When it comes to speed, sometimes the smallest details are what help improve performance.
This week I want to look at something I do on a consistent basis that can help improve speed and overall athleticism--hopping.
Hopping is a small part of the program, but so are a lot of things. It’s up to you to take the tools at your disposal and use them how you see fit. If you never hop, it isn’t necessarily the missing link. However, as with many drills, it’s all about reinforcing certain principles.
Hopping is a subset of plyometrics though it is integrated with speed, too, primarily with the equipment like ladder and hurdles. I talked about plyometrics when I wrote about designing a jump program this past spring. You can refer back to that here.
The main difference between hopping and jumping is that jumping is going to use full triple extension with the ankles, knees and hips being involved, thus getting more height or distance. Hopping doesn’t require triple extension and mainly happens at the ankles with the knees giving only a little bit to absorb impact, resulting in a short, quick and hopefully light movement.
Essentially, hopping can be thought of as a "mini" plyo. I want to quickly examine how hopping relates to the four plyometric concepts (again, based around jumping) that I covered earlier this year.
1. From a volume perspective, total “contacts” is the important element when designing a Since hopping isn’t as intensive, you can have more hopping contacts than jumping contacts.
2. There is still an amortization phase, yet quicker in instances like hopping through an apparatus. Consecutive hops are easier to perform quickly than consecutive jumps which require more energy transfer.
3. Hopping can also be multi-directional with the opportunity for added complexity of performing them single leg.
4. A primary benefit of hopping is to remind the muscles how to be athletic without expending as much energy as you would with authentic plyos. Furthermore, it will lead to sport-specific application.
• Physical strength (less is needed in comparison to jumping) and limb control. You still need to coach athletes to use their arms accordingly. Most hopping drills will challenge the balance of an athlete which ultimately leads to learning how to control the limbs. This is a great example as to why I recommend a gradual intro to plyos with hopping especially for youth athletes.
•The same amount of proficiency as with jumping. Again, “easy to do, easy to mess up.” You want to be a technician with hopping so as to ensure proper landings. Bad technique can lead to an injury, especially since hopping usually involves an apparatus. You can roll an ankle with hopping as much as you can with jumping.
•Less precise cycling to avoid overtraining. While more is not always better, you won’t have the same issue as you would with full plyos. A structured program doesn’t need a ceiling on hopping as it does with jumping to produce progressive development of explosive traits.
Plyometrics might not be for everybody, but hopping can provide similar aspects on a smaller scale.
When I have athletes coming off surgeries (i.e. ACL), I am very careful on how I reintroduce them to hopping, let alone jumping. So if we are doing ladders or hurdles, I will typically instruct my athletes to “hop if you are able.” It is communicated beforehand with my athletes in post-rehab to just perform a one-step.
On the other hand (or foot), with healthy athletes, I think it is important to train single leg hopping both medially and laterally to help strengthen the knee ligaments. Just be wise in how often you prescribe it. Don’t overdo single leg hopping. Depending on the physical maturity and conditioning of the athletes, it will prove to be more challenging for some than others.
There are a couple ways to incorporate hopping with the ladder. Before we get into those, remember to use whatever resources you have for the ladder if you do not have access to the actual equipment. You can paint a line on the ground and hop over it, for example. If you do have access to the equipment, that 3rd dimension of having to clear even a quarter-inch rung, keeps the athlete accountable.
The first way to incorporate hopping with the ladder is to use the basic hop pattern straight through. The nuance to this simple drill is what I love. You’ll often see your kids start losing their balance as they get faster. To execute this drill fast, it takes engaging your core. If the athlete doesn’t lean at all, it’s too slow. If they lean to much, they fall forward and skip boxes.
I also like using the 5 Hops + Run pattern. After the fifth hop, the athlete needs to accelerate but they still can’t miss any boxes. As simple of a transition as it seems, there's still the possibility of an athlete messing up.
Now, take a pattern like the ickey shuffle or back and forth. Those can be done hopping as well. The key is keeping the center of gravity over the apparatus.
Another way is to decide what patterns work with a single hop being done at the beginning. For example, you hop into the first box just to go into the pattern of double trouble for the remaining boxes. There are also hopping patterns like the Ali Shuffle, Hop Scotch and Side Straddle Hop that can make their way into any script.
When you have a mini hurdle by itself, you can have an athlete use it as an obstacle for an individual hopping drill, which is typically done by hopping side to side. When it is a course of hurdles, there is a little more limitation than the ladder. The hop-straight-through and the 3 Hops + Run are essentially the only patterns that will work with the hurdles.
The one distinct drill I like to occasionally do with my athletes is to take that single hurdle and utilize it for a “start” drill. Whether the athlete is hopping forward, backward or laterally over the single hurdle, upon the landing, he or she is sprinting. The focus is all about the transition of getting out and accelerating. Just one hop and go. Be sure to land on two feet before sprinting out. Not only are you developing the reaction time, you’re instilling discipline.
It’s not too hard to figure out where hopping applies; the split step is all over sports. Wide receivers, at times, will utilize a hop for their release. Whether it’s a tennis player ready to receive a serve, a baseball or softball player at the pitch, or a basketball player getting into a defensive posture, hopping happens.
The point though is that hopping is always followed by running (or shuffling or some other movement). In training, it is important to train the transition into step one. If you can use it, train it. A better first step one is sometimes all you need to gain an advantage.