Improve Your Athletic Power with These Exercises
I’ll take this opportunity to make an important distinction that I feel is necessary. There is a big difference between bodybuilding and training for athletic competition. With bodybuilding, the main goal is to become as big/cut as possible in order to build the best physique. The main goal is not to lift as much weight as possible… that’s what powerlifting is for. The weights are simply used as tools to build muscle. Strength is merely a byproduct of all that training.
Today, I’m here to talk about athletic training. When it comes to athletic training, the 2 main goals are POWER and EXPLOSIVE STRENGTH. An athlete would want these because these enable them to run faster, jump higher, throw farther… you get the picture. Anything an athlete is trying to do in competition, greater power and explosive strength gives them the ability to do it better.
What exactly is explosive strength? Explosive strength is basically an individual’s ability to exert maximal amount of force in the shortest time interval. Power is a result of explosive strength. For all you physics guys out there, the equation is:
Power (P) = Force (F) x Velocity (V)
In order to achieve greater Force and Velocity, the athlete must get stronger and faster. Now how does this translate to workouts in the gym? Well, I’ll tell you and I will do so through the lens of my own experiences with training specifically geared towards improving my explosive strength and power. My philosophy on this is a little bit different then what most people would recommend.
Back in high school, I was a 3 sport athlete (baseball, track & field, and football). Now for the most part, I didn’t have much control over my training for the first 2 years of high school. I pretty much did all of my training with the team at the school gym and that was it. Junior year was when I first started lifting, but I was most focused on just getting bigger and stronger. It translated to great results in competition simply because I was getting bigger and stronger. Senior year was when I really took my training seriously (into my own hands). And I had crazy results, especially in track and field. I actually won the gold medal in both the shot put and 55m dash on multiple occasions my Senior year.
Notice the drastic improvements from Junior Year to Senior Year:
55 m dash: 7.2 sec (2007) vs. 6.45 sec (2008)
Shot put: 32 ft. 9 in. (2007) vs 55 ft. 11 ¾ in. (2008)
Those are impressive improvements even by my crazy standards. How did I do it? I did it by focusing my workouts on developing as much power and explosive strength as possible. I still did bodybuilding type workouts, but I made sure to emphasize the movements that I felt would help me fly across that circle and barrel down the runway. I also recognized my weaknesses and realized that the only solution was to develop A LOT MORE POWER.
For the shot put, I used the glide technique. My glide was slow. The faster you glide the farther the shot put goes (assuming technique and angle of release remains the same). I needed to glide faster. Power would help me do this. For my sprints, my starts were not as explosive as the guys I saw winning the events. Power would give me more explosive starts. Very simple. Recognize the problem. Find the solution. Do it.
Okay so here is my breakdown of the various exercises I used to develop as much explosive strength and power in a very short time period.
My philosophy for choosing my main exercises was very simple. I chose the exercises that I believed forced me to use the most weight and put my body under the most overall tension.
*** I also want to point out real quick that the time period from Junior to Senior Year was also when I started to hammer legs with real leg training. Leg training is key to developing explosive strength. The legs make up the most muscle in your body so it would make sense to train these hard. Just wanted to include that in there in case you’re one of these newschool guys who wants to skim on developing athletic power. Sorry kid, no shortcuts here. You want to run faster, jump higher, or throw farther? Gotta hammer legs. Still interested? Okay, then get ready to improve your athletic power with these exercises.
#1- Clean and Press
This is number one for a reason. When it comes to developing explosive strength and power, nothing beats the Olympic lifts. The Olympic lifts force you to have incredible control of your body while also lifting the weight as fast as possible. You also have to actually move the weight a lot farther than you would with the big 3 lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press). And to top it off, you are also moving the weight from a complete standstill (on the ground) to up over your head. Now that’s a lift. A lot of athletes like to just stick with the clean movement and stop there. I also included the press (jerk) movement. It’s just another part of the lift to do (actually lifting it over your head). I think it’s important and I would definitely recommend it if you want to do this all the way, meaning without cutting corners.
Just make sure to be careful and study the technique extensively before incorporating it into your training.
Squats build power and mass unlike any other exercise. There’s a reason it’s considered to be the king of all exercises. Load up a bar with heavy weight and squat it up and down. You think that might help you run faster and jump higher. You’d be crazy if you said “No”. You should experiment with all different types of squats… back squats, front squats, hack squats, different types of machine squats. All of these will help because it’s leg training. That’s where the majority of your power is coming from. However, I’ll take it a step further and express my opinion regarding front squats vs. back squats. In my opinion, front squats are more beneficial to someone looking to develop as much explosive strength as possible. Front squats are far more difficult… that’s why you don’t really see people doing them in the gym.
But I also feel that they put the body under more overall tension than back squats. If you have a chance to try it out, be honest with yourself. Which exercise do you feel yourself having to work harder? In most cases, I would say the front squat. It is so much more difficult to balance the weight on your front delts in front of you and squat it down. You feel your entire body tense up and you really feel it when you are balancing your core. Back squats on the other hand, are a lot easier and there’s also a lot more opportunity for you to mess up on your form. A lot of dudes sacrifice form in order to lift more weight and put unnecessary tension on the lower back. With front squats, you don’t really feel it as much on your lower back.
