The Conjugate and Westside Barbell training systems are becoming popular in the United States as methods for the training athletes. This is not without good reason as they're very effective systems and can promote improvement greater than some of the basic progressive overload or linear periodization models out there. These systems allow continuous improvement throughout the year and allow desired qualities to be worked on without much drop-off of other qualities. The old linear periodization system is notorious for building a quality and then letting it go to work on another one.
One of the basic components of these systems is Dynamic Effort lifting, both for the upper and lower body. Dynamic Effort (DE) training involves using a reliably light weight but training to accelerate it at maximum speed. This training is done for low reps per set so as to promote the most explosive power possible. One of the other great benefits of DE work is that it allows for form practice. As the weight is drastically reduced technique is easier to build and maintain. The goal is to move the weight as quickly as possible, but with perfect form. Fast and sloppy does not do much good and is a big injury risk.
The powerlifters at Westside Barbell, led by Louie Simmons, brought this to the front of the Western training world. Since it's become so popular, I feel that a lot of coaches have kind of missed the boat a bit. The Westside crew uses the bench press for upper body DE work and the box squat for lower body DE work in their classic programs. As a result most of the athletic coaches who have adopted this style of training use the bench press and box squat with their clients.
While these are perfectly fine lifts, athletes can use a bit more variety in their movements. Powerlifters compete in the bench press and squat. For them using these lifts allows them to practice the movements that they're going to compete in. Not only do they build the qualities they're looking for in DE work such as power and explosive strength but they also get better at bench pressing and squatting.
Athletes, on the other hand, really should give a hill of beans as to what their actual bench press and squat numbers are. The question is not if they squat more weight, with better form, or faster, it's whether they play their sport with more strength, precision, and power. Some of the best DE I've done with athletes has been with some alternative exercises that play to some more athletic qualities. Here are six that I've found success with either my athletes or myself:
Medicine Ball Throws: I've used a variety of throws including basketball-style chest passes, soccer-style overhead throws, back throws, and shot putting. Using a variety of weights you can really change the velocity around. The medicine ball is also great since the athlete does not have to worry about decelerating the implementation at all like they would with a bench press. They just throw it!
Split Jerks: There's some hip and lower body power in this one so it's not a really strict upper body movement. However, rarely in athletics is anything purely upper or lower body, so I think this is a valuable DE exercise. It teachers strong transfer of power from the lower body through the upper as well as providing stabilization work. Chains or bands can be added to the bar for advanced athletes.
Plyo or Depth Push-ups: This is closer to a bench press in that it's a horizontal push, but it allows for more explosion like the medicine ball throws. There's also a strong deceleration and stabilization component. Most athletes would be better served doing more loaded push-ups and less bench presses! A weighted vest could have been used for additional loading.
Vertical Jumping: It does not get much more explosive for the lower body than this. The athlete can put everything they've got into the movement as well as working on deceleration in the landing. Make sure they're landing soft! A weighted vest or bands attached to a jump platform can be used to increase the load on advanced athletes.
Box Jumping: I like box jumping for athletes since it gives them a target. They need to jump up on to something, rather than just jump up in the air. Either they make or they do not. Try to find plyo boxes for them to jump on with padded edges or invest in some cheap soccer shin guards. A missed box jump can do some damage to the shins.
Standing Broad Jumps: Vertical jumping is important for athletes, but so is moving in space. A standing broad jump allows athletes to move forward and works on the mechanics of landing from a forward jump. To really work on explosive power, the athlete should reassume the starting position before beginning the next jump. There's benefit to teaching the athlete to hop from jump to jump, but it's not what we're working on here.
As you can see there are plenty of variations that can be done with athletes when it comes to dynamic effort movements. It does not have to be the same old bench press and box squat. Feel free to work in some cycles of these movements. Your athletes will welcome the change and their athleticism will improve!