Plyometric Training: How It Works?


Plyometric training is the staple of many athletic programs around the world.  Plyometric training is explosive training, such as jumps, cleans, etc.  The ability to move either yourself, or some external object, at maximum speed and maximum efficiency sets elites apart from average athletes.  Now of course there are other factors that separate elites apart from average athletes, like Flow and G.P.P..  In the overall picture, being able to move explosively will make you better on the field.  Period.  Take a look at any elite athletes training program and you will find some form of plyometrics.  In this post, we are going to explore what plyometric training is and how it works. 

The Stretch Shortening Cycle And Plyometric Training

The stretch shortening cycle (SSC) is at the core of plyometrics.  Whenever a muscle contracts during movement, there is always a moment of brief pause during the movement.  For example, when jumping, the hips move backwards, providing a stretch to the glutes and hamstrings prior to the jump.  When the jump is initiated the hips shoot forward as explosively as possible in order to propel the body upward.  Between those two movements, there was a brief pause at the bottom of the jumping position.  This pause is where all the action takes place. 

During the pause there is an elastic response taking place that sling shots you back to the starting position.  The sling shot is free elastic energy.  This energy increases the acceleration of the athlete, or object.  The quicker the pause, the more elastic the response, therefore more power.  A longer pause means less elastic energy and more brute strength. 

The entire point of plyometric training is to minimize the duration of the pause.  Therefore, the exercises selected must have an elastic component to them.  The exercises must also train the muscle groups that are primarily used in the sport.  The most effective plyometric exercises are the ones that train specific sporting movements at the toughest phases for that particular athlete.  For example, a weightlifter training the squat would perform box jumps to train explosiveness in the squat. 

Preparing For Plyometric Training

Plyometric training should begin only after being able to squat 2X BW and bench press 1.5X BW for men (1.5X and 1X for women, respectively).  This may sound a little bit much for most people, so I feel a little need to clarify.  Do you absolutely need to hit these numbers to perform plyometric training? No.  With that said, I feel that most serious athletes should reach these numbers before doing plyometric training.  Not for safety reasons, but for performance reasons. 

Whether you like it or not, strength plays a vital role in the maximum amount of power one can produce.  The stronger an athlete is, the more powerful he is.  There is no way around it.  You can perform plyometrics without the optimal strength, however, the results will not be nearly as good without the added strength.  This is precisely the reason most young athletes take anabolic steroids.  They lack the strength necessary to get the most out of plyometric training. 

Plyometric training also produces a high amount of impact.  Too much impact style exercises, like running, can be detrimental to gaining strength.  Performing too many plyometric exercises prior to gaining the adequate strength necessary for plyometric training will further delay strength gains.  This is obviously counter intuitive.  The best advice to follow is to get stronger first, then implement plyometrics. 

How To Implement Plyometric Training

Implementing plyometrics to your training all depends on the current skill level of the athlete.  In the book Jumping Into Plyometrics, author Donald A. Chu, PhD, explains that beginners should perform about 60-100 total foot contacts in their off-season, intermediates about 100-150 and advanced should do 120-200.  Plyometric exercises are extremely taxing on the body. Use them strategically.  Typically, they are most useful at the beginning of the workout after already performing an adequate warmup. 

Plyometrics will, in effect, activate the bigger muscle groups necessary to lift heavy weight.  Performing them at the end of the workout will not have as good of an effect.  When the athlete transitions to his/her pre-season the volume of plyometric training will increase for all levels of athlete.  This will prepare the athlete for the coming season by increasing acceleration-strength and speed-strength.  Increasing absolute strength should be the focus during the off-season. 

During the actual season, the overall volume should be low.  The goal is not to build more skill, but to maintain the skills you have obtained in the off-season and pre-season.  Power and speed, just like strength, are all skills.  If you don’t use the skills you have acquired, then your ability to perform them will become rusty.  Therefore, a light amount of volume with a medium-high intensity will freshen up those skills. 

Types Of Exercises That Can Use Plyometric Training

There are entire books written about different types of plyometric exercises that one can use.  Going over specific types of plyometric exercises is beyond the scope of this post.  However, we are going to go over how specific exercises can be made into plyometric exercises based on their movement qualities.  Movement qualities are best defined as the way the exercise is performed and the overall scheme of movement present in the exercise. 

Exercises beginning with an eccentric component and finishing off with a concentric component can be made into a plyometric exercise.  As explained above, the brief isometric phase between the eccentric and concentric components is what makes plyometric training effective.  The benefit of having an eccentric component prior to a concentric component is that the muscle will already be stretched before the isometric phase even begins.  It is like winding up a slingshot.  Exercises that begin with a concentric component and end with an eccentric component will not have the same effect. 

A good example of an exercise where plyometrics apply is the squat.  It begins from a standing position, lowers down to the ground, bounces out of the hole and then returns to the original position.  Perfect!  On the other end of the spectrum, the deadlift is an exercise without any bouncing component.  You start from a dead stop every time.  As a result, the deadlift places more stress on the body than the squat does.  When thinking of plyometrics and plyometric exercises, just ask yourself which exercises make the body behave like a rubber band.                 

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