By Nolan Kowal, Sport Performance Specialist
By Dean Lowrie
Coach & Athlete Development Coordinator
Plyometrics, also known as jump training or plyos, are exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in the shortest amount of time with the goal of increasing power. This training focuses on learning to move from a muscle extension to a contraction in a rapid or explosive manner, such as in specialized repeated jumping. Plyometrics are primarily used by athletes, especially athletes who rely on maximizing the strength-speed relationship.
Plyometric training was introduced in the 1970s when former Soviet Union athletes were seen doing several variations of depth jumps. During this time period the USSR had some great results which were attributed to their plyometric training, or shock training as it was originally titled. Plyometrics exercises also involve the ability to move through an eccentric movement with a fast transition into the concentric movement.
Great care and planning are required to enable athletes to take advantage of the benefits while limiting the risk of injury in such an evasive form of training.
Let’s look at my top five points on plyometric training:
- Plyometric exercises are a key part of jump training, but not all jump training is plyometric. Make sure to train the components of the jump in combination with the full jump. It is important to have a good warm up before doing the jump training, then do the strength training after the jump training.
- Break the plyometric exercise up into the specific phases of the movement and focus on each phase independently. For this reason, my progressions start with the training eccentric phase, then the isometric phase, and finally the concentric phase. I will list some examples for each phase at the end of the article.
- Plyometrics in the workout. For each training session, I like to start with 10 minutes of mobility work to make sure the joints, muscles, and body mechanics are prepared and ready to perform in the full range of motion. Then we progress into linear speed, neuromuscular recruitment, and proper mechanics (coordinating the upper and lower body). From here we go into agility work and change of direction drills. Finally, we finish the dynamic power portion of training with a low volume, high-intensity circuit alternating between jump (lower body) and throws (upper body).
- Most acute injuries are the result of landing, not in the act of jumping! Therefore, it is important to train with proper alignment and landing position. I start every new athlete with some very simple standing altitude drops. It is absolutely imperative for the athletes to work on body awareness and the relationship between their feet, knees, hips, upper body and arms in the landing phase of the jump.
- To maximize the benefits of jump training you should move from general to specific patterns, loads, and volume found in the athlete’s sport. The power requirements of a track sprinter and a figure skater have some similarities but ultimately the figure skater will need to apply this power in a rotation pattern while the sprinter is almost entirely in a linear pattern. For this reason, we train rotational athletes in a single plane of movement to start, but once they demonstrate good awareness along with appropriate strength and mechanics, we move to a lot of rotation movements in their programming.
The Jump Continuum
Phase 1 – Eccentric Absorption
Exercises would include: tall-to-short landings, altitude drops from varied heights, and both bilateral and unilateral movements.
Phase 2 – Concentric Development
Exercises would include: squat jumps and seated box jumps of different heights and loads.
Phase 3 – Jump Integration
Exercises would include: broad jumps and hurdle jumps of different heights and loads.
Phase 4 – Continuous Jumps
Exercises would include: pogo jumps, mini hurdle hops, and continuous hurdle hops using different patterns and planes of movement.
Phase 5 – Shock Jumps
Exercises would include: depth jumps for max distance with variations in load, height, etc.
Without question jump training is the most enjoyable aspect of physical training, but it also demands a high degree of focus. When each phase is incorporated into the appropriate cycle, it will link the training to performance and results like no other method out there!