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Why are some athletes more powerful and explosive?

Every athlete wants to be powerful and explosive, but can these be trained or is it genetic?

Improving your power and explosiveness requires the right formula or training techniques.

BMT works with many athletes and they often compare themselves based on power and explosiveness. Naturally, their most common goal is to be more powerful. But when we break it down and ask what they mean, the most common answer is, "Be more explosive!". Simply put, they equate power with explosiveness.

Here's where it is wrong: Power is not defined by explosiveness. But, explosiveness can contribute to the measure of power. Confused yet? You're not alone.

True to BMT style, we define the two terms first. Power is the motion that results from force in a given amount of time. This force has a maximum output and this is where explosiveness comes in. Explosiveness is the ability to produce the maximum force in the minimum time. Therefore, power and explosiveness are related, but do not exclusively define each other.

If you are looking to improve both values, focus on power, because explosiveness will come with it naturally. Both values are also directly related to muscle strength and the next question we often encounter is; is it genetic or can it be trained?

Back to Muscle Size

When we talk about power, we also include speed into the equation. Speed is related to power; where you become faster if your muscle can generate more force in a shorter time. A lot of this has to do with your muscle size.

If you read our previous post about calves, you would understand that muscle sizes are largely genetic. That also means physical parameters that rely on your muscles like vertical jump, explosiveness, power and speed are largely controlled by genetics. This can explain why some athletes are naturally faster or more explosive.

But like growing muscle size these parameters can be trained. We can be brutally honest and agree with much of the scientific evidence out there, that you can train these parameters, but only to an extent. However, we have also seen some isolated cases where athletes do improve their vertical jump or speed - and it's all down to the right formula.

The right formula

There are four scientifically proven ways that help condition and improve the power parameters:

1. Plyometrics

Plyometric movements focus on force release and absorption include hurdle hops, bounding, depth jumps, lateral bounds, and combination movements such as two-leg broad jump to a single leg landing. To improve agility, horizontal plyometrics does wonders.

But you should remember that not all plyometric exercises are created the same. For example, a sprint stride is different from a vertical jump, as the rate of work is 5 times faster in a sprint stride. Identifying what you want to improve is key.

Once you identify that, start small on the volume and intensity of plyometric work before building it. Jumping to high volumes and intensity will create an adverse adaptation pattern in later stages of training. Progressing slowly over time is a key to success.

2. Ballistic Resistance Training

Kettlebell swings are a form of ballistic resistance trainings and one of our favourites at BMT.

Also known as power training, ballistic resistance training combines weights and throwing and jumping movements to increase explosiveness. These include jump squats or box jumps with weights.

This training allows you to be highly specific and can be very sensitive to bar monitoring and power outputs. For example, carrying a barbell load equivalent to your body weight and performing 8 half squats as fast as possible.

While it sounds like plyometric training, ballistic training is different as exercises are typically concentric in nature. This means the lowering or yielding phase of an exercise is removed, allowing more time to produce force.

Simply put, plyometrics improve storage and utilisation of elastic energy (force absorption and release), while ballistic training improves firing frequency, an intra- and inter-muscular coordination (generating force for release).

3. Resistance Training

To improve muscular strength and endurance, we often include resistance training in our programs. Despite it being a training to improve endurance, resistance training is not doing reps until failure, but rather doing the minimal amount necessary to create a change in performance. Overdoing resistance training can stiffen the nervous system and hinder adaptation.

Much like plyometrics, there are many exercises for resistance training and it is important to identify your goals. If you use more fast-twitch muscle fibers, go low on your reps (under 5 reps) and train over 80% of your maximal ability, with a few sets. If you use more slow-twitch muscle fibers, do a single set with higher reps of up to 20. Train smart, not hard.

4. Olympic Weightlifting

A common favourite among all coaches, Olympic weightlifting is the easiest way to develop power.

While Olympic weightlifting is similar to ballistic resistance training, it focuses solely on weightlifting without the throwing or jumping movements. Also a common component in strength and conditioning programs, Olympic weightlifting will improve explosiveness the right way. This is because the biomechanical movements are similar to many sports, making it a favourable training technique.

The key is to have fast velocities, but low reps that vary in terms of density. That means alternating supersets with normal sets, combined with quick movements like cleans and jerks. Finding your rhythm for your sport is important.

Having a mix of all four training techniques is the right formula. Do a quick assessment of what you need and find your individual preferences. This will narrow down your best training practices and optimise your training times.

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Are you an athlete looking to build overall power? Join our BMT family to learn more! Just drop us an email at enquiries@benchmarktheory.com!