If you happened to participate in our 10 Pound Challenge event last January, you probably already know that I’m a fan of plyometric exercises like jumps and hand clap push ups. I’ve been doing them for decades in my own workouts and with my clients because they’re a safe and effective way to significantly improve strength, balance, bone density, and athletic performance. They also feel a lot easier and less frightening for many people compared to loading up a squat bar with hundreds of pounds. New research confirmed why explosive movement improves strength plus it answers the age old question which is better, slower or faster reps? As always, the answer depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.
Fast for strength
As I mentioned in the article on how long to rest between sets, the point of strength training is to teach your nervous system and muscle fibers to work together to maximize contractive force. The researchers from Loughborough University found that explosive contractions “increases strength by assisting the nervous system in ‘switching on’ and activating the trained muscles.” In other words, it improved the ability for all the muscle fibers to fire simultaneously.
Slow for muscle mass
While explosive contractions resulted in greater strength gains, the slower contractions resulted in greater hypertrophy (muscle growth). As I’ve said before, different types of training cause different adaptations. There is cross over though, so both types of training will result in strength and muscle mass gains. The authors of the study suggested that explosive training is ultimately less physically taxing yet still beneficial and an excellent choice for people that would not otherwise strength train.
Switch it up
Improved strength will improve your overall performance and functionality. If you’re looking for more muscle mass (like most people), laying the groundwork of improved strength will help. Strength training may not trigger as much muscle growth, but improving strength will allow you to move more weight and ultimately gain more muscle during a body building routine. You don’t need to pick one goal forever. Periodizing your training for different goals keeps your progress from stagnating. You can do 4 weeks of strength training then switch it up for 4 weeks of muscle building, or even add in a fat cutting or endurance phase. Switching it up not only prevents plateaus but it keeps it interesting. This is something you’re going to need to do for the rest of your life, and adding a little variety will keep you going back for more.
If you’re looking to add some plyometrics into your workouts, check out our Easy Arms, Easy Legs, and Killer Butt apps. I’m actually working on some big updates for all three that will add hundreds of new exercises.