When you want to focus on building speed and explosive strength—whether for picking up your pace in a race or powering over obstacles—your training needs to be finely tuned. It’s not just about targeting the right muscles. Think much smaller: You need to dial in the exercises in your workouts to make sure you’re training the right muscle fibers. To learn exactly how to amp up your power and speed, keep reading.
1. The 2 Muscle Fibers to Target For Speed and Power
When you’re trying to pick up speed and power, adding both to your workouts on a regular basis is crucial to training the muscle fibers you’ll need to fire up in the future. Speed and power moves work your type IIa and IIb muscle fibers—a.k.a., fast-twitch fibers, says Greg Justice, an exercise physiologist and owner of AYC Health & Fitness in Kansas City, KS. A common belief is that men have more fast-twitch fibers than women, but nope: Gender is not nearly as important as your experience and fitness level, according to a new study published in PLoS One. It all comes down to training smart and putting in the time.
Though they’re both classified as fast-twitch, the two types have very specific functions; IIa fibers don’t tire out super-quickly; they’re great for building speed over longer sprints, like a 400-meter run, says Justice. To crank up the speed, add in moves like hip extensions, lunges, heel raises, split squats, sled pushes, and hill sprints.
2. Plyometrics: Key to Cranking Up Your Performance
As you’re working your type IIa fibers, you’ll also want to work type IIb. These are fast-twitch as well but even more explosive; IIb contract very quickly and are the type you’ll tap for moves like powerlifting, 100-meter sprints, and vertical jumps. To train these fibers, try adding plyometrics (think: box jumps, jump lunges, and throws with a weighted ball) to your strength routine. “Strength training creates stronger muscles that produce force; plyometrics turn that strength into explosiveness and speed on the field,” says Justice.
Why it works: Plyo moves improve a ton of mechanisms in your body, like enhancing motor coordination and involuntary nervous reflexes; increasing the working range of your muscles; and improving how your muscles and tendons store and use elastic energy (important when you’re performing quick, explosive movements). Through plyometrics, you should notice improvements in a short period of time. In fact, only six weeks of plyometric training is enough to improve agility, according to a study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. Similarly, a 2016 review of research found that just two or three plyo sessions for at least four weeks generally improves jump height, sprint speeds, and agility.
3. Dial Up the Energy in Your Cells With This Daily Fix
Workouts to boost speed and power can be grueling, so you’ll need to focus on fueling beforehand. Another problem: These sorts of workouts lead to lactic acid buildup, which can wipe you out. Consider a supplement for an extra boost. Middle-distance runners who used a CoQ10 supplement for at least two weeks found it helped with lactate buildup in their workouts. CoQ10 is an antioxidant that helps create cellular energy and neutralize free radicals. It’s made in your mitochondria, which are responsible for creating your cell energy, so its levels are pretty important. The supplement MitoQ, in particular, might be your best bet here; it contains a unique form of CoQ10 that’s smaller than regular CoQ10 supplements and includes a positive ion, so it’s attracted to negatively charged mitochondria. It penetrates these energy-producing powerhouses hundreds of times more effectively than regular CoQ10 antioxidants, keeping these cells in your muscles and organs fresh.
4. The French Secret to Training For Speed + Power
To combine strength and speed in a single session, Gunnar Peterson, celebrity trainer and director of strength and endurance for the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, recommends using a technique called French contrast training. To try it, do a set of a strength moves, like squats, immediately followed by a plyo move, like box jumps; you’ll ramp up speed and explosive force at once.
Our kind of one-two punch.
5. Sloppy Form Will Get You Nowhere
Moves like hip extensions and split squats can help you get faster, but to get the biggest bang for your buck, you need to have perfect form. Scheduling a few sessions with a personal trainer is worth the price, as you’ll walk away confident you have correct form as your foundation. Get ready to build from there. “You can get faster with the right technique, but to truly improve, you have to do it repetitively—so as you develop the proper form, you’ll need to progressively add speed and intensity to your workouts,” says Greg Justice, an exercise physiologist and owner of AYC Health & Fitness in Kansas City, KS.
6. Between Training Sessions: When the Magic Happens
Truth: You’re not getting stronger and speedier during the workout itself. In training sessions, you’re breaking down muscle; the building happens afterward. “Recovery begins at the moment you stop your exercise,” says Justice, who recommends riding a stationary bike to promote circulation and transport nutrients and waste through your body, followed by icing or stretching.
It’s also important to focus on helping your muscles on a cellular level, especially as you get older. “If you’re younger, you might be able to get away with training and not focusing on recovery,” says Peterson. “But as you age, you have to take care of yourself. It adds up.” One reason why: With each year, the energy-producing mitochondria in our muscles can produce less of the enzyme CoQ10 and less energy, dipping up to 10 percent with each decade. Peterson recommends using MitoQ to keep your mitochondria fresh during and after workouts. So you can get your butt back out there sooner.