The Best Weightlifting Technique For Speed and Explosiveness


When training for speed or explosive movements, research is showing  an isometric contraction,  NOT moving the weights, is most beneficial. Sports Medicine defines an isometric contraction as a muscle contraction, or static exercise,  in which the muscle fires but there is no movement at a joint. With this type of muscle contraction, there is no change in length of the muscle, and no movement at the joints but muscle fibers fire.   

Traditionally, popular literature suggests, in order to increase speed/explosion, move the weights as fast as possible.  (Typically the ratio of weight is 30% to 100% of your 1 rep max). While this is the most popular way to train for speed/explosion, research is showing  isometric contractions are far more effective.   

Despite not having volumes of research on the topic, there are 4 well documented studies on the topic.

Master RKC Andrew Read writes,

One of the main benefits of isometric training is that the body is able to activate nearly all the available motor units - something that is usually very difficult to do. Back in the 1950s, researchers Hettinger and Muller found a single daily effort of two-thirds of a person’s maximum effort exerted for six seconds at a time for ten weeks increased strength about 5% per week, while Clark and associates demonstrated static strength continued to increase even after the conclusion of a five-week program of isometric exercises.

In 1993, Siff,  Behm & Sale conducted a study on nine men participated in a 6-week weight lifting program.   They concluded that the explosive movement of the lift was not as important vs. explosive intent of muscle  contraction.   Isometric contractions were superior in developing speed and explosion.  

In 2001, Martin and  Maffiuletti  reported in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise finding about isometric contractions.   They took 8 male and 20 female old students to follow a 16 week training program.  The authors concluded that  isometric training resulted in muscular adaptations such as improved muscle recruitment and more extensive hypertrophy (muscle growth).

In 2003, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning reported that Olsen and Hopkins studied this as well.   Elite level martial artists performed isometric contractions 3 times a week for for 9 weeks.   An 11-21% increase in speed was the result in the exercises they tested.   

What should you do? 

If you are trying to develop speed, power, explosive movement or just plain muscle mass, incorporate isometric contractions during your workout.  When performing your lift, move the weight in the full range of motion and stop at some point of the lift.   For example, when performing a chin up (example pictured), isometrically hold at the "chin up" or top of the exercise.  To vary the exercise, perform the isometric contraction 1/2 way down. Hold the lift for a minimum of 6 seconds.  After the 6 seconds is concluded, move the weight again in the full range of motion and stop at the same spot.    Perform 2-8 sets of 4-8 repetitions.   Make sure you are achieving momentary muscle failure.   Follow through with the design concept for 10 weeks to allow for the adaptation to occur and enjoy the benefits of improving your speed, power, explosive movement or just plain muscle mass.


Steven Zahn

ACE Certified Personal Trainer

NASM Certified Personal Trainer

Pre and Post Partum Certified

Dragondoor Publications: HKC Russian Kettlebell Certified


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