Killer Strength Training Combinations for Explosive Power
If you struggle with explosive power, be it in sprinting, Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics movements, or any sport that requires quick footwork, here’s a question for you—do you actually train that explosiveness? Are you missing out on superior speed by doing the same drills over and over again?
Killer Strength Training Combinations for Explosive Power
The idea of pairing two or more exercises together with minimal rest, known as supersetting, has been around since the dawn of bodybuilding and strength sports. Working multiple exercises at the same time is nothing new, going back to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s days in Muscle and Fitness and Flex magazines.
But supersetting can be useful for more than just bodybuilding. Sports performance athletes can see some potentially massive strength and power gains as well. I like to call it “combo-ing”—combining two exercises together back-to-back. In the CrossFit world, it’s often called a couplet.
Whatever you call it, alternating between opposing OR similar movements can both maximize your training time and supercharge your workouts for a given goal (like hypertrophy or explosive movement).
When we combine movements at Alpha Human Performance training facility, we perform a set of one exercise, then perform a set of a totally different exercise with little rest time between. After both sets are complete, then you can pause for recovery.
This combo-ing goes back and forth for however many sets prescribed until you complete all sets for both exercises.
Combining movement patterns
When combining exercises, you can go one of two directions:
- Aim to train the same movement pattern in two different ways or
- Work on two opposing movement patterns
These are the basic movement patterns and some examples of the exercises associated with them.
- Explosive: hang clean, DB snatch (Olympic lifts)
- Knee Hinge: squat, lunge, box step-ups
- Horizontal Push: bench press, push ups
- Vertical Push: push press, DB military press, dips
- Horizontal Pull: bent over row, inverted rack row
- Vertical Pull: DB high pull, bodyweight pull ups
- Hip-Hamstrings: single-leg RDL, glute-ham raises
Sample movement combos for training explosive power
Get ready for a classic bodybuilder pump when training the same movement pattern with two different exercises. The goal here is to really gas the muscle group you’re working on. This is one of my favorite combos for horizontal push movements:
Set 1. Bench press
Set 2. Push ups
After the last rep of bench press, go immediately to the floor and perform a set of push ups. After the push ups, recover for 45-90 seconds, adding weight to your bench press bar. Repeat the combo with one less rep on the bench, but the same amount of push ups.
If you’re aiming for a more full-body approach, perform two exercises back-to-back that involve two totally different movement patterns. A great example of this is combining a knee hinge exercise like a front squat with a horizontal pull exercise.
Set 1. Front squat
Set 2. Bent-over row
After your front squat set, rack the bar, pick up a DB and immediately perform a set of DB bent-over rows. The best part about this particular combo is that once you rack the bar from the front squat, you can let your legs recover as you work a totally different movement pattern (horizontal pull). By the time you finish both arms on the row, your legs are ready for the next set of front squats.
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Add These Couplets to Your Fitness Arsenal for Explosive Strength Training
Let’s say our goal is to build explosive power using the combo technique. Now our training arsenal is not just limited to certain exercises, but we can use a ton of different combination drills (sprinting, shuffling, etc) as well.
In combining our exercises with drills for explosiveness, I like to consider a couple factors:
- Are the two exercises/drills within your learning curve? Can you perform both correctly?
- Are the two things being combined exercises that are effective by themselves?
Coach’s Tip: Ineffective exercises combined together don’t EVER work.
Here are some combos that we pair up to work on explosive strength. We pair both strength training movements and sprinting in some examples to give you an idea of how to create these couplets.
In some examples, the second exercise/drill in the combo is done immediately, in others there is a momentary pause before you move onto the second piece.
Squats and box jumps
- Perform a set of back squats.
- After racking your weight, immediately perform a set of 5-10 box jumps.
Box jumps and sprints
- Perform a set of linear box jumps on and off a single box.
- After landing your last jump, immediately explode into a 10-yard sprint. Alternate sets sprinting to the right and left of the box.
Hex bar jump shrugs and box jumps
- Perform a set of hex bar jump shrugs (use dumbbells if you don’t have a hex bar) for good height, pausing 2 seconds between each jump.
- After your last shrug, step out of the hex bar and perform a set of box jumps on and off a plyo box.
Hang cleans and lateral jumps
- Perform a set of hang cleans—power or full clean with good form.
- After your last clean rep, put the bar down and step forward to a 12” hurdle and perform a set of lateral jumps over the hurdle. You can also use your barbell on the floor as your hurdle.
Lateral jumps and sprints
- Perform a set of lateral jumps over a 12” hurdle.
- Upon landing your final jump, explode into a 10-yard sprint.
You can get creative combining exercises and drills like this into some seriously heart-pounding explosive work. Thank me later when your legs are sore and it hurts to walk upstairs.
Daimond Dixon, owner of Alpha Human Performance and Director of Sports Performance for Grand Rapids Christian Schools, has trained sports performance athletes for over 20 years. As a walk-on member of the University of Miami National Championship Football Program in 1991, he knows what it takes to build yourself into a competitive athlete. In this piece, he outlines the different types of movement patterns and how to combine strength pieces for explosive speed.
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