*** I was advised to make this change from a fellow competitor and friend. He was a year older than me and was the guy who always won. The reason he always won was because he was one of the top throwers in the world… He was #1 in the nation in the shot put (72 ft.) and he was #1 in the world for the hammer throw (280 ft.). The main exercise he relied upon in training was heavy front squats. Interestingly enough, this kid was actually small compared to the other top kids in the country/world. The top throwers were usually about 6’5” 300 lbs. But this kid (the top dog) was about 6’0” 185 lbs. His advantage was incredible speed and power. No one moved as fast as him in the circle and it was because of the incredible power he developed. He attributed it largely to relying on front squats.
#3- Weighted Dips
Dips are often considered the “upper body squat.” And I agree. This exercise puts your entire upper body under tension. It requires a lot of strength to push your body up and down between 2 bars. You incorporate dips into your routine… that will help you develop power in your upper body. Now take it a step further. You attach a weight belt and add weights to it… that will help you develop a lot of power. Think about it. Your power and explosiveness will increase dramatically if you make it a habit to do dips with added weight. You are pushing extra weight and as a result, your entire upper body is subject to that much more tension. Of course this is going to make someone throw an implement faster or hit someone with greater force. So this is certainly a great movement for someone looking to develop more power. I did weighted dips on a regular basis during my senior year of high school.
Another kingmaker exercise. Very simple. Load up a bar with weight and lift it up with your legs keeping your back straight. This is an exercise that completely taxes your system and is great for your cardiovascular health. This exercise hits so many different muscles… you are literally placing your entire body under the type of stress conducive to putting on overall muscle and developing explosive power. So yea this is an important exercise.
#5- Any Type of Pressing Movement
Presses… All types of bench presses… All types of shoulder presses… These all put the upper body under a decent amount of overall tension and enable you to use heavy weight. You’ll obviously build muscle but you will also develop power with any type of pressing movement. In my case, I really utilized heavy dumbbell presses and heavy dumbbell bench presses.
#6- Heavy Dumbbell Squats
I separated these from the other section on squats because I really feel that these are unique and deserve their own section. These are definitely an underrated exercise when it comes to developing explosive strength and power. When I did these back in high school they definitely helped me run faster and jump higher. The first time I was able to dunk a basketball was senior year of high school, a couple months after I had incorporated these into my training. I also give these credit for giving me the ability to absolutely fly across that throwing circle.
As a bonus, I actually put these into my leg routine in spring 2011 when I wanted to get stronger on regular squats. They helped me to the point where I felt like I was playing around with 4 and 5 plates on the bar. I’ll also go ahead and say that these also strengthen your grip, which obviously helps you out on your other lifts.
This movement was heavily used by the old-school Soviet hammer throwers back in the 70’s and 80’s. That’s where I got the idea from. I remember seeing an old YouTube video of Yuriy Sedykh (the world record holder) doing these in the gym and I figured it was a good idea to try them out. It was because these are an unbelievable way to build power in the legs. I’m surprised more people don’t do these.
#7- Standing Calf Raise Machine
Any type of calf raise is going to help because you’re training your legs. But if I had to narrow it down to one calf exercise, this one is the best. It builds the most muscle and helps develop the most explosive strength/power. The reason why this particular calf exercise is so effective is because it enables you to use the most weight and puts your body under the most overall tension.
“A tree is only as strong as its roots.”
In other words, train your calves. Strong calves are necessary in so many sports. Exploding off the line of scrimmage, driving off of the starting blocks, exploding out the back of the circle… these all require power in the calves. Since this particular exercise enables you to use the most weight and puts your body under the most tension, it should definitely be considered an important exercise.
Conclusion- Other Exercises
I knew I had to develop a lot more power if I wanted to compete, especially in track & field. I was very motivated because I was tired of being just another competitor. I wanted to be a top dog. I wanted to be the guy who went home every meet with a couple of medals. So I took action. I crafted my workout routines with the main goals of EXPLOSIVE STRENGTH AND POWER in mind.
I chose those 7 exercises for a reason. After my Junior Year of high school, I decided that the fastest way for me throw farther and run faster was to focus on the exercises that enabled me to use the most weight, while at the same time put my body under the most overall tension. That was my game plan for developing the type of speed and power to eventually become a champion. I stuck with that plan and about a year later I was winning gold in both the shot put and sprints on a regular basis.
Now, it is important to keep in mind that those were not the only exercises I did. I still did a bunch of other exercises because I still wanted to build overall size and strength. I also did a lot of core work because that too is crucial for athletic performance.
I know most of you guys probably are not too concerned with throwing a shot put farther or running the 55 m dash in a certain time. However, I feel that this training is applicable to anyone who wants more explosive strength and power. Who wouldn’t want to run faster, jump higher, and exert more force? That’s awesome. The first time I dunked a basketball was a very happy moment in my life… and I barely played basketball.
Most of my articles, will be on bodybuilding and building muscle but I thought this was a cool article to write up. If you are looking to develop your explosive strength and power then definitely consider these movements as a solid starting point. I hope you guys learned a lot from this, I certainly had fun going down memory lane and reflecting on how I trained Senior year of high school.
** BONUS– This is a picture of me throwing the shot put Senior year. Junior year, I started gliding but had to start a few inches before the back of the circle. Even then, I would barely reach the toe board. Fast forward a year later. I absolutely had to start at the back and I would barely be able to stay inside the circle. That’s how much more explosive I was at moving from the back of the circle.