Explosiveness is key for generating force and strength. Without it, you will never meet your potential at the big lifts like bench press or deadlifts. While most gym rats focus on gaining size and developing strength via training heavy, developing explosive power to augment your raw strength can be your competitive edge.
#1: Up Your Tempo
This one is probably the most obvious, but if you take a look around the gym, I’m willing to guess that less than 20% of the average Joes are doing it. The problem is people read too much junk on the internet and lift with 4/2/1 tempos or spend an ungodly amount of time on each rep trying to maximize time under tension. For most barbell lifts, you should be doing them as fast as you can and with explosion (controllably, not like a damn maniac). This means a 2/0/2 tempo at most. Move the bar with some authority.
If you start doing all of your reps with some explosiveness, it is inevitable that over time you will become more explosive.
#2: Do Speed Work
This is a classic remedy for when you get stuck at a strength plateau and you need to be able to apply more force and accelerate the bar in order to put up bigger numbers.
Some of you may ask, isn’t speed work just upping your tempo? Yes and no. When I spoke about upping your tempo above, I’m assuming that you can increase the tempo of your current working sets (in that 70-85% of 1 rep max zone I talk about here). If you can grind out a working set of 5 reps on the bench with a slow tempo, I’m betting that you can do the same, if not more, with a higher tempo.
But with speed work, you are reducing the weight you can handle greatly to about 50-75% of your 1 rep max and banging out sets of 5-8 as explosively as possible. Working with the lighter weights, you will be able to up your tempo more controllably, and while it may seem easy, you are priming your body for improved neurological efficiency.
#3: Learn the Olympic Lifts
There is nothing better for athletes than learning the explosive lifts. While squats, deadlifts, and overhead press remain my go to gym lifts and mass builders, the olympic lifts are some of the most explosive lifts you can do. While they are highly technical and can be hard to learn, for someone trying to develop explosive power they can be essential.
I attended an olympic lifting seminar a while back taught by the head football strength and conditioning coach from the Virginia Military Institute, and he spoke of how he has his athletes olympic lift several times a week.
At the very least you should learn how to clean and press, which is something I’m required to do a lot training for Strongman. If you could only do one upper body exercise for the rest of your life, this would be it.
#4: Embrace Plyometrics
Back when my vertical jump was at its highest, so were my squat and bench numbers. I was jumping twice a week and developed explosiveness that directly translated to my performance in the weight room.
Jumping for height and distance is all you need to do once or twice a week. Nothing fancy, but it needs to be part of your training. Not only will this help with explosion, but it’s a great conditioning tool as well. Vertical jumps, box jumps, hurdle jumps, and broad jumps are all you need here.