By Nolan Kowal, Sport Performance Specialist
I have to admit it, I am not very original. I stole this title, well part of it anyways from the book, Jumping Into Plyometrics written by Strength and Conditioning legend, Dr. Donald Chu and it was one of my go to books as a young Strength and Conditioning coach to help my athletes improve their explosive power. You’ll notice I added a few words to the title and that is because I think there are some misconceptions about what is involved in this type of training to produce power.
Most people don’t really know what plyometrics are. Some people call it jump training and some call it plyos, but there is much more to this type of training than jumping. We will touch on the different aspects of plyometrics and how to progress exercises to help athletes jump higher or farther or run faster or hit a ball harder in an effective, safe way.
Let’s start with the question, what are Plyometrics? The word comes from the Greek words, plethyein (to increase) and metric (to measure). To keep it simple, plyometrics is to increase force production in as short a time as possible. The key concept is to ultimately use what is called the Stretch Reflex or the Stretch Shortening Cycle within the tendons of the body that connect muscle to bone.
When a muscle/tendon is stretched quickly with increased force, the Stretch Shortening Cycle is there to prevent that muscle/tendon from overstretching or tearing. It is a safety mechanism built into our bodies to prevent injury. The goal is to absorb the load quickly and then to move in the other direction just as quickly. When applied to a training program, the end result, if done properly, is faster, more explosive athletes which means you will run faster, jump higher, and throw or hit harder.
Now that we know about the concept of Plyometrics, here is a very brief history about this form of training. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s Dr. Yuri Verkoshansky, a Russian scientist and track coach, developed a method of training known as the “Shock Method” which used movements such as depth jumps to overload the body and train that Stretch Shortening Cycle within the muscles/tendons.
When other countries started noticing that the Russians were warming up and preparing differently than they were and getting far better results, they decided to research their methods to try and mimic their results. Dr. Michael Yessis from the United States is credited with researching and translating many of the Russian training methods and bringing them to North America but the term Plyometrics was coined by an American track coach by the name of Fred Wilt in the early 1980’s and is the most commonly used term when it comes to producing explosive power.
There is a lot of confusion around what Plyometric training is and entails, so there are some misconceptions about it that we should go over:
- Many people apply the “more is better” motto when it comes to training. If 50 reps or in this case, ground contacts, is good, 100 must be better. This could not be further from the truth. Athletes should not be performing hundreds of jumps per day, every day to improve their explosive power. Plyometrics is about high quality, forceful movements being done as quickly as possible. This type of training is not meant to be done as conditioning or Energy System work. It requires quick work bouts followed by enough rest (5-10X the length of your set or a 1:5-10 work to rest ratio) to fully recover and be explosive on the next set and so on. Too much volume (setsXreps) can lead to injury with this type of training. Remember – QUALITY OVER QUANTITY.
- Plyometrics are not the be all and end all of training modes to improve performance unless all you do in your sport is jump. Plyometric training is a critical component of a training program but not any more important than the other components. For example, a basketball player must be able to run, jump, change directions with the skills necessary to be an excellent basketball player (dribble, shoot, pass, etc.) while being able to react to the opposition player’s movements and play within a team system. There are also high demands on the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems in the sport of basketball. All of this requires a well-balanced training program that includes: Training (Strength, Linear and Lateral Speed, Agility, Power, Flexibility/Mobility, Energy Systems), Proper Nutrition, Rest and Recovery along with solid technical and tactical skills. Everyone is different and may require improvement in certain areas over others but, as a general rule, an athlete’s training program should try to meet the demands of the sport as closely as possible. It is then up to the coach and his support team to individualize for each athlete as needed. Remember – HAVE A WELL-BALANCED TRAINING PROGRAM.
- Plyometrics are not just about jumping. Plyometric training includes jumping but it also includes speed training and explosive medicine ball training when done with the right intent. Again, the concept of training the Stretch Shortening Cycle is the key factor here. Our goal, early in the training process is learn how to absorb forces and control them. For example, we do a series of exercises called Snap Downs to teach our athletes how to land (absorb forces) properly when they are jumping. Our goal is to land in an athletic stance position with our hands by our back pockets and our chest tall.
Here are some examples of the Snap Down series to work on landing mechanics and force absorption:
We would typically start with these and then progress to add other jumping drills with more complexity to them as athletes progress and are better able to handle the added strain of plyometric training with the ultimate goal of popping off the ground (INTENT) as quickly as possible after absorbing the forces against the body. The gradual increase in intensity and complexity is called Progressive Overload. These concepts would apply to sprinting as well as explosive medicine ball training.
