Some Thoughts Regarding Explosive Strength

        Explosive strength is a very commonly used term. As a result, it has taken on many different definitions which in turn, has led to many different training programs – all aimed to produce explosive strength or as it is also sometimes known, explosive power. To avoid confusion the definition of explosive strength used in this article is an action that is accomplished in a minimum amount of time -- approximately 0.1- 0.2 seconds. Thus the exercises used in explosive strength training are those that involve minimum time of execution. This includes exercises utilizing the shock method and forced stretch reflex actions. For examples of these exercises see Explosive Plyometrics.

The basis for explosive strength is in speed-strength, a physical quality displayed in sports skills such as jumping for maximum height, hitting for maximum power or distance, running at top speed, throwing for maximum distance or power and kicking for distance or power. Explosive strength is highly specialized; it is displayed with maximum effort, (the production of great power -- force) produced in a minimum amount of time. It occurs when the means of training (the exercises) are executed at high speed.

The training of athletes who must display explosive strength is characterized by power type exercises. In barbell exercises with a specific amount of weight, the exercise should correspond to the athlete’s level of preparation so that the athlete can have technically correct execution with the necessary speed and with a high tempo of repetitions in each set. Understand that a change in intensity of the strength exercise can be brought about with a change in the amount of resistance, movement tempo or rest period.

Explosive strength training takes precedence over other aspects of the athlete’s preparation. It is primary because the body should be fresh and the nerve processes should be mobile in order to develop explosive strength. Because of this, it is necessary to pay close attention to the number of repetitions when using resistance exercises.  A change in training emphasis to the side of strength endurance rather than explosive strength, can easily occur if too many repetitions are done. This is often seen in various “plyometric” exercises that are really jump exercises.  Strength endurance is also developed when the rest periods between repetitions or sets become significantly shorter.

When training for explosive strength it is always necessary to consider the volume of work and the intensity of the work. How much work you should do and with what intensity you should do the work, are always key questions to be answered. There is a big difference between knowing how to do more and how to do less and still get the same or even better results.

When you increase the intensity there is an increase in nervous system energy expenditure. This means that you need more time (longer periods) for restoration.  In explosive strength training you need stress loads in the training as they are the key to producing results. However, with an unwarranted increase in training loads, or number of training sessions (the volume of work) the development of explosive strength deteriorates and can cease.

In addition, you need mastery of the skill by the athlete for improvement not only in game play but for doing specialized (dynamic correspondence)exercises in preparation for the competition. This is of utmost importance especially when doing explosive training.
The number of explosive exercises used should be carefully thought out since extra exercises after base training appear as negatives in relation to further improvement in the athlete’s preparation. It is necessary to stay away from training that suppresses the athlete’s need to train sharply and clearly. For this it is necessary to maintain many different kinds of strength so that the training remains short, sharp and intense.

The use of maximal loads, until ”refusal”, should be used only when the athlete is in great condition and well prepared. More importantly, this method should not be used very often. The exercises should bring about activation in the body which increases total activity (preparedness for training) and does not lead to exhaustion of the body’s ability to activate itself.
Transitioning onto the following higher load level, in both volume and intensity, should take place only after the previous level is executed with confidence and understandable ease. The training program should never become set in stone. It is necessary to listen to the state of the body on a specific day at a specific moment and then determine the specific amount of load volume and intensity.  At this time it is also necessary to make corrections in the proposed plan for the day when necessary.

The coach should not plan explosive training loads for one year. These are always determined by each individual athlete and his state at a specific time. General physical preparation (GPP) is needed as a base and it is possible to get excellent and high results in this phase of preparation. At this time the athlete should not lose the feeling of the exercises.
The athlete should always achieve mastery of the exercises and improvement in them should be wavelike and have variability. The contrast method should be used to exploit the training means but the level of intensity should not get into the injury zone.

In explosive training it is necessary to break the habit of using exercises with near maximum weights. This is done by using exercises with the fastest speed of execution possible. Together with this, the intensity of execution of the exercise should be increased only when the athlete feels himself ready for this. It is especially at these moments that the quality of the maximum explosive effort training work is increased. For the explosive athlete it is always more important to have quality rather than quantity.
The coach should always be able to adjust the explosive training exercises that the athlete has become accustomed to by changing their speed, amplitude and resistance. The athlete should always be able to get the maximum effectiveness out of each exercise so that it maintains a precise place in the training process. There should always be something more to be gained from the exercise in order for it to remain in the program. Thus it is necessary to have short and sharp changes in the training means so that the exercise still has something more to offer. Keep in mind that it is always possible to develop the muscles in one or another direction with other means (exercises).

