Is explosiveness something that can be trained? This is one of the most pressing questions for throwers, who need to be able to generate a tremendous amount of power in a short period of time to propel the implement as far as possible. Whether you are throwing the shot put, discus, hammer, or javelin, you won't throw far if you aren't explosive.
So what if you don't have that natural "pop" that some athletes are blessed with? Can you still throw far? What if you are an elite level thrower, but need to maximize your ability to generate power when peaking at the end of the season? Read on to find out what you can do!
What is Explosiveness?
Explosiveness is arguably the most sought-after attribute in a thrower. People define explosive throwers as having “pop”, being “wired”, or even just being quick. From a physics perspective, it is the ability to generate force over a short period of time, known as the rate of force development. Think of a race car. An “explosive” Ferrari can accelerate from 0-60 mph in under 3 seconds, whereas my old “non-explosive” Honda Civic probably takes 10 seconds at least to reach the same speed. In the throw, the ability to reach max capacity of force production is essential to throwing far, as the implement only has about a second and a half to accelerate from 0 to X speed on the release. The higher the speed of the implement on release, the further it will travel.
So what makes someone more explosive than someone else? It comes down to fiber make-up. There are two primary types of muscle
Type 1 (slow-twitch) Fibers: These aerobic cells excel at keeping the muscles working over long periods of time, but do not activate quickly and produce force slowly. Type 1 fibers promote endurance, making them essential for marathon runners and cyclists.
Type 2 (fast-twitch) Fibers: Primarily anaerobic cells that fire quickly and are able to produce large amounts of force quickly, but also tire out very quickly. Type 2 fibers promote explosiveness, which is essential for throwers.
Can Explosiveness Be Trained?
Most people assume that explosiveness is something you are born with or without. That is not entirely true. Everyone is born with a set ratio of fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers. However, with training, you are able to make each type of muscle fiber more efficient.
Maximizing the function of your muscle fibers is why training the right way is so crucial for throwers. Like the diagram below, when you train, your muscle fibers are developing in one direction or the other on the spectrum of endurance to explosiveness. When you train for power, including throwing and lifting, you train your type 2 fibers and move up the spectrum towards explosiveness. When you train for endurance, such as running longer distances, you limit the growth of your type 2 muscle fibers, training your type 1 fibers instead, and move back down the spectrum towards endurance.
How To Train For Explosiveness
There are a few different modes of exercise that you can implement into your training system in order to maximize the efficiency of your type 2 muscle fibers and increase your explosiveness for throwing. We will focus on the following:
Olympic lifts are a staple to any throws program. Although they can be daunting to beginners, becoming proficient in the snatch, clean, and jerk will catapult forward the effectiveness of your training.
One of the primary aspects of the Olympic lifts that makes them so effective is the all or nothing nature of them. You either complete the lift or you don't. Either you exhibit the explosiveness, technique, and strength necessary to throw the weight over your head, or you fail. You can't lazily perform a power snatch or a jerk. Just like hitting a big throw, Olympic lifts force you to muster every ounce of energy you possess to succeed.
There are infinite variations of Olympic lifts that you can implement into your training depending on the time of year or a specific goal that you are trying to achieve. Want to build strength and explosiveness simultaneously? Try cleans with a pause in the hole. Want to coordinate your upper and lower body with a huge load? Try behind the neck jerks like Sam Mattis's 500lb jerk shown above.
Speed sets are where you attempt to perform a set as fast as possible. We typically implement speed sets with benches and squats while using 50% or lower of the thrower's 1 rep max. One way to make the lift more engaging is to time the sets. Perform the same weight for 4 sets of 5 reps and try to achieve a faster time each set.
Just like developing more power in the throw, trying to move a barbell as fast as possible requires the thrower to will themselves to move faster. As they are continually challenged to increase the speed of their movement against a heavy load, their nervous systems will find new pathways to increase the firing rate of the motor unit, effectively training the muscles to contract faster.
Plyometrics such as hurdle hops, jump lunges, or clap pushups, are a great way for any thrower, whether they have a fully fitted gym or not, to train explosiveness. The key benefit of plyos is that they train body control, coordination, and weight distribution during rapid movement. Learning how to move and control the body is essential to a thrower's success. Whether spinning or gliding, the thrower must be able to position their body properly in the ring, be able to come off of their feet rapidly, and transfer the distribution of their body weight from one foot to the other.
It should be mentioned that throwing is simply one of the best ways to increase explosiveness in the throw. However, exercises that take similar movements to the throw but add a greater load capitalize on the movement for additional gains. These exercises are called "specific strength" as they develop strength specific to the throwing movement.
One of the best attributes of specific strength exercises is that they can be performed as rapid reps in a set, unlike the throw. For example, the side med ball throw allows the thrower to explosively perform the rotational movement of the throw time after time, smashing the med ball into the wall.
Another exercise, such as the dumbbell half-turn, is very specific to the throw, but such a heavy load forces the thrower to move their bodies more efficiently to overcome the greater amount of force acting against them. Specific strength exercises, when performed with the intention of being as explosive as possible and executing the same technique used in the throw, are an easy way any thrower can become more explosive.
Training to be more explosive is very possible. No matter what level you are at, there are exercises you can implement into your training to develop more power in your throw. We encourage you to try adding Olympic lifts, speed sets, plyometrics, and specific strength to your workout, as long as you make the focus on each lift technique, efficiency of movement, and speed. If you would like a program where we lay out all of these exercises for you in a complete training program, just like we use with our national and world-class throwers, click HERE!
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- Dane and Trevor