For some time plyometrics (plyos) or jump training has received much attention in training literature. Plyometrics is a term that was coined in 1975 by Fred Wilt, a pioneering American track and field coach in the 60's and 70's. During this time many Eastern European countries began to produce outstanding athletes in sports that required expressions of power like gymnastics, track & field and weightlifting. It was revealed that part of their training regimes included “jump training”. (1) Today there is much more widespread use of plyos. What are plyos and where do they potentially fit into your client’s training program?
Performance levels for sports, activities and life can be improved by using many training means. What ultimately controls performance in many of these areas is the speed at which muscular forces can be generated. Skill is required to efficiently coordinate these inter and intra muscular forces. Power is needed to get the most force in the shortest period of time. (2) Plyometrics is a term that refers to exercises designed to take advantage of two factors.
The first factor is that when a rapid eccentric stretch of a muscle occurs, some elastic energy is stored. This energy can be used to augment the concentric muscle action that follows. However, this switching needs to happen quickly or the stored energy is lost. A stretched rubber band is often used to illustrate the energy storage component of plyometric movements.
The second part of the body’s response to plyometric movement lies in the muscle spindles. These sensors record the rate at which a stretch occurs and elicit the “knee jerk” response (same as used by your doctor to fire your quadriceps in a reflex test). Since these receptors are connected directly to the spinal cord there is no delay in this action. A response taking any longer or using more channels would be too late for you to use when running, jumping or throwing. (1)
There are many paths to teaching and using plyometrics. When you consider if your client needs to do plyos think about their activities, background and lifestyle. They may, for example, benefit greatly from doing plyo “like“ activities in their warm up. An exercise like rapid prisoner squats (hands behind head, i.e.12-15 in 15 seconds) may go a long way in raising eccentric strength and dynamic stabilization levels.
Continued use of a dynamic or continuous warm up allows introduction and mastery of new skills in many areas. It is up to you to decide if and when your clients will be ready to use plyometrics. Some of this assessment can be gained by observing your client’s warm ups. Watching for improvements in dynamic flexibility, core strength, balance and stabilization strength will help you determine future progressions. It is important to have some general or gross and complex movement skills in your warm up as well as “linking” activities to the main portion of the workout.
Inclusion of joint mobility, dynamic flexibility as well as variations of lunging, squatting, crawling, agility ladder and medicine ball exercises all serve to raise nervous system activity and create muscle heat. During the Speed Development article (next in this series) a more thorough discussion of warm up design will be discussed. As your warm up moves towards completion try to “link” the warm up with the specific exercises to follow. Exercises which are good for linking to our plyometrics progression can include prisoner squats (mentioned earlier), burpees (or squat thrusts) and prisoner jump squats. Even if you are unfamiliar with these exercises the common denominator is that they all have a double leg plyo “like” theme. In other words they involve a rapid eccentric stretch but the switching time is not fast enough to be truly plyometric.
Because of the forces being absorbed by the body, care should be taken to use conditions that minimize pounding. Floors and surfaces that have some yielding qualities are best. The following exercises lead to “In-place” jumps, and can be done with little or no equipment.
FIVE STEP PROGRESSION FOR IN PLACE JUMPS
- Stabilization jump onto a box
- In-place stabilization jump
- Ankle jumps
- Bouncing in place jumps
- In-place jumps
1. Stabilization Jump onto a Box
In Stabilization jump onto a box (Fig 1) your client will be standing about a foot away from the box. Cue vertical takeoff and extension at the ankle, knee and hip. Using this exercise minimizes landing forces. Cues that will yield better results include a soft (quiet) full foot landing (toes make contact first but use entire foot to absorb landing). Encourage them to anticipate and use triple flexion (ankle, knee and hip) to absorb the landing. Move to the next exercise when you observe mastery of this exercise. Total number of contacts can be in the 5-10 range. You can continue using this exercise as a warm up as your client progresses.
Figure 1. Stabilization jump onto a box.
2. In-Place Stabilization Jump
In-place stabilization jump (Fig 2) is the same drill as Fig 1 except there is no box. Rep range can be the same as Fig 1, however if doing both exercises, the total reps should be around 10. Continued use of this exercise as a warm up is encouraged.
Figure 2. In-place stabilization jump.
3. Ankle Jumps
Ankle jumps (Fig 3) are the first real plyometric activity to be done. A key technical point to cue is the dorsi flexed ankle (toes up). This will achieve a braced or prepared ankle to absorb the landing with the entire foot. You will be battling old patterns here as everyone as children heard that you needed to “stay on your toes” when they participated in sports. If they “stay on their toes” energy from deceleration will be lost. Another cue that will help them is to allow minimal knee flexion on landing. If this drill is done correctly it will look like a pogo stick and the height of the jump will be small (less than a foot). You may need to spend some time on this one to get the results you are looking for. This and bouncing in place jumps are the “link” to in place jumps (Fig 5). These can be done in 2-3 sets up to 10 reps.
Figure 3. Ankle jumps.
4. Bouncing In-Place Jumps
Fig 4, Bouncing in place jumps are a summation of the previous three drills. Your client will perform 1-3 ankle jumps then do an in-place jump, then continue doing ankle jumps and repeat. The number of ankle jumps between in-place jumps is not crucial. See if they can establish a rhythm for these like bounce - bounce - jump. If they have a hard time handling this drill more ankle jumps between will be needed. Progress down so that you only have one ankle jump between in place jumps. At this point you can be begin to ask them to complete two in place jumps in row, etc. Sets around five will work well here.
Figure 4. Bouncing in place jumps
5. In-Place Jumps
In-place jumps (Fig 5) are the goal of this teaching progression. The cues you have used before are repeated here. Your preparation drills have taught the client to quickly switch from deceleration to acceleration. On their first take off they will need to perform a half squat to begin. Encourage use of their arms from the start for rhythm and applying additional force to the ground. Cue them to swing their arms up but to stop or “block” them when they reach shoulder height. A good cue is to use a hip to hands pattern so that when they are in front of the body the hands are close to each other or briefly touch. Cue complete and rapid extension of the legs and preparation/anticipation of the upcoming landing. Preparation should be like the ankle hop only knees will bend. Ask the client to allow their body to find the most efficient switching and spring like action. The end product should look very elastic; they will feel like they are “not doing much”. If you observe this or receive this feedback then your client is getting the plyometric effect you have been coaching. Sets of around 5 reps will work well to starts with. Doing three or four of these exercises, with as few as 15-20 total contacts, a couple of times a week can have a very beneficial training effect.
Figure 5. In-place jumps
As with medicine balls, plyometric activities and drills are a great tool for affecting speed of movement and making better use of the nervous system. However they should also be used with caution. Improper preparation and poor skill can result in injuries. Skipping might be as plyometric as some clients ever need to get. Here like with medicine balls we are trying to achieve quality of movement. If it doesn’t look good, chances are it isn’t good. Enjoy using this powerful tool at the level that your clients can safely handle.
Vern Gambetta has done a video Jump, Jump, Jump, which has great progressions for all levels and spends some time teaching effective landings. Visit www.performbetter.com for this or other videos, books and plyometric-related equipment.
- Jumping into Plyometrics, Donald Chu
- Integrated Training for the New Millennium, Michael Clark