Can you train explosiveness?
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Contrast Methods: Can You Train Explosiveness?
One of the problems we see with athletes is that some athletes tend to have a dead nervous system. These athletes may look like Gumbie when they catch a clean, folding all over the place. When they back squat or bench, they look all wobbly. Their bodies are struggling with coordination and getting every muscle to work in tandem.
This idea might also come into play with big, hulking individuals who move in a robotic manner, lacking explosiveness because of the inability to take their absolute strength and apply it into some dynamic, explosive strength.
Some of the principles we like to use are based on potentiation. Think of potentiation around having a muscle belly that needs the contractile force increased. The muscle(s) need the innervation enhanced so that the energy goes into the muscle(s) to fire and recruit the entire muscle as effectively as possible.
How does this happen?
It happens by using contrast methods.
Let’s look at 3 different problems and solutions to make athletes more explosive.
Scenario 1 - Super Strong (Lacks Explosive Power)
Let’s say we have a d-linemen or shot putter who is super, super strong. Say they can back squat 500 lbs for a set of 4. But now when this athlete goes to do a box jump and they approach it like a tin man. This happens a lot, especially with super-strong athletes who are rigid. At times it can look like a baby deer learning to run. To play into their neural drive, we want to trick them to be more athletic.
What happens is their preference is to squat heavy. So we want to get them to squat heavy while at the same time cueing them on how to use that neural drive more effectively for explosive strength.
So we start by playing into their strength. Have them hit a triple or a set of four. The key with contrast training is in this scenario is to have them rest for two to three minutes before going to perform the rapid coordination movement. This will allow the athletes to execute the movement to the necessary level.
We will have them go and do stair jumps. The big thing is to cue big, strong athletes to react quickly, “Land, go! Land, go!” just like they do out of the bottom of the squat.
Really strong athletes need to think about coordinating their whole body to be as explosive as possible. The arms need to be used to execute rapid movements and everything in the brain needs to be as explosive as possible. Bound up the steps in as few jumps as possible. The first time through will light up the nervous system. The second time through will be even more explosive and evidence of the nervous system firing more effectively.
Scenario 2 - Weak Core
Ever see an athlete back squat or front squat a ton of weight, collapse their chest forward, shoot their hips back, but still execute the rep. The thing is the body is put in a position where it is at a higher risk of being injured. Ideally, as strength increases, we want to always be zeroing in on technique to create a lower chance of being injured.
In the case of the chest collapsing forward and the hips shooting back is related to trunk coordination, better known as dynamic trunk control. A solution we like revolves around understanding the movement pattern and how we want the squat to look based upon their levers. We want to train in a manner that they can keep the trunk as stable as possible. It is okay if the trunk is stable. That’s the first key.
The second key is that we like to use an exercise like zombie squats. The zombie squat requires the trunk to execute the movement perfectly. It forces the body to stay upright. The contrast method in this scenario is to perform a zombie squat for two to four reps, rest two to three minutes, and then head over to the GHD to perform the glute-ham Y’s.
The zombie squat has us focus on an upright trunk with dynamic trunk control. We then do an exercise that is an accessory that forces the body to train the abs and back to coordinate while doing shoulder work, forcing the trunk to be more stable. The takeaway from this pairing is stability.
On the glute-ham, we can hold a little bent knee position to train the hamstrings more. We want to squeeze the belly button to the floor while pushing the lower back up. Then with dumbbells in hand, we extend long arms into a Y. Then we rest two to four minutes before going back to the zombie squats.
Scenario 3 - Weak Lockout
Related to upper body strength and coordinating explosive strength to help the lockout is a must for a big, big bench. Athletes can get the big bench off the chest but then struggle to recruit the high threshold motor units through that tricep that looks like the shape of Florida.
Increasing rapid coordination will lead to a bigger bench and pressing opponents off the body in many sports.
One of the best tricks with contrast training to help potentiate the nervous system to improve the contractile structure of the muscle, have the athletes bench press first for a set of three to five reps. Then have them rest two to three minutes before hitting the next movement.
Remember, this is around having a bad lockout. So we like to use a PowerLastic banded push-up to contrast with the bench. Doing this movement we want to wrap the hands through the PowerLastic handle. The band will increase the mind-muscle connection to be more explosive and it will also force better coordination at the top of the push-up. Make sure to accelerate through the top of the push-up as if trying to clap. The goal is to get five to seven reps to not become too fatigued. Focusing on explosive strength we want to keep the reps lower, having a heavy load on the barbell movement and being explosive with the movements.
This will increase the way the nervous system coordinates to help lead to explosive strength.
Who benefits from this? Think about bigger or extremely strong athletes who struggle to be fast or explosive because they will benefit greatly from contrast training. Also, pay attention to athletes who struggle with a lockout on a bench, collapse their chest when squatting, or athletes who stutter-step when jumping. These are all factors based on rapid coordination.
Athletes should be doing this once a week for four to six weeks before breaking from the contrast-style of training for two to four weeks. Just make sure to use all three of these different solutions to increase overall power output, explosive strength, and sports performance.
Yo, It's Dane
Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!
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