How to Develop Fast, Powerful, Explosive Legs

Powerful legs are an indispensable tool in any athlete’s kit, regardless of the sport they play. From golf to football to MMA, a player’s performance benefits from a lower body capable of explosive movements. And, yes, it helps with traditional lifting in the gym, too.

Most people start building leg power through heavy barbell squats (using a tempo of explosive concentric and controlled eccentric movements) and sprints at the local track. Which is fine, because these are great things to do.

However, there are many other options, and the more different types of movements we perform, the more motor units—AKA muscle fibers—we can force our body to tap into. Accessing more units and fibres is a critical component of our power. Everyone has a high potential power, but it’s no small task to realize all of it.

Unlock that potential using these moves.

Cadence and Power Sprints: Cycling

Perform these cycling sessions indoors on a bike with adjustable resistance or outdoors on a road bike.

CADENCE INTERVALS

After dynamic stretching and an on-bike warmup, spin your legs as fast as you can at a moderate resistance for 10 to 30 seconds. At 110 revolutions per minute, you’re off to a good start. At 150, you’re well above average. If you can reach 190—amazing! You’re a true athlete.

Recover by riding at a slightly lower resistance, spinning somewhere between 75 and 85 RPM, for up to  4 minutes. Repeat this 8 to 12 times, then cool down and stretch.

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POWER INTERVALS

Develop strength by setting your trainer to a high resistance; one which takes all of your energy to sustain triple-digit RPMs for even a short period of time. Sprint for 20 to 60 seconds like this, then take a 3-to-5 minute recovery spin. Repeat this up to 10 times. Foam roll plenty afterward.

Fast, Explosive Feet: Jump Rope

Jumping rope is generally used for warmups, cool downs, and footwork drills. All good! However, a rope can  also be a great tool for developing speed and power through your legs, and help you maintain control of your whole body during explosive movements.

Here’s how.

DOUBLE UNDER

A double under is completing two revolutions of the rope during a single jump of the feet. This is a demanding and quick movement requiring healthy wrists, stable ankles, and good coordination. Tip: you’ll be more efficient by using the bounce of the feet rather than jumping with the knees; keep your legs fairly straight throughout the movement.

Double unders also demand more tension in the arms, so prepare for potentially sore forearms and traps—with practice, this often subsides; performing high-rep double unders with a loose grip is a case study in efficient biomechanics (and also a borderline art form). Find a mirror and study with diligence. Do not neglect applying the core to manage your breathing and stabilize the torso. The less movement overall, the better.

Perform these as high-intensity intervals, aiming for 10 to 50 reps at a time. Jump rope lightly or rest for up to 2 minutes between sets.

SINGLE LEG

Jumping rope regularly using only one leg at a time ensures both sides are equally strong and conditioned. Jump on one foot for 20 to 60 seconds, then switch to the other foot. Keep your off foot as loose as possible; tension in the resting leg won’t allow it to recover fully between sets.

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HIGH KNEE

During high-knees, with every revolution you are to bring a knee to your torso until your upper leg is parallel to the floor. It’s a swift, explosive movement that develops speed and strength throughout the leg but demands a lot of energy. A slightly easier version of this pattern allows two jumps on the anchor foot, doubling the time the moving leg has to raise and lower.

Tip: To get the most of this exercise, focus on bringing your knees up as high as you can every time. You should be aiming for a minimum of 90 degree leg bend (or, another way, to have your quadriceps parallel to the floor). If you can go a little higher, even better. Lunge-position stretching can aid this area of mobility—do some before and after for maximum benefits.

Perform high knees for 15 to 45 seconds per set, resting 1-2 minutes between each. Or incorporate them with single leg training and double under for a complete workout.

Plyometrics

JUMP SPLIT SQUAT

Drop into a full lunge position, decelerating rapidly at the bottom of the movement to lock it in, erasing momentum. Pause for one second, then launch your whole body upward, jumping as high as possible before landing back into a lunge position on the other side.

Perform 10 to 20 reps total (each side is one rep) per set. Start with bodyweight, then gradually add light weight, via dumbbells or a medicine ball held to the chest.

BROAD JUMPS

From a deep squat position, use your entire body to leap forward as far as you can. Ideally, land on both feet at the same time, and control momentum so that you retain balance and don’t need to modify your position before the next jump. This allows seamless reps. Start with your arms slightly bend and behind you; swing them forward as you jump for a boost.

Perform 5 to 8 jumps per set.

BOX JUMPS

Place a sturdy box in front of you. Lower into a squat-like position, then leap vertically, driving your hips forward to land on the box. Jump back down absorbing the shock by allowing the legs to bend down toward a squat again. (If you have any knee problems, just step down one leg at a time.)

Tip: Start with your toes only a few inches from the box. This way, assuming it does not have any sort of lip—and it shouldn’t—you can focus entirely on jumping vertically. Oh, and don’t ignore your arms. Utilize them to help propel you upward.

Perform reps of 3 to 8 per sets. Start with one third of your height (that’s a 24-inch box if you’re 6-feet tall), then progress one inch at a time.

Structured Power

Which Do I Try? Any of these exercise can be combined with one another. To start, pick just three exercises and perform each for about five sets. 15 all-out sets is plenty of training volume for a power session. Switch out one exercise each time to keep things fresh.

How Often Should I? Power workouts are extremely taxing. They may not necessarily make you feel as pumped up or as sore as traditional resistance training—although they certainly can, especially among newbies. Either way, your body will experience fatigue in other ways and recovery cannot be rushed. Power sets demand long rests of (2-5 minutes) and power workouts do too; aim for one every 1-2 weeks, depending on how much power is demanded by your other training.

Anything Else? Every workout should include time for a proper warm-up and cool-down. When training for power and speed, this is even more crucial. There is a heightened risk of injury for those who neglect to prepare for this manner of training. Warm up with moderate, steady state cardio for a minimum of 5 minutes, then spend at least as long on dynamic stretches that reflect the exercises you’re about to perform. Reverse this process after your session to cool down.