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Many exercise movements are recommended to be performed slowly, deliberately, and under control. Slow and controlled movements help to mitigate the risk of sudden and excessive stress and twists which may lead to injury.

Explosive movements (swings, cleans, jerks, etc.) by definition do not allow for slow execution, and they seem to lessen the potential for controlled performance. This would seem to increase the risk of injury from these movements.

However, one may imagine that there are those who perform these movements regularly and over long periods of their workout careers and for whom the cumulative stress produced by these movements results in no significant adverse effects.

Do explosive movements necessarily lead to serious injury over the long term?

If not, how do muscles and joints achieve the ability to absorb the amounts of force that these movements produce, and how does this differ from exercises which are best performed slowly?

Are any of the assumptions in the above paragraphs incorrect?

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No, explosive movements do not necessarily lead to injury. Performed correctly after a period of acclimatization, explosive movements are quite safe. The recommendation to be slow, deliberate, and under control at all times is meant for the general population. Most people are weak, prone to injury, and unlikely to seek capable instruction in explosive movements. Therefore the recommendation to avoid explosive movements is justified. However, a better recommendation would be for these people to strengthen and improve themselves so they are able to perform explosive movements safely.

We see this disjunction between general exercise recommendations and sport exercise recommendations frequently. For instance, people are told, "don't hold your breath during a rep", instead of how to properly hold your breath. People are steered towards less effective techniques because they are less demanding. That's reasonable, but it sets the bar lower as well. People who never push themselves with more demanding exercises will never see the tremendous benefits that doing so brings.

A safe explosive movement is possible: one controls the launch (and catch, if it exists) with proper form. With properly chosen weights and rationally chosen exercises, this is safe and does not lead to injury. A rationally chosen exercise is one that is appropriate for one's level of strength. I may be ready for a power clean while you need to strengthen your lower back with deadlifts before trying the power clean. You may be ready for sprints while I need to run slowly for a few more weeks. She may be ready for kettlebell swings while he should work on bodyweight movements first.

Accidents of course happen with explosive exercises, as they do with exercises performed slowly. The rate of accidents is slightly higher, but the benefits are much greater as well.

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  • Good answer. People also assume that explosive exercise means hyperextension of joints, which is exactly why correct technique and knowledge is required – user001 Aug 31 '15 at 7:22
  • From your reply, it appears the case that the question's initial assumption is, at least in part, incorrect. Are you also saying that, on the whole, slow and deliberate execution is less demanding and less effective than fast execution? – cheaterpushups Aug 31 '15 at 7:25
  • @cheaterpushups Yes, the question's initial assumption being wrong is my point. As to slow & deliberate versus fast, there's a lot of additional nuance but yes, fast is generally more productive. – Dave Liepmann Aug 31 '15 at 7:53
  • Can you elaborate on the difference in productiveness in the space of a comment or would that call for a separate question? – cheaterpushups Aug 31 '15 at 8:57
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    One additional detail that I think is important for defining what a "safe" explosive movement looks like: remember that you body has been trained for decades to fix errors in your position if if deems it necessary. After every explosive effort, your body will unconsciously redistribute itself to deal with the errors it developed during the explosive movement. When being safe, remember that your body will take control from you sometimes to protect itself (this is especially true if your body feels it is falling). It is easy for injury to occur there, not just in the explosive movement itself. – Cort Ammon Aug 31 '15 at 17:10

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