How to Train Power for the Lower Body


Explosive strength is critical for athletes. There’s a power component to every movement we make, whether that’s a ski turn, a quick jump over a felled tree, or a lunge for a distant climbing hold. But it’s often overlooked in the gym, says Alex Bunt, a strength and conditioning coach with Red Bull and Lindsey Vonn’s personal trainer. While strength and speed are familiar territory, power is more nuanced and difficult to train.

In practical terms, power is the ability to exert more force at higher speeds. Every movement has a relationship between force and velocity, Bunt explains, and this creates a spectrum called the force-velocity curve. On one end of the spectrum, there’s pure force: think of isometric exercises, like a front plank or one-rep max lifts where speed is negligible, like a heavy back squat. On the other end, there’s pure speed, like sprinting or jumping.

“The goal is to generate as much force as possible in the least amount of time,” Bunt says. You’re training your nervous system to fire more muscle fibers at once, leading to stronger and faster muscle contractions.

We reached out to Bunt to help us demystify power training, learn its basic principles, and target the lower body with a simple workout.

The Workout

Bunt splits power training into two main categories. The first is force-bias exercises, which involve more resistance and can be done at a slower pace. The second is velocity-bias exercises, which are more about speed and call for less resistance. He recommends dividing the below velocity-bias and force-bias exercises into separate workout sessions, with two to four days of rest in between. If you opt to train both categories in a single session, reduce the volume: eliminate at least one set from each exercise, and choose only one force-bias exercise per session; do that exercise last. Either way, aim to train power two or three days per week. 

You can do these moves as a standalone workout or mix them into a larger training session. If you opt for the latter, do the power exercises first, right after the warmup. “You want to be as fresh as possible,” Bunt says. “Because if you have any fatigue, you’re not going to be able to produce the highest power you can and push your potential.”

Each move has several variations, which progressively get more difficult. Start with the easiest and work on good form. As you become more efficient, progress to the more difficult variations. The rep ranges are low so you can keep the quality as high as possible. Rest as long as you need to fully recover between sets, usually around a minute or two.

“The second you start performing submaximal reps, you’re not developing power,” Bunt says. “The key is to perform these moves with maximal quality and intention.” With every session and every exercise, you need to try hard and then some. 

You’ll need weights (a kettlebell, dumbbells, a weight vest, water jugs, or a trap bar with weight plates all work) and a large bath towel.

The Moves

Squat Jump Progression

What It Does: Builds velocity-bias power in the legs, with a focus on the quads and glutes.

How to Do It:

Squat Jump and Stick (Easiest): Stand with your feet hip-width apart or slightly wider, and place your hands behind your head. Hold your chest and head high, pull your shoulders back and down, and keep your spine stacked in a neutral position. Rapidly lower into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor (or as low as you can go with good form). Now jump as high as you can. Land with soft knees and immediately lower into another squat to absorb the impact. Pause for a second or two, then stand and reset your body position. Repeat.

Rocket Jump: Start in an athletic stance as described above but with your arms at your sides. Quickly lower into a squat, then explosively jump as high as you can while swinging your arms overhead for momentum. Land with soft knees, immediately lower into another squat, and repeat. Keep a consistent pace and intensity without compromising form.

Tuck Jump (Most Difficult): Complete squat jumps as described above, but while you’re in the air, tuck your knees into your chest at the apex of the jump. Land with soft knees, immediately lower into another squat, and repeat. Keep a consistent pace and intensity with good form.

Load: Bodyweight.

Volume: Two to four sets of four to six reps. Rest for a minute or two between sets.


Split-Squat Jump Progression

What It Does: Trains velocity-bias power in the major muscle groups of the legs in a front-to-back direction.

How to Do It:

 

Split-Squat Jump and Stick (Easiest): Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and toes pointed forward. Engage your core and square your hips. Take a large step backward and rapidly lower into a reverse lunge until your front thigh is parallel to the floor and your back knee hovers just above the ground, then explosively jump as high as you can. Land with soft knees in the same split-squat stance and immediately lower into another lunge to absorb the impact. Pause, reset your body position, and repeat from the beginning. Complete all reps on one side, then switch to the other.

Split-Squat Jump: Perform the move as described above, but immediately lower into another rep when you land and repeat continuously with a consistent pace and intensity. Complete all reps on one side, then switch to the other.

Scissor Jump (Most Difficult): Begin in a lunge as described above. As you jump, switch your leg position in the air and land with soft knees in the opposite split-squat stance. Immediately lower into another rep and repeat. Keep a consistent pace and intensity without compromising form. Hold your head and chest high, your pelvis neutral, and your back straight throughout the movement.

 Load: Bodyweight.

 Volume: Two to four sets of three to five reps on each side. Rest for a minute or two between sets.


Lateral Bound Progression 

What It Does: Trains velocity-bias power in the major muscle groups of the legs in a side-to-side direction.

How to Do It:

Lateral Skater (Easiest): Stand on your left leg, bend your knee slightly, then hop a couple feet to the right. Land on your right leg with a soft knee and immediately hop back to the left. Continue hopping from one leg to the other like the exaggerated movement of a speed skater. Keep a consistent pace and intensity.

Lateral Bound and Stick: Stand on one foot, then explosively jump to the other side as far as you can. (The distance should be greater than the previous variation.) Stick the landing on your opposite foot; pause for a second or two to regain your balance before jumping back to the starting position. Continue bounding side to side from one leg to the other.

Lateral Bound (Most Difficult): Complete the exercise as described above, but when you land on one foot, immediately jump back in the opposite direction. Continue bounding side to side with the intent to jump as far as you can. Keep a consistent pace and intensity.

Load: Bodyweight.

Volume: Two to four sets of three to five reps on each side. Rest for a minute or two between sets.


Towel Isometric Deadlift with Explosive Jump 

What It Does: Builds force-bias power in the major muscle groups of the legs. This is a good option for those who have limited access to weights and other equipment.

How to Do It:

Stand in the center of a bath towel with your feet hip-width apart and parallel. Squat to grasp the ends of the towel on either side of you, then raise into a half-squat with good form until the towel is taut, keeping your arms straight and at your sides. Continue to push upward with your legs against the resistance of the towel with maximal effort for three to four seconds (isometric phase). Finally, release the towel and explosively jump as high as you can (ballistic phase). Reset on the towel and repeat.

Load: Pull on the towel as hard as you can for three to four seconds, then jump.

Volume: Three to five sets of three to six reps, with 10 to 20 seconds of rest between reps (about the time it takes you to reset and get into position on the towel). Rest for two to four minutes between sets.


Weighted Squat Jump 

What It Does: Builds force-bias power in the legs, with an emphasis on the glutes.

How to Do It:

Start in an athletic stance, and quickly lower into a squat, as described in the first move, then explosively jump as high as you can. Land with soft knees, your butt back, and your chest up. Immediately lower into another squat and repeat. To add weight, use a loaded trap bar, wear a weight vest, hold a kettlebell in front of your chest in the goblet position, or hold dumbbells at your sides.

Load: Ten to 60 percent of your one-rep max for a standard back squat. 

Volume: Three to six sets of five to six reps. Rest two to four minutes between sets.

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