athleticism.
Strength of Evidence
Jonathan Fass and Bret Contreras have put together an excellent resource for all fitness professionals called the Strength of Evidence Podcast. If you have some spare time and want to listen to a couple of freaky smart guys talk strength and conditioning, this podcast is a great option.
Jon and Bret cover tons of research each episode and really work to clear up common misconceptions as well as offer evidence-based solutions (and expert opinions) to some very common problems. Definitely check it out sometime!
Snatch Grip Deficit Deadlifts
There’s no questioning that deadlifts are a true test of total body strength. The demands that they place on the entire posterior chain are excellent for average folks looking to improve health and aesthetics, all the way up to elite athletes who are seeking performance enhancement and injury reduction.
One good way to improve your deadlift efficiency and strength while also improving joint mobility is to lengthen the distance of the pull. Using a snatch grip (very wide grip) or pulling from a deficit are two simple ways to do this. When combined, these can reap tremendous benefits. Here’s an example of me using a wide grip (even with my T-Rex arms) and standing on a 45lb plate to create around a 1.5″ deficit.
If you don’t pull conventionally, you can always just add a deficit to sumo deadlifts (using a 25lb plate for each foot works well) or do trap bar deadlifts with the low handles or a deficit or both! Remember that it takes a lot of mobility to perform these extreme ROM type movements. Start off with a very small deficit or a very small change in grip width and as your mobility improves over time, increase the ROM. Avoid pulling with a rounded lumbar spine to keep your discs safe from unnecessary shear forces and to avoid low back pain.
Try this strategy out the next time you deadlift. Pull from a deficit for your lighter sets and then remove the deficit when things get heavy. You should feel stronger throughout the pull and more comfortable getting into the starting position. I’m confident you’ll find this tip to be effective and practical!