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Well designed training with plyometrics increases speed and explosive power while simultaneously enhancing coordination and agility. Moreover, workouts also appear to require a relatively small amount of plyometric exercises to still see improved athletic performance. So start crushing that last sprint time, find new heights with Zion’s vertical jump, and spin through Barry Sanders’ agility.
But before jumping right into plyometrics, basic baseline levels of physical strength, flexibility, and proprioception are required.
Assuming that is the case, a carefully planned out training regimen can complement traditional weight lifting/resistance training with plyometrics. However, the two do not overlap on days that incorporate high rest/high weight repetitions.
Why plyometric training or ‘plyos’ are here to stay
Throughout the 1960s and early ’70s, Soviet Bloc countries dominated the Summer and Winter Olympics, thanks to some unsavory decisions regarding performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and more ethical research on the emerging science of plyometrics from a Russian scientist named Yuri Verkhoshansky. Originally coined the ‘shock method’ by Verkhoshanksy, it was his peer Dr. Michael Yessis who expanded upon the initial findings to create other plyometric exercises.
In his collaboration with Yessis on Soviet Theory, Technique and Training for Running and Hurdling, it was FBI Agent and Purdue cross country coach Fred Wilt who introduced the term “plyometrics” to American coaches.
While the tipping point for popular culture came when former Dallas Cowboys head, Tom Landry, made plyometrics a staple of his highly successful Cowboys teams. Inevitably this innovation led to a ‘trickle-down’ effect from media coverage and competitive coaches at all levels of the sport.
The revolution began with the simple revelation that overly generalized strength gains in the weight room needed to be bridged into the highly specific strength needed for events, sports, even positions on the field. Bigger muscles were great initial performance gains, but coordinating muscle firing patterns was the next level.Maamer Slimani, et al
The gains that were observed should be of great interest for players and coaches as performance in these team sports relies greatly on specific power, sprinting and agility which were shown to be significant observed gains with plyometric training regimens. It is thus recommended that team sport coaches implement in-season plyometric training to enhance their athletes’ performance.Maamer Slimani, et al
Unfortunately, plyometrics do involve an increased risk of injury from the large forces generated by and placed upon muscles and tendons during training sessions and performance. For the purpose of emphatic repetition, couple this variety of anaerobic training with dynamic stretching warm up and only after a baseline fitness has been achieved.
How athletes and coaches use plyometrics
In strength training, the goal is to increase the size of a muscle (hypertrophy) and/or its ability to generate force. In contrast, with plyometric training, the goal is to exponentially increase the ability of muscle activity to generate maximum force in minimal time. These quick, rapid movements or exercises recruit “fast-twitch” muscle fibers and allow athletes to fully benefit from performance gains in either arena.
The present review shows that PT with low intensity or progressive PT has lower effects than moderately high and progressive PT. Also, the combination of plyometric drills is a more effective method compared to single plyometric drills (e.g., Depth Jump, CounterMovement Jump).Maamer Slimani, et al
Plyometric exercise consists of three stages
The precise sequence of these three phases is called the stretch-shortening cycle.
- First, an eccentric phase that lengthens, primes, and stretches the muscle
- Followed by a very short resting period called the amortization phase.
- And culminating in an explosive muscle shortening movement called the concentric contraction.
Reducing the time spent in-between eccentric and concentric movements, significantly improves an athlete’s trained ability to create faster and more powerful movements through precisely coordinated forces around joints. And the stored energy is then released when the component stretch is followed immediately by concentric muscle action.
Conceptually, PT is characterized by the operation of the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) that develops during the transition from a rapid eccentric muscle contraction (deceleration or a negative phase) to a rapid concentric muscle contraction (acceleration or a positive phase) ( Bedoya et al., 2015; Makaruk et al., 2014; Michailidis et al., 2013 ).Maamer Slimani, et al
And if the concentric contraction does not occur with proper timing after the pre-stretch, the potential energy stored through the stretch shortening cycle response never manifests into functional power, speed and agility. To prepare the nervous system to endure this, plyometric training, as opposed to typical strength training, specifically signal fast-twitch muscle fibers for activation before extension.
Thus, combined sprint/plyometric training ( Table 4 ) can be the reason for sprint improvement by facilitating the neuromuscular system into making a more rapid transition from eccentric to concentric contraction ( Markovic et al., 2007 ).Maamer Slimani, et al
And if the stretch reflex increases neuromuscular control while undergoing the eccentric muscle action, it can, like a stretched rubber band, act much more forcefully when it meets concentric contraction.
What a plyometric workout looks like
Plyometric exercises will not only strengthen the fast-twitch fibers but increase the proportion inside of the overall musculature. While, exercises such as depth jumps, counter-movement jumps, leg bounding, and hopping improve motor recruitment. Challenging anaerobic exercise with a variety of plyometric exercises also requires a commitment to proper technique and adequate rest between sets and workouts.
Just one or two forms of plyometrics completed 1-3 times a week for 6-12 weeks can significantly improve athletic performance in a relatively short period of time.
- Plyometric Push Ups for upper body work
- Box jumps for jump training (health and safety note: step off the box, do not jump down)
- Bounding for distance
- Squat Jumps for impact and landing
- Split Jumps to control agility with ground reaction contact
Furthermore, the combination of unilateral and bilateral jump drills seems more advantageous to induce significant performance improvements during high-intensity short-term plyometric training in team sports players.Maamer Slimani, et al
With great power, comes great responsibility, and eccentric workloads tax muscle breakdown more so than any other exercise. Be careful of delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) while adjusting training accordingly.
Find next level performance gains
Plyometrics are an amazing playground for individuals to improve functional strength, speed, and agility. But be aware of diminishing returns while programming them into any season or practice.
This review also shows that short PT (<8 weeks) has the potential to enhance a wide range of athletic performance (i.e., jumping, sprinting, and agility) in children and youth amateur players.Maamer Slimani, et al
And inside team competitions like soccer, hockey, basketball and football, the ability to decelerate or change direction with explosive speed are far more relevant for an athlete than maximal muscle power. The ability to absorb forces and redirect them after a full-body explosive movement is a key performance adaptations, making plyometrics effective in these sports.
It appears that a training duration of 6-7 weeks is too short of improving muscular power in elite players. The general recommendation states that more than eight weeks of PT’s systematic application are necessary to improve physical performance in elite players.
While for more endurance-based elite athletes in swimming or running, packing in as much force as possible into each cycle is more valuable than the ability to absorb and redirect it. Unless creating an initial power output from starts and turns.