“What’s the most important athletic trait in nearly every sport? The ability to explode.”
So says trainer Rob McClanaghan — and he should know. He trains NBA 2011 MVP Derrick Rose as well as NBA All-Star Russell Westbrook — both among the fittest athletes in any sport. McClanaghan goes on to explain that stamina, strength and general speed are all very important, but sheer explosiveness is often what separates the great players from the good ones.
There’s also a sweet side benefit to working on this trait. The explosive muscles are what make your physique look truly impressive — and it works both ways, for you can only become explosive once your body becomes lean and muscular. The explosive muscles are essentially your type II muscle fibers (which give your body its shape), as opposed to the type I fibers (which are produced by endurance activities like running or cycling). Type II muscle fibers are the reason sprinters, wide receivers, volleyball players and basketball players all look so chiseled.
According to McClanaghan, basketball requires a lot of physique-enhancing (i.e., type II–developing) movements. “Going forward, laterally and backward, as well as jumping in different directions — that’s basketball. And that’s why these guys are so fit: because their muscles are being developed from every angle, with explosive movements.” Don’t play basketball? Not to worry, says McClanaghan. “You can get all the same benefits in your own workout.”
12 Minutes to Explosive Takeoff
McClanaghan recommends doing the following 12-minute speed workout three or four times a week, after a warm-up but before your strength-training workout, or even before your standard cardio. Move from one exercise to the next, pausing only to catch your breath. The ideal place for this workout is a grass field or a basketball court, though it can be modified for a smaller place. Do each move for approximately 20-30 seconds.
- High Knee: Stand upright and sprint by bringing your knees up high toward your chest as quickly as possible, combining with an alternating arm action.
- Butt Kick: Same as above, yet the heels of your feet should hit your butt on each stride. Legs should move quickly, but you shouldn’t move over too much distance.
- Carioca: Move laterally, shoulders square and facing forward while feet cross over each other quickly.
- Skip, Touch Inside Heel: Produce high skips and touch the inside heel of the front skipping leg with the opposite hand on each stride.
- Forward Skip With Arm Circles: Skip while doing forward arm circles and then backward arm circles.
- Frankenstein: March forward with each leg swinging straight up while opposite straight arm hits the toe.
- Spiderman: Bang out some push-ups, but bring one knee to your elbow after each rep. Switch legs after each push-up.
- Inch Worm: Keep your legs straight, bend over at the waist, and touch the floor so your body forms a V. With your toes still, inch your hands forward until your body is stretched out, then inch your feet forward until your body is back at the V. Repeat.
- Bear Crawl: Walk 15-20 feet forward and then backward like a bear, with back parallel to the ground, legs bent and arms partly bent.
- Ski Jump: Stand on one leg, do a quarter squat and explode in the air toward the other leg. Land on the other leg, load in the same way and then spring back. Go back and forth.
- Backpedal: Run backward fast, with the balls of your feet touching the ground as often as possible.
- Backward stride sprint: Sprint backward, with each leg taking full strides (so the heel of each leg nearly hits your butt) and staying on the balls of your feet.
- Single Leg Jump: Jump forward on one leg for 20 feet, then switch legs.
- Every Two Steps, Cut: Run forward, then plant the outside foot and cut in the opposite direction every two strides.
- Line Jump: Jump laterally over a line as fast as possible, back and forth, on both feet. Try to minimize the amount of time your feet are on the ground.
- Gallop: Gallop forward with one leg taking the lead for 20 feet, then switch to the other leg.
By Ethan Boldt
Ethan Boldt writes for such magazines as Men’s Health, SELF and Maximum Fitness. A former certified personal trainer, Boldt co-authored 5-Factor Fitness with celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak and is currently working on a book project with Rob McClanaghan.