What are the 5 Best Explosive Upper Body Exercises for Athletes? – Garage Strength

What are the 5 Best Explosive Upper Body Exercises for Athletes?


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5 Best Explosive Upper Body Exercises for Athletes

Talking about explosive upper body exercises we need to think about it from various perspectives. To start, we want to see a rapid stretch shortening cycle. When there is a rapid stretch shortening cycle, the body will learn how to absorb energy and reuse it as actively as possible. That is a key concept to having athletic prowess.

A second key we are looking for is some semblance of acceleration. This means we want to see rapid movement right off the chest or rapid movement through the entire range of motion. This can be demonstrated through lifts, plyometrics or using bands.

Another aspect we want to see in training explosiveness in the upper body is seeing the exercises done rapidly. Performing the movements rapidly trains the nervous system to fire and bring in as many high threshold motor units as possible. This will transfer to both absolute and relative strength. It will also improve sport performance in whatever athletic realm is being.

5. Pad Bench

The pad bench is one of THE best exercises that can be utilized to become more explosive with the upper body. One of the reasons why the pad bench is so effective in building upper body explosiveness is because the tempo can be changed; the eccentric portion tempo can be changed.

Lifters will want to use something like an airex pad that is going to be about an inch to two inches chest that will be put on the chest. Lifters altering the eccentric portion can do a fast eccentric, like one to two seconds, dropping the bar and exploding up as fast as possible. Or, along with the big time explosive work, serious strength gainz can be made by performing a six to eight second eccentric and still use the bounce off the pad.

The reason at Garage Strength we like to utilize the pad bench is multifaceted. For instance, if we have an athlete peaking in their sport, we can eliminate the eccentric portion of the bench to freshen the athlete up but still allow that big time load on the concentric movement.

We are looking for a big stretch reflex and a big, fast concentric portion of the movement. Also, feel free to slow the eccentric down to couple the strength gainz with the explosive focus.

See, the reason the pad bench is so good for explosive work is because of the stretch shortening cycle, the last four to six inches of the movement onto the pad and back off of the pad is where athletes will see their bench blow up. Shot putters, linemen, wrestlers or cornerbacks jabbing the wide receiver off the line will all benefit from this movement.

We recommend using this movement one to two times a week in a program for five sets of three to five reps.

4. Behind The Neck Push Press

This is a movement that can also be from the front rack. We believe many athletes can benefit from doing this movement from a front rack. We recommend athletes do the movement from the front rack as well. However, performing the push press movement behind the neck has its benefits.

Performing the movement, we recommend taking a four to eight inch dip followed by a drive that is as long as possible. Fully accelerate shoulders, elbows and drive into that lock out as fast as possible.

Here is the kicker though. If the athlete is athletic enough and understands the position overhead and able to feel where the bar is overhead, the athlete can perform a slower eccentric back to their shoulders (if they can handle the load). The nervous system, from the slower eccentric, is aware--the shoulders and triceps take on that load; so when the next rep is taken, the body is fully heightened to accelerate the bar off the shoulders. If the athlete doesn’t have experience with this movement use boxes or start very, very light when bringing the bar back to the shoulder performing the eccentric portion.

Now when we are peaking athletes, we like to utilize the boxes so the athletes can perform a big drive off the shoulder and drop it to the front of the head onto the boxes. Eliminating the eccentric portion also helps keep the athletes fresh while still getting the neuromuscular stimulation.

We recommend doing the movement once to twice a week, typically once a week, for six sets of four to five reps. You can see how this is incorporated into a sports performance program with Peak Strength as this might be your absolute strength movements on an upper body power day. 

3. Drop Row

The drop row is something that can be really fancy. Oftentimes it is hard to train the lats to be explosive. They are a little bit more of a slow twitch muscle group. Lats are very good under long duration sets and are typically not trained to be explosive. We have a few movements we like, but the drop row is what we’re recommending here.

We like the drop row with fat grips because it helps with rapid pulls--think wrestlers, defensive linemen and running backs not wanting to fumble the football. There are sports that demand explosive lats.

explosive exercises

With the drop row, on an incline bench or an elevated bench utilizing dumbbells or a barbell, the athlete will row, squeeze and contract as hard as possible, pausing at the top of the row for a solid two count, then drop and release the weight. The athlete then has to catch the weight as fast as possible. As the athlete is catching the weight, the lats are lengthening (grip is being trained too) and then they have to shorten very rapidly (the stretch shortening cycle) back into the isometric hold at the top.

This is an advanced movement; it is taxing. It is very difficult. Don’t go for broke right away, but learn the movement and build with intention. We promise the drop row will improve the neuromuscular drive.

Perform this movement for five to seven sets for four to six reps once a week.

2. Explosive Push Ups To Boxes

We hear the grumbling. “Push ups? Really?”


We like to use benches and boxes, anywhere from twelve to twenty-four inches to perform this movement. And if it is given any critical thought, this movement is essentially the depth drop of the upper body.

Coming off the benches or boxes, just hold the catch in an isometric position and then explode back up. Now as the skill at the movement improves, start to utilize the rebound, the stretch shortening cycle--catching and exploding as rapidly as possible.

This is great for learning how to throw a nasty stiff arm, being heavy on the head as a wrestler or pass protection as an offensive lineman. The explosive push up to a box improves sports performance, simulating movements on the field. It goes a really long way for force application; it is an incredibly versatile movement that asks for force to be applied extremely quickly.

Explosive push ups to boxes will teach athletes how to use force at a very high rate.

1. Med Ball Bench

This is a great movement that can be performed on a bench or on the floor. First off, this movement needs to be performed with a partner who is coordinated, aware and athletic to help prevent the med ball from being dropped on the lifters head. This movement is great for any athlete who plays a sport where the upper body is being pushed around to move an opponent.

We will use this movement as part of contrast training--do a heavy set on the bench, rest two to three minutes, hit a set of med ball bench. A med ball that is anywhere from ten to twenty five pounds can be used. The movement can be performed in different ways as well--partner drops the med ball, stretch shortening cycle and explode rapidly off the chest or catch, pause at the chest, then explodes.


An explosive upper body will help improve sports performance in any sport where pushing is involved, no matter how slight the nudge may be. Exercises such as the med ball bench, drop rows, explosive push ups to boxes, behind the neck push press or the pad bench all help greatly improve explosiveness in the upper body. Remembering that explosiveness in the upper body is demonstrated through acceleration in performance of the movement, a rapid stretch shortening cycle is trained and the absorption of energy occurs to be used as quickly as possible. 

Training these elements through the above mentioned exercises will bring about not only gainz in training numbers, but result in sport performance improvements. If you want an easy way to incorporate these exercises into your training, download the Peak Strength app for a week of free training specific to your sport and combine all these aspects to become and explosive BEAST! 


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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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