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Explosive Necessity

October 20, 2004 01:09 PM

The sooner you realize the importance of explosive strength, the better. I don't care if you are professional fighter, football player or bodybuilder - you can't have too much speed. So drop the notion that speed is just for athletes in speed-related sports and apply these principles to your program immediately. This is not a request, it's an order!

As defined by strength expert Yuri Verkhoshansky, explosive strength consists of three distinct strength qualities: starting strength, acceleration strength and absolute strength.
Starting strength is the type of strength necessary to quickly accelerate a load that is at rest. For instance, starting strength is necessary to rapidly pull the barbell off the floor when deadlifting. Another good example is the box squat. Resting your hips on the box forces the muscles to re-fire from a somewhat relaxed state into an explosive dynamic state. One of the few times I actually use a machine is when I have clients perform seated cable rows. I like to use this exercise to build starting strength levels because they can rest the load (i.e., weight stack) between reps, which forces them to start the concentric phase from a rested position. In other words, if you want to increase your starting strength (which you should), then choose exercises that can be unloaded (i.e., rested) between the lowering and lifting phase.

The second strength quality is acceleration strength. This is what will get the load moving very quickly during the concentric phase of the lift. The best bench pressers in the world have tons of explosive strength. If you have ever witnessed a world champion bench presser train, you will quickly notice how fast the barbell accelerates compared to the lesser mortals.

But in order to fully understand acceleration strength, you need to be aware of the Explosive Strength Deficit (ESD). This is defined as the ability to lift a load when little time is available. Let me explain. Two identical bench pressers, Lifter X and Lifter Y, both have a one- repetition maximum of 450 lbs in the barbell bench press. Lifter X can generate the force to lift the load in 0.4 seconds, whereas Lifter Y can generate 450 lbs of force in 0.2 seconds. Therefore, Lifter Y has a smaller ESD and would smoke Lifter X in a bench press competition. Simple enough?

The final strength quality necessary to build explosive strength levels is absolute strength. This is simply the ability to lift loads that represent a high percentage of your one-repetition maximum (1RM). I usually define this range as 85-100% of your 1RM. Most of you are very familiar with this type of training. The 5 sets of 5 reps method or the 6 sets of 3 reps method are both examples of programs that build absolute strength levels. In other words, keep lifting heavy along with your lighter speed training or your explosive strength levels will suffer!

So how do I incorporate this information into my workout plan you ask? Simple, just adhere to the following guidelines:

Starting & Acceleration Strength Guidelines
Load: 40-50% of 1RM
Reps: 2-3 per set
Sets: 10 per body part
Rest: 45-60s between sets
Tempo: Fast of course!

Absolute Strength Guidelines
Load: 85-100% of 1RM
Reps: 1-5
Sets: 5-10 per body part
Rest: 120-180s between sets
Tempo: Attempt to lift the load as quickly as possible even though the actual speed will be relatively slow

I cannot stress the importance of absolute strength training enough, while you are performing starting and acceleration strength work. Many times, individuals will overemphasize light/speed work in an effort to increase explosive strength levels. You must lift heavy on a separate workout to keep absolute strength levels up. If you don't, you will become the guy who can run away from the strong guys very quickly! Therefore, continually rotate these methods for maximum results.

If you employ these principles into your workout routine, expect greater speed, strength and muscle. Best of luck!

Chad Waterbury Photo

Chad Waterbury holds Bachelor of Science degrees in Human Biology and
Physical Science. He is currently studying graduate work in Physiology at
the University of Arizona. He owns and operates Chad Waterbury Strength &
Conditioning in Tucson, AZ where his clientele ranges from athletes to
non-athletes seeking exceptional strength and performance.
Contact Com. Waterbury through