Tip: An Illogical Approach to Explosive Lifts

Always train neurologically demanding lifts first in a workout, right? Well, not always. Here's why.

Break the Rule

I like doing explosive work (like Olympic-style lifts) after strength and/or bodybuilding work, which you're not "supposed" to do.

One of the first things we learn in kinesiology classes about program design is that exercises with the highest neurological demands should go early or first in a workout when the nervous system is fresh. Doing them then also potentiates the rest of the session.

And I agree. But doing the explosive work afterwards has given me, and several athletes I work with, great results. It sounds completely illogical but it works, especially in individuals who are already naturally explosive.

Why? I have a couple of explanations (and it's likely a combination of both).

When you do a basic strength movement (like bench press and squat) with a moderate weight, and you lift it for maximum acceleration, you must decelerate before you reach the end of the range of motion, otherwise you'll put a lot of stress on your joints.

And the more acceleration you can produce from the start, the sooner you must decelerate. It's like if you're driving a car and you see a wall 100 meters away. If you're driving 20 mph you won't be stressed; you can take your time and brake at the last minute. But if you're going 120 mph you'll need to brake a lot sooner. Same thing with lifting.

When your muscles have been fatigued prior to explosive work you can't produce as much initial acceleration, as such you can accelerate for longer. This drills your nervous system to be capable of accelerating at points in the range of motion where it would normally decelerate. Note that speed work against bands has a similar effect: they allow you to keep trying to accelerate because the bands brake/slow you.

Doing explosive work primarily focuses on the fast twitch fibers. When they're fatigued you'd normally have a hard time stimulating them, relying more on intermediate fibers. Doing explosive work at that time might force your body to keep using the fast twitch fibers, putting a little bit more fatigue on them.

Real Life Results

I use a similar strategy with CrossFit athletes. I have them do their snatch or clean & jerk after their squats and deadlifts. They'll do two phases and the last phase they switch the order. All have had serious gains in their lifts. One went from a 245 pound snatch to a 295 pound snatch, and from a 315 pound clean to a 375 pound clean. Of course that's an extreme example, but all reported solid gains from an illogical approach.

Christian Thibaudeau specializes in building bodies that perform as well as they look. He is one of the most sought-after coaches by the world's top athletes and bodybuilders. Check out the Christian Thibaudeau Coaching Forum.