Explosive workouts include exercises which enhance strength, power, and speed in order to improve athletic performance.
You can use different types of movements, tempo, and rep ranges to increase either speed, power, or both in order to get an advantage in your chosen sport, or just an extra boost in your overall athleticism.
This article breaks down everything you need to know about designing and performing explosive workouts as part of your fitness routine.
Explosive workouts combine speed, strength, and power training into functional movement that allows you to generate force quickly, or decelerate quickly. Explosive strength is necessary for improving reaction time.
Often, people assume explosive training is only reserved for highly trained athletes or those looking to improve sports performance. However, explosive training can serve a purpose in everyday life as well.
For example, if you see your child falling from the top of a slide and need to hustle to catch them, you’ll use explosive strength to get there quickly.
In short, yes. Improving explosive strength requires a combination of strength training, speed training, and power training. When you are adept at all three, you can maximize your explosiveness, and you’ll be stronger as a result.
However, training specifically for muscle size — also known as hypertrophy training — requires a different approach than training for strength. If it’s muscle size you’re after, explosive workouts may not have the effect you’re looking for.
Strength training is usually performed by moving your maximum force, but at a slow speed.
Speed training includes exercises completed at a high velocity, like sprints or agility drills, with or without resistance.
Power training involves movements that produce a lot of force at moderate speeds, like plyometrics.
In a 2017 meta-analysis on youth athletes, it was concluded that while power plyometric training was more effective at increasing jump height, strength training was more beneficial in terms of sprint speed. So it’s beneficial to include both power and speed training for maximum explosiveness (
Research suggests a periodized approach to your training that targets strength training prior to power training to create a baseline of strength will yield the best results when it comes to explosiveness (
This periodization could be done in longer-term phases, or in separate workouts throughout the week.
For improvement in speed, keep your repetitions low and your velocity and intensity as high as possible, provided you can recover between sets.
Research has found that sled sprints are one effective way to increase sprint speed, especially in the acceleration and maximum-velocity phase of the movement. The same study also determined that the overall volume is more important than the load when it comes to this sort of activity (
Another 2016 study in soccer players demonstrated the benefits of sled sprints in overall speed over plyometric training (4).
But for athletes specifically, perhaps the most important factor in training for explosiveness is specificity. You need to determine what sort of performance benefits you are looking for.
For example, in 2018, a group of participants joined a study that put them on an exercise bike to see if they could improve their 30-meter sprint performance.
After 4 weeks of high intensity 30-second intervals on the bike, the participants improved their cardiovascular fitness and their VO2 max, but their 30-meter sprint performance did not improve (5).
This was because they were not training the muscles used when producing sprinting speed. Rather, they were using the muscles involved in cycling.
If you are involved in a sport that includes a lot of quick sprints, consider training by using quick sprint workouts.
If you train for an activity that has a lot of explosive movements, you should train using explosive movements.
If you want a combination of the above improvements, you can combine strength, power, and speed training, or focus skill one at a time and then switch.
Speed training using sprint-type movements, power training using ballistic movements, and strength training using high weight at low repetitions are all part of balanced explosive workout routine.
The three best explosive exercises for increasing speed
- Sprinting. Short sprints on the track — anywhere from 10 to 40 meters (32 to 131 feet) — are great for developing overall speed.
- Sled pushes or sled pulls. Load-up a sled with a light to moderate weight and push it 20–40 meters (66 to 131 feet) across the floor as quickly as possible. Then turn around and pull it back. You want a total of about 160 meters (525 feet) per session, according to a 2018 meta-analysis of several studies on sled performance (
- Shuttle runs. Set up two cones 30 feet (9 meters) apart and run from one to the other. Then turn around and run back. You can make this more advanced by using 4 cones and adding some lateral and backwards movement, running forward 30 feet to the first cone, then running to the right 30 feet to cone two, then 30 feet backward to cone three, and then 30 feet to the left, ending up at the start.
Explosive sprint workout
- Run 5 x 15-yard sprints, rest 2–3 minutes between sets or longer if needed.
- Run 5 x 25-yard sprints, rest 2–3 minutes or longer if needed.
- Run 5 x 40-yard sprints, rest 2–3 minutes or longer if needed.
Explosive sled workout
Complete five rounds of the following:
- Using a light to moderate weight, push the sled 20 yards as quickly as possible, then rest as needed.
- Pull the sled 20 yards, as quick as possible.
Sprints, sled-work, and agility exercise like shuttle runs are best for increasing speed.
The best explosive exercises for increasing power
- Box jumps: From a half-squat position, jump up onto the box. Step down one foot at a time and repeat. Try 3–4 sets of 5 reps with 2–3 minutes between sets for power performance.
- Plyometric pushups: Start at the top of a pushup position. Lower yourself into the bottom position of the pushup with control, then explode as powerfully as possible out of the bottom with enough force so that your hands leave ground. You can clap here if you want but that is not required. Land back down as gently as possible and repeat. Try 3-4 sets of 5-10 reps.
- Kettlebell swings: Put your feet about twice the distance of your hips apart. Place the kettlebell in front of your feet, in the center of your legs. Engage your core and pick up the bell with straight loose arms. Make sure your shoulder blades are stabilized. Keeping hold of the kettlebell, throw the weight back between your legs, flexing at the hips and sitting them back slightly, and swing the kettlebell back between your legs. Squeeze your glutes, bring your hips forward to a neutral pelvis position, and swing the weight up to chest or eye height, with straight arms. Ensure that the movement comes from the hip extension, and not by lifting your arms. Repeat 3–4 sets of 6–12 reps.
- Dumbbell push presses: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold two dumbbells at your shoulders. Lower down into a slight squat and then extend your hips, using that momentum to help your drive the dumbbells up over your head until your arms are straight. Lower the dumbbells and repeat. Complete 3–4 sets of 3–6 reps.
- Squats: Perform these with a controlled eccentric phase (on the way down) follow by a powerful concentric (on the way up), hip extension. Do these for 3-4 sets of 3-8 reps. You can also add a jump for more challenge.
Explosive workout for power
In the plan below, alternate the two exercises in each set for the specified number of reps and sets.
1a) Front squat: 4 sets of 4 reps
1b) Box jump: 4 sets of 5 reps
Rest 2–3 minutes between sets.
2a) Push press: 3 sets of 4 reps
2b) Kettlebell swing: 3 sets of 8 reps
Rest 2–3 minutes between sets.
3a) Bench press: 2 sets of 5 reps
3b) Plyometric pushup: 2 sets of 10 reps
Rest 2 minutes between sets.
Box jumps, plyo pushups, kettlebell swings, push-presses, and squats are great movements for increasing power.
When it comes to speed, sport-specific training is ideal. For example, if you want to be the fastest distance runner there is, some short speedwork will help, but you will have to spend most of your time doing distance runs.
If you want to keep it simple, go back to strength training. Progressive overload with heavy compound exercises will provide the best bang for your buck when it comes to speed and power.
Explosive training combines the best of speed, power, and strength training to provide optimal results for athletic endeavors. Even so, everyone can benefit from explosive workouts, because it will help you adapt and respond to quick stimulus in everyday life.
Remember to train with specificity in mind if you are exercising to improve your sports performance and include all three types of training (speed, power, and strength) in your programming for the best results.