What you are getting into: a 5-minute, 827 word article about the anatomy and training of being explosive. In summary, if you want to be quick, you need to train quickly.
First and foremost, why do we want to be explosive? In sports, explosiveness win. Basketball, baseball, football, soccer…I could go on and on, you need to be quick.
What about everyone else who is not an athlete? Have you ever tried to squat slowly or slowly push the bench press bar off your chest? It sucks. It is significantly easier to do it quickly because you are stronger if you are more explosive!
We are going to get into some of the meat and potatoes of what allows us to be able to dunk, juke out a defender, or dodge a wrench. To get started, we need to dive deep into our muscles.
Within our muscles, we have muscle fibers. If the muscle is mac and cheese, then the fibers are the ingredients. Every mac and cheese dish contains the same three ingredients; however, some have more cheese than other. Same with our muscle fibers within our muscles.
Let’s move back to the science and out of the kitchen.
Refer to the picture at the bottom for this section:
Muscles contain three types of fibers: slow oxidative (SO), fast oxidative glycolytic (FOG), and fast glycolytic (FG). SO are extremely resistant to fatigue and are heavily populated in core and postural muscles. It takes energy to stand all day; it’s more likely that your feet and legs will ache before your stomach does. This is partially because your abdominals have more SO fibers than your quads; for sake of complexity, we will leave it at that. Whenever we want to move, these fibers are recruited (activated) first, but don’t produce very much force.
FOG produce more force than SO, but will eventually fatigue. Looking at the bottom graph of the picture, you can see that at 60 minutes, the FOG fibers were fatigued. The SO fibers had no fatigue and the FG were completely fatigued before the 4 minute mark.
The FG fibers innervate the most amount of muscle fibers; simply put, they activate more of the bicep than the FOG or SO will. These fibers produce the most amount of force but are extremely vulnerable to fatigue. Don’t believe me? Try to jump as high as you can 20 times; by the 20th jump, these fibers are wearing out and you weren’t able to get as high.
The Fast Glycolytic fibers are the main target for training to become more explosive. Interestingly, our bodies are great at adapting and if we train explosively, our fibers will shift towards being FG. Some of our SO will become FFG and some FFG will become FG. This is due to evolution and our bodies are able to adapt to keep us alive. In the same manner, if you are consistently running long distances, FG will shift down to FFG and FFG will shift down to SO.
In terms of being explosive, there is more science to it. We are dealing with excitatory and inhibitory interneurons, Renshaw cells, gamma-lower motor neurons, and more. In the simplest of terms, these work together to allow you to contract the muscle you want to contract as well as turn off the muscle opposite of it.
Try this: Flex your bicep as much as you can. If you properly flex your bicep to its shortest position, then your tricep is at its longest position. The tricep does not particularly like that and wants to get back to its resting position, so we must turn down that signal so the tricep stays lengthened and we can show off our biceps.
By this point, hopefully, we understand that we need to train our FG fibers. The simplest way to implement this into your everyday training is to train faster! This might mean instead of benching 225 at a slow rate, you bench 205 at a faster.
*Sorry more science* The force you produce is equal to the amount of weight times the acceleration of that weight (F=MA). In practical terms, if you lift 103 kilograms (225 pounds) at 1m/s2 , you produce 103N of force. If you lift 95kg (209 pounds) at 1.2 m/s2, you produce 114N of force.
YOU WILL GET STRONGER LIFTING LESS WEIGHT AT A FASTER SPEED.
“Hey, I don’t want to lift less weight, what else can I do?” Understandable! Other than doing your typical lifts explosively, you can add explosive exercises into your workout. This can include, but is not limited to; Olympic lifts, sprints, jump rope, ropes, and plyometrics.
Take home message: if you want to be explosive, you must train explosively.
Things I did not get into due to length and complexity restrictions: reaction time, specific protocols, about 75% of the neuroanatomy of how we move.