In a similar way, here is an example of an upper body plyometric progression we would use with our athletes to develop rotational power:
You will notice that we start kneeling to focus on the proper loading of the torso and progress to our feet so we can include the legs and hips in creating that rotational power and then finally adding the reactive component to focus on that Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC). Note that we do not go through this progression in one training session, this happens over weeks and months leading up to the start of a competitive season.
Remember – IT IS ABOUT INTENT. Plyometric training concepts can be applied to jumping, sprinting, agility and upper body explosive training if you focus that quick absorption of force and quick and explosive movement in the other direction.
- This next point is not really a misconception as much as it is a pet peeve of mine. I have watched sooooo many videos of athletes and coaches and their great box jumps and for the most part, I cringe at almost all of them. A 48” box jump does not necessarily make you a great jumper or more explosive for that matter. If you are able to hit a 48” box jump without landing on that box with your butt hitting your heels and your knees hitting your chin, then I would be impressed with your box jump because to me, that would show a pretty impressive vertical jump.
Here is an example of what I mean by a box jump gone wrong:
Notice that the hips are well below the knees, the knees are by this person’s chin and his arms are reaching forward to help counter balance the fact that he doesn’t have a good enough vertical jump to land on a box that high. Not to mention the fact that this guy is jumping on to a stack of 45 lb plates and his foot is landing near the front of them so he probably ended up pushing those plates forward and landing on his butt rather than landing on the “box.” Not very safe.
Over the years I have witnessed countless people try to jump on a box that is too high and scrape the skin off of their shins, get bruised, battered and cut all for the sake of the almighty high box jump.
When we teach a box jump, our goal is to land on the box in a position where the athlete would be able to jump again right away (athletic stance with knees bent slightly – ¼ to ½ squat, chest tall with hands by back pockets).
Here is an example of how a box jump should look like on a Snap Down to Box Jump:
Putting It All Together
As mentioned earlier, plyometric training, just like any other component of a training program requires a progression from basic to complex, from force absorption to ballistic movement, from bilateral (both feet) to unilateral (1 foot) from unloaded to loaded, etc. We also need to consider the amount of volume (sets and repetitions) we are going to be using and the amount of rest to take between sets to make sure we are training for explosive power and not using these exercises for conditioning purposes.
Here are some general guidelines to get you started with implementing plyometric training into your current training program:
Plyometric exercises can be broken down into the following categories:
- Level 0 – Movement/Coordination – These are very low level plyometrics that help athletes to move better and improve coordination and include: running jumping, skipping and jump rope exercise and can be done as part of a proper warm up or just in a play or game setting.
- Level 1 – Landing/Force Absorption – These are low level exercises that focus on landing mechanics and teaching the body how to absorb the forces related to jumping. Movements are typically done slower to help develop the eccentric (lengthening or lowering) strength needed to produce greater force when jumping in levels 2 and 3. Includes jumping exercises like Snap Downs, Depth Drops, Box Jumps, Squat Jumps, Broad Jumps, low hurdle hop drills focusing on land and jumping mechanics, etc., sprinting drills like: Acceleration Wall Drills, Absolute Speed Wall Drills, A March, A Skip, etc., and medicine ball drills like: Kneeling, ½ Kneeling or Standing Side Toss (throw and stick catch).
- Level 2 – Plyometric Strength – These are moderate intensity exercises that focus on decreasing ground contact time and increasing amplitude (height or distance) to start focusing on training the Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC). Includes jumping exercises like: Continuous Jumps, Counter Movement Jumps, Low Height Depth Jumps, Continuous Low Hurdle Jumps and Hops, Split or Lunge Jumps, etc., sprinting drills like: Pop/Float/Skip, A Runs, Wicket Runs, 3 Step Starts, etc.
- Level 3 – Plyometric Power – These are high intensity exercises that focus on true Plyometric work including a maximum rate of force development and minimal ground contact times. Includes jumping exercise like: Depth Jumps, High Hurdle Hops, Reactive Jumps and sprinting drills like Bounding, Sprinting, Resisted and Overspeed Sprinting and medicine ball drills like: Reactive MB Side Toss or Supine Explosive MB Chest Pass.
From a programming perspective, it is important to understand that you can not go from level 0 to level 3 in a matter of weeks. It takes weeks, months and even years to build up to level 3 exercises. It also takes a great deal of strength development to progress to that level.
Below is a guideline of contacts or repetitions for a training session for the various levels of plyometric exercises for different skill levels developed the American Council on Exercise (ACE):
These types of drills should be done 2-3 times per week for maximum benefit. At Sport Manitoba Performance, we work many of these drills and exercises into our warm ups and movement skill components of our strength and conditioning sessions for our athletes.
If you are interested in learning more about plyometric training or any other aspect of sport performance, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.