"Easy to do; Easy to mess up."
Jump training is our final piece of the puzzle for improving an athlete’s performance on the training side. Speed and strength lay the foundation for this component. An increase in athleticism, biomechanical efficiency, injury mitigation, and power are just a few of the benefits of jump training. As with any training program, the design can vary based on the desired outcome(s).
Plyometric training, or plyos, combines strength and speed to produce an explosion of power. Plyos involve repeated, rapid stretching and contracting of muscles, allowing for quick transfers of energy and dynamic movements. Let’s delve further into this concept and how it relates to designing a jump program.
There are FOUR concepts of plyos that must first be understood before programming begins:
1) The most important term you can learn concerning plyos and their place in any programming is the word contact. Contact is the number of times the athlete's feet land or contact the ground after a plyo movement. Contacts are programmed with sets and reps like other training modalities, e.g., 3 sets x 10 reps = 30 contacts.
2) Amortization is another component of plyos, and no I am not referring to the accounting technique. “The amortization phase is the time delay between overcoming the negative work of the eccentric pre‐stretch to generate the force production and accelerating the muscle contraction and the elastic recoil in the direction of the plyometric movement pattern. This phase is the key to the performance of plyometrics because the shorter the amortization phase the more effective and powerful is the plyometric movement because the stored energy is used efficiently in the transition.”
3) Jumping is one of the most common plyos exercises. Jumps can be done in different vectors, which is really just another way to say they can be multi-directional or in different planes. Jumps can be vertical, horizontal (forward or laterally as with a broad jump), diagonal, and even combination movements. To add complexity to jump drills, jumps could require double leg, single-leg, alternating leg, or involve upper body contributions.
4) A primary objective of plyos is to remind the muscles how to quickly accelerate after a relatively slow movement of weight training, such as squats or deadlifts. I’m referring to fast-twitch muscles of course.
Where the water gets muddy is when the over-enthusiastic coach learns about how fast, explosive, and powerful their athletes can become with plyometric training. Their program soon becomes unbalanced due to the amount of plyometric training.
Why is that bad?
More is not better. With most training programs, early progress comes fast, but it’s not sustainable. Why is that? A few reasons.
• A minimum level of physical strength. The easiest way to injure yourself can be to do a big jump with a hard landing. The muscles of the legs along with the glutes are the brakes, the accelerators and – most importantly – the shock absorbers to motion. If they aren’t properly developed, they could exceed their capacity for force resulting in an injury. That minimum should be determined by a bodyweight percentage in a squat or leg press.
• A proper landing. There is already an inherent risk in training and in sports in general. Still, what goes up must come down and when you leave your feet, be sure you have a safe landing. On one too many occasions I’ve seen accidents happen because of a bad landing.
• Knowledge of how to execute any particular move. Most drills are actually easy to learn, but the sheer volume of drills could beget unfamiliarity. As with many things in life, “easy to do, easy to mess up.” You want to be a technician with plyometrics. Bad technique can lead to an injury.
• Precise cycling to avoid overtraining. Training in plyos drills until you can do no more is a bad idea. Again, more is not better in this situation. A structured program with the right ceiling on plyos will produce progressive development of explosive traits.
Plyometrics might not be for everybody.
That might be blasphemy to some, however, athletes must be evaluated to determine strength levels, general athleticism and basic maturation stage (relating to their bodies’ biomechanics) as to whether he or she is ready for plyometrics. For example, some young athletes have long limbs and those levers create different mechanics. If the same young athletes haven’t had sufficient strength development, it’s very possible they could be putting their ligaments and tendons in compromising positions with explosive movements.
Ask yourself, “Can my athlete do this safely and effectively?” If the answer is no, there are always other options.
Starting out there are degrees of difficulty within the plyo catalog. You can go from hops as simple as jumping rope to depth jumps or bounding. You can go from bodyweight exercises to adding extra weight like band, balls, or dumbbells. Know your athletes. Be patient with the progression.
There is no timetable for when an individual should or must move to the next level. This especially applies to the early stages of plyo training. Use the same exercise prescription for at least two weeks for the purpose of mastery. It might not be until the 5th week of training that it’s appropriate to introduce single-leg drills to your kids.
If there is unexpected soreness after a plyo session, or unexpected pain as a result of a plyo drill, wait until the soreness or pain has resolved before resuming explosive movements.
As you can see, there seems to be a large set of rules when it comes to program design for jump training. It is a coaching-intensive activity. One day we’ll get into some of the things to look for when coaching plyo movements, but that covers it for now.
Next week we take a look at nutrition, which I know you’re craving.
References: Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2015 Nov; 10(6): 760–786.