How to develop explosive power

Open your hips! Jump! Be more explosive! Big throw!  

Coaches say things like the above to members all the time during a workout. The words may change but the message is always the same: generate power from your hips!

But what does that mean, really? Let’s start by identifying what we mean by “power,”establish what’s holding you back from generating it, and formulate a plan for how to overcome those obstacles.

What’s “power”?

Power, in the context of exercise, is simply the amount of work done divided by the amount of time it took to complete. If you have to move a weighted bar to a certain height — like from the ground onto your shoulders, for example — and that bar, because it’s weighted, requires a certain amount of force to move it, then power just means the speed at which you move it where it needs to go. In this respect, power is more commonly tied to speed than simple strength. A strong person can lift heavy but it takes power to lift weight with speed.

The key to moving faster, i.e, with power, as Chubbs memorably told Happy Gilmore, is in the hips. And in order to move faster you need to have three things: the ability to hinge at the hip, strong explosive glutes, and healthy active hip flexors.

Mastering the Hip Hinge 

Once you’re able to perform a basic movement  you can start to strengthen your hip hinge and learn to hit this position dynamically. The Romanian deadlift is a good exercise to work the hinge in because by taking away the end point of touching the ground, it keeps you focused on the hinge more intensely. Once you are comfortable with this range of motion under load, you can graduate to a more ballistic, i.e., explosive, stimulus by performing kettlebell swings. To increase the intensity: once you have mastered the kettlebell swing, try looping a red band around the handle and then standing on it!

Learn to jump 

Everyone knows how to get their feet off the ground but very few people jump well, and this is evident in many box jumps.  A good jumper extends her hips rapidly and floats onto the box rather than frantically pulling her feet and knees up as high as possible to land on a box.

To learn how to extend the hips, do your box jumps on a low box (start very low) and with only a slight bend in your knees. Once you’re comfortable hitting this extension, you can start to develop explosive power by performing seated and kneeling box jumps. In a seated jump you are going to start sitting on a box just above parallel, swing your arms back and then time the forward swing of your arms with the push through of your lower body jumping onto a box.  For kneeling jumps, start on the ground with your knees under your hips, i.e., kneeling. Hinge your hips back towards your feet as you swing your arms back, and then swinging your arms forward, extend your hips rapidly to come off the ground.  As soon as you come off the ground, quickly bring your feet up and sit your hips back to land in a squatting position. (See the video link if you’re confused.) One important note: perform these jumps in small sets with enough rest in between so that you are not fatigued heading into your next set.

Loosen up those hip flexors  

To loosen those hip flexors up, you gotta stretch. That means doing the samson stretch, lizard pose, couch stretch, cobra pose and then repeating the cycle every day. There is a reason we put in a lot of stretches and poses that target your hip flexors—if you don’t know what they are ask any coach and they will help you!—and that reason is that most of us sit far too often in our day and our hip flexors become “functionally short”.  This means that they get used to working in a chronically short position.

Committing to doing these static stretches is only one part of the hip flexor equation, though. After you stretch, you need to ask your body to work through the hinging, squatting, and jumping positions to teach your hips it’s OK to be strong in your new position!

Now get jumping!


Duncan McNeill is a coach and co-owner of Alchemy CrossFit.

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