Explosive training includes exercises that enhance strength, power, and speed in order to improve athletic performance.
You can use different types of movements, tempo, and repetition ranges to increase speed, strength, or both in order to gain an edge in your chosen sport or just an extra boost in your overall sport.
This article breaks down everything you need to know about designing and implementing explosive exercises as part of your fitness routine.
Explosive exercises combine speed, power, and strength training into a functional movement that allows you to generate force quickly or slow it down quickly. Explosive power is necessary to improve reaction time.
Often, people assume that explosive training is only for highly trained athletes or those looking to improve athletic performance. However, explosive training can serve a purpose in everyday life as well.
For example, if you see your child fall off the top of a slide and you need to hustle to catch them, you’ll use explosive force to get there quickly.
In short, yes. Improving explosive power requires a combination of strength training, speed training, and strength training. When you are proficient in all three, you can increase your strength, and you will be stronger as a result.
However, training specifically for muscle size — also known as hypertrophy training — requires a different approach than strength training. If you’re looking to bulk up, explosive training may not have the effect you’re looking for.
Strength training exercises are usually performed by moving as hard as you can, but at a slow speed.
Sprint training involves exercises performed at a high speed, such as sprints or agility drills, with or without resistance.
Strength training involves movements that produce a lot of force at moderate speeds, such as plyometrics.
In a 2017 meta-analysis on young athletes, it was concluded that while plyometric strength training was more effective in increasing jump height, strength training was more beneficial in terms of sprint speed. It is therefore beneficial to include both strength and speed training to maximize explosiveness (
Research shows that taking a cyclic approach to your training that targets strength training before strength training to establish a baseline of strength will yield the best results when it comes to explosiveness (
This period can be done in long-term phases, or in separate exercises throughout the week.
To improve speed, keep your repetitions low and your speed and intensity as high as possible, provided you can recover between sets.
Research has found that sled racing is one effective way to increase sprint speed, especially in the acceleration phase and the maximum speed of movement. The same study also determined that total volume is more important than load when it comes to this type of activity (
Another 2016 study of soccer players showed the benefits of sled sprints in overall velocity over plyometric training (4).
But for athletes specifically, perhaps the most important factor in explosive training is specificity. You need to determine what kind of performance benefits you are looking for.
For example, in 2018, a group of participants joined a study that put them on an exercise bike to see if they could improve their 30-meter sprint performance.
After 4 weeks of intense 30-second intervals on the bike, the participants improved their cardiovascular fitness and VO2 max, but their 30-meter sprint performance did not (5).
This was because they did not train the muscles used when producing sprinting speed. Instead, they were using the muscles involved in cycling.
If you are involved in a sport that involves a lot of sprints, consider training with sprint exercises.
If you are training for an activity with a lot of explosive movements, you should practice using explosive movements.
If you want a combination of the above improvements, you can combine strength, power, speed training, or focus skill one by one and then switch.
Speed training using sprint-type movements, strength training using ballistic movements, and strength training using high weight at low repetitions are all part of a balanced explosive workout routine.
The three best explosive exercises to increase speed
- running. Short sprints on the track – anywhere from 10 to 40 meters (32 to 131 ft) – are great for developing overall speed.
- Sledge pushes or sled pulls. Load the sled with a light to medium weight and push it 20–40 meters (66 to 131 ft) across the ground as fast as you can. Then turn around and pull it back. You want a total of about 160 m (525 ft) per session, according to a 2018 meta-analysis of several studies on sled performance (
- Shuttle runs. Set up two cones 30 feet (9 m) apart and run from one to the other. Then turn around and go back. You can make this more advanced by using 4 cones and adding some lateral and backward motion, running forward 30 feet to cone one, then sprinting to the right 30 feet to cone two, then 30 feet back to cone three, then 30 feet to the left, and it finishes at the start.
- Run 5 x 15 yards, resting 2-3 minutes between sets or more if needed.
- Run 5 x 25 yards, resting 2-3 minutes or more if needed.
- Run 5 x 40 yards, resting 2-3 minutes or more if needed.
Explosive sled workout
Complete five rounds of the following:
- Using a light to medium weight, push the sled 20 yards as fast as you can, then rest as needed.
- Pull the sled 20 yards as fast as you can.
Sprints, sled work, and agility exercises such as shuttle runs are best for increasing speed.
The best explosive exercises to increase strength
- box jumps: From a half-squat position, jump onto the chest. Lower one foot at a time and repeat. Try 3-4 sets of 5 reps with 2-3 minutes between sets for power performance.
- Plyometric push-ups: Start at the top of the push-up position. Lower yourself to the bottom position of the pushup with control, then explode as high as you can from the bottom with enough force that your hands leave the floor. You can clap here if you like but it is not required. Lower down as gently as possible and repeat. Try 3-4 sets of 5-10 reps.
- Kettlebell swings: Place your feet about twice the distance between your hips. Place the kettlebell in front of your feet, in the middle of your legs. Engage your core and lift the kettlebell with straight arms. Ensure that the shoulder blades are stable. Hold the kettlebell, throw the weight back between your legs, bend your hips and sit back slightly, and swing the kettlebell back between your legs. Squeeze your glutes, drive your hips forward into a neutral pelvic position, and swing the weight up into your chest or eye, with straight arms. Make sure the movement comes from hip extension, not raising your arms. Repeat 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps.
- Dumbbell presses: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold two dumbbells at your shoulders. Lower down into a slight squat and then extend your hips, using that momentum to help push the dumbbells up over your head until your arms are straight. Lower the dumbbells and repeat. Complete 3-4 sets of 3-6 reps.
- Squat: Perform it with a controlled eccentric phase (on the way down) followed by a powerful hip extension (on the way down). Do this for 3-4 sets of 3-8 reps. You can also add a jump for more challenge.
An explosive workout for strength
In the plan below, alternate the two exercises in each set for the specified number of repetitions and sets.
1a) Front squat: 4 sets of 4 reps
1b) Box jump: 4 sets of 5 reps
Rest 2-3 minutes between sets.
2a) Press press: 3 sets of 4 reps
2b) Kettlebell swing: 3 sets of 8 reps
Rest 2-3 minutes between sets.
3a) Push-ups: 2 sets of 5 reps
3b) Plyometric Press: 2 sets of 10 reps
Two minutes rest between sets.
Box jumps, pushups, kettlebell swings, push-ups, and squats are great moves for increasing strength.
When it comes to speed, gym-specific workouts are perfect. For example, if you want to be a faster distance runner, some short sprints will help, but you will have to spend most of your time doing long distance runs.
If you want to keep it simple, go back to strength training. Progressive overload combined with heavy compound exercises will provide the best bang for your buck when it comes to speed and strength.
Explosive training combines the best of speed, power and strength training to deliver the best results for your athletic endeavors. However, everyone can benefit from explosive training, as it will help you adapt and respond quickly to stimulation in everyday life.
Remember to train with specifics in mind if you are into sports to improve your athletic performance and include all 3 types of training (speed, strength and power) in your programming for best results.