When the athlete works on explosive strength it must be done with inspiration. To help do this, the coach should eliminate all unneeded ballistic exercises. Most important is to strive for technical improvement and achievement of high results. This can only be done with athletes who are not beat up from the work or in spirit. Quality is always more important and a more direct means to success than quantity.

One of the most important recommendations that can be given to a coach is that he should always be very precise when giving the athletes temporary tasks with time controls over exercise execution. Keep in mind that even an insignificant decrease in the speed of execution is always accompanied with lower loads and work intensity of the more important body systems that are involved. This is always reflected in the effectiveness of the training process.

One of the biggest problems facing the athlete and coach is how to deal with monotony. Because of this, varying the use of the training means and construction of the training program must be very precise. There must be short periods of rest or lowered loads that allow the body to recover, that is, to restore adaptation of the athlete’s abilities and to prepare for the next training cycle that is executed with more intense loads. Keeping the athlete in a fatigue state makes restoration of the body even more difficult. The principles of variety and alternating intensity should also be taken into consideration, even if it is only for one training session.

Training should be checked using indicators of the athlete’s self-feeling. This shows up by observing his movement technique and quality of exercise execution.  It includes his posture, facial color, eyes (glazed etc.) breathing, recovery etc.  Any deviations from normal should be checked out and corrected immediately. If not, it will definitely affect the quality of his skill execution.
The thread that runs through all training for explosive strength lies in the athlete’s striving to increase his motor potential and perfecting his technical mastery. This this means improving execution of his sport skills by improving skill technique and the physical qualities that relate specifically to the technique. This can only take place when there is harmony between technique and strength as determined by the athlete’s mastery and the qualifications of his mentor. In this regard it is important to always keep in mind that a large volume of speed-strength exercises executed at full strength interferes with technique.

In high-level athletes there is no clear or simple transition from quantity to quality. There is no linear relationship between the sports results and the training loads. Because of this increasing the sports results arithmetically (through an increase in the training load) will rarely bring success.
By perfecting technical mastery of the sports skill, the transition to the next or following intensity zone, is possible only when the skill is executed a sufficient number of times over a sufficiently long period of time.  The skill should be executed with full confidence and without a decrease in the athlete's enthusiasm for training.

By observing these conditions it is possible to avoid injury and to gradually improve the sports result.  Only in this way is it possible to achieve high results in the main or most important competitions. Most important here and not to be overlooked, is fatigue and to make sure that the athlete continues participation in his main sport.
Coaches and athletes sometimes feel that there is an explosive barrier. It is common to read of a speed barrier but there may also be an explosive barrier that occurs when the transition to a new level of speed-strength becomes a problem. To resolve this problem it is necessary to bring in more contrast and variation type methods of training. This is especially important when the athlete's body does not succeed in switching off its “safety locks” against excessive intense work. The role of restoration is especially important here.

In the process of developing explosive strength you cannot get away from maximum effort from which the muscle fibers change in relation to the training work. With an increase in sports mastery the number of means decreases since you should then be using sharper and more impact type exercises. This includes maximum jumps, throws, swings etc. Nonetheless, sharp impact training means such as depth jumps should only be used up to the stage of competition. By doing this it is possible to make progress for a long period of time without injury. As a result, the athlete will be able to achieve great results without damaged joints, muscles, ligaments, or deadening of the nervous system.

On the stage of sports perfection (peaking) development of explosive strength takes place when the athlete is able to concentrate his attention on technique and training, while at the same time, releasing his reserves of power. In this training there is formation not only of the motor potential but also the athlete’s technique. Testing can be used at this time as a highly effective training means on all stages of the yearly cycle. It should stop 10 to 12 days before important competitions, as for example, carrying out micro competitions in which the athlete strives to set a new PR.

Doing this establishes the habit for mobilizing physical and technical readiness. It helps to overcome the speed and explosive barriers and raises the psychological state of the athlete. It allows him to realize his motor potential and get away from monotony. Because of this it is an outstanding means of developing explosive strength.

To achieve the greatest results the athlete must have high motivation to help overcome heavy loads. Understand that big goals create big energy. The fight to greatness begins with the aims of preparation. The objectives should be very clear, all-encompassing and tell of untold aspirations.  As Einstein is reported to have taught us, if you learn to think then you will get to the final result. Although this saying does not lead to action, it does lead to greater thinking for better resolution of the tasks.
All plans to become better should be done in accordance with the athlete’s state and individual characteristics. It is mainly because of this that even the most outstanding plan should not become dogma and limit the search in the athlete-coach relationship. Achievement of high sports results is possible only in those cases when the search reflects the coach’s work with daily analysis of the athlete’s technique and changes in the physical state of the athlete. High level mastery is achieved by those who listen to their intuition, believe in it and draw valid conclusions from the many myths and successes that exist.

- Dr. Michael Yessis