Five Ways to improve your Explosiveness
— By Casey Jones
Ever wished you could soar like LeBron and leap like Martin Reader?
Even though most of us are not blessed with their height and musculature, there are still ways to improve your vertical jump and explosive power.
The Science of Explosiveness
Your muscles are built from two distinct types of fibres: fast twitch (Type IIa and IIb) and slow twitch (Type I). Fast twitch muscle fibers are used during (you guessed it) speedy movements such as jumping, sprinting, and throwing.
When you’re running a 5K, your slow twitch fibres predominate in usage. Conversely, during a bout of hill sprints, your fast twitch fibres keep you moving. These fibres differ in several ways. Fast twitch fibres are more easily fatigued than slow twitch, explaining why you can’t sustain a 10 km/h sprint for as long as you’d like.
The physiological reasoning behind their quick fatigue lies in their energy usage. Slow twitch fibres are able to perform for longer durations because they use sugar (glucose) and break down fat to power their activity.
Meanwhile, fast-twitch muscle fibres rely only on glycogen, a stored form of sugar, and a molecule called creatine phosphate. Once these small stores of energy run out, our body turns to slow twitch muscle fibres to move. That’s bad news if you want to keep sprinting or jumping at full power!
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Additionally, some individuals are gifted with an improved performance of fast twitch fibres versus slow twitch fibres than others, and vice versa.
For example, the favorable version of the ACTN3 gene (commonly referred to as the “Sprint Gene”) is present in over 99 per cent of Olympic sprinters and was shown to be responsible for a 0.67 second improvement in the 200 metre dash in one study (1). This small improvement due to innate genetics could mean all the difference between a first-place finish and missing the final round. The ACTN3 gene may also significantly improve jumping performance, as shown in a 2017 study of Chinese power athletes (2).
Don’t fret if you’re not genetically gifted like an Olympic athlete — these genes account for very small differences in performance. Research shows you can significantly increase explosiveness and jump power through several methods:
1. Combine plyometrics and strength training during your workouts.
- Plyometric training has numerous benefits for athletic performance, especially vertical jump height (3). Exercises that fall under the realm of plyo include box jumps, bounding, single leg-jumps, and jump pushups. Carrying out these fast movements improve both your explosiveness, and muscle strength.
- If you combine these movements with your weight training, you’ll be doing a one-two punch for your vertical jump (4).
2. Implement progressive overload into your weight training
To continue increasing strength and avoid a plateau, progressively increasing stress on your muscles is vital (5). Instead of doing the same weights and repetitions during every week of training, gradually increase the weight each week to increase your strength.
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3. Lift weights faster
Lifting your weights quickly will help develop power performance. For example, instead of heavy squats, try lightening the load to carry out jump squats. They’re like a normal squat, but at the bottom explode up into a jump. Jump lunges with a weight or step-up lunges are also good options.
4. Alter your tempo when lifting weights
Another handy way to stress your muscles differently is to change tempo when lifting. In place of lifting at a normal pace (e.g. one second up, one second down), changing up the tempo will stress your fast-twitch muscle fibres more. Next time you’re bench pressing or squatting, try a 3-1-x approach. This means lower the weight for three seconds, hold at the bottom of the movement for one second, and explode up as quickly as possible — that’s one rep!
5. Olympic Lifting
There’s no doubt that Olympic lifters are some of the most powerful people on the planet. Working with a coach to develop your abilities in the clean & jerk, snatch, and push press will do wonders for your jumping performance.
Casey Jones is a master's in science student at Dalhousie University, where he studies the link between the human microbiome and pediatric Crohn’s disease in Nova Scotians.
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