The London Games may be over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep their spirit alive. Since the Olympic motto is “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” I thought it would cool to share some tips and exercises to help you run faster, jump higher and get stronger. They might not turn you into the next Usain Bolt or LeBron James, but they should at least help you dominate your next pickup basketball game. Or even your next pickup synchronized diving competition.
1. Run Faster
The key to becoming faster is making yourself more explosive. And if you want to improve your explosiveness, you have to do exercises that target your ankle, knee and hip joints. The hips, in particular, are crucial for speed and power, whether you’re talking about sprinting, boxing, soccer or anything else. Another key is to improve your posterior strength—the muscles in your glutes, hamstrings and lower-lumbar region. If you look at Olympic sprinters, most of them have big butts. Same with NFL running backs. That’s the source of their speed burst.
Great Exercise: The Snatch. More than a Brad Pitt movie, it’s also one of the best ways to improve your speed and explosiveness. It’s sort of like a deadlift, but you’re catching the bar over your head with your arms fully extended and driving the bar up. It’s a difficult move, so you’ll want to start with little or no weight until you get down the technique. But once you do, you’ll have an exercise in your training arsenal that engages the entire body to help you explode out of the starting blocks and fly around the track. (Or the conference room.)
2. Jump Higher
I was a long jumper at the University of Arkansas, where coach Dick Booth helped world-class leapers like Mike Conley Sr., Erick Walder and Matt Hemingway win national championship after national championship. And just like with running faster, the key to jumping higher (or longer) is explosiveness, which allows you to drive off the ground and propel yourself into the air. One of your best bets for improving your jumping is plyometrics. (Specifically, moves like squat jumps, burpees, box jumps and medicine ball throws—ideally done on a soft surface and focusing on quality over quantity). But to make yourself strong enough for plyometrics, you first have to increase your posterior strength.
Great Exercise: Reverse Hypers. At Arkansas, we constantly used the reverse hyperextension machine to perform this challenging move. These aren’t super fun, but they strengthen your glutes, hamstrings and lower back muscles, which boost your explosiveness and also get you ready for plyometrics. If you don’t have access to this machine, you can also use a bench and an exercise ball. Or you can do Supermans, where you lie down on your stomach on a mat and raise your arms and legs simultaneously for a couple seconds at a time. You know, like the lovely lady below.
3. Get Stronger
Let’s say you’re a swimmer. Or a tennis player. Or an offensive lineman. If you want to get functionally stronger, you’re not going to do a lot of isolated lifts like the bench press or dumbbell curls. Those moves make you look good on the beach, but they’re not really going to improve the strength you need in the pool or on the court or on the field, when you’re trying to, say, protect your QB from getting mauled by a lightning-fast defensive end. For that, there’s nothing better than Olympic-style lifts. In fact, when I coached in pro football, we did a ton of these.
Great Exercise: The Clean. The power clean is an amazing exercise. It engages your quads, hamstrings and glutes (your body’s three biggest muscle groups), plus your lower and middle back. It’s essentially a pulling movement done in a breakneck manner, which means it will improve your all-important explosiveness, which is key to functional strength. Just like with the snatch, it’s difficult to master, so you’ll want to practice with little or no weight until you get it down. But once you do, get ready to become a beast in your sport of choice. Because there’s probably no better exercise to get you bigger, faster and stronger.
Jay Cardiello is Made Man’s fitness and nutrition expert. As a top certified strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer and sports nutritionist, Cardiello has worked with Hollywood A-Listers, Fortune 500 CEOs and NFL stars. His accelerated body transformation program, JCore, is available here, and his new book, Cardio Core 4×4, is available here. Got a question for Jay? Leave a note in the comment section, and he’ll do his best to address it in a future column.