Pritchard: Exploring effectiveness of plyometric training (column)
June 4, 2018
Plyometrics are typically defined as exercises or movements in which muscles exert high force in a short period of time through a process known as the stretch shortening cycle.
The majority of coaches and athletes use jumping as their primary means of training, disregarding the upper body. This is short sighted due to the fact that movements such as medicine ball slams, throws and tosses can easily be incorporated, as well.
What's worse, the implementation of plyometrics is often undertaken without proper knowledge of their effects, and a lack of understanding why they are used in the first place.
What plyometrics are not
All too often plyometric movements such as box jumps are programmed with extremely high volume and intensity. The intention is to increase what coach or fitness instructors call "conditioning," where they ask participants to do a large number of repetitive jumps in a set amount of time.
Unfortunately, issues arise when an athlete's form begins to break down due to fatigue, leaving him or her primed for injury.
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There is a large amount of force produced and absorbed when performing/landing from a jump; coaches must ensure athletes have completed requisite progressions in plyometric training as well as receiving the proper dosage.
Another point which should be mentioned is that plyometrics are not a display or act, as seen in many settings. In gyms, it is not uncommon to witness an athlete attempting to jump on a box that is too high for their abilities.
The goal is to maximize the stretch shortening reflex and land safely, ultimately working on rate of force development. There is no reason to try and impress anybody and put the body at risk.
Plyometrics can be used in a multitude of ways. Generally speaking, they are implemented to work on power production and coordination. If requisite strength and movement skills aren't currently present, then plyometrics should not even be considered until those are addressed. Proper programming begins with teaching landing mechanics and how to keep the body in proper alignment.
Drills such snap downs and long-response barefoot hops are an effective starting place. From there, vertical jumps and broad jumps can be considered, again emphasizing proper landing mechanics.
For many youth athletes, it will not progress much further than this, but when legitimately ready, small boxes and hurdles can be introduced.
It is not about the height of the box, rather the athlete's ability to quickly leave ground and land properly. In the most advanced stages, depth jumps and resisted or more highly coordinated plyometrics can be effectively programmed.
Unfortunately, too many athletes start at the top of the pyramid without laying the proper foundation. A good coach will monitor the amount of ground contacts an athlete has with plyometrics, understanding that this must be limited and slowly progressed week to week due to the high impact nature of these movements. It is extremely easy to overdo plyometrics, thus they must be closely monitored.
Although this is a broad overview of plyometrics, I hope this article explains what they are and how to properly use them in general terms. This is by no means the complete explanation of these movements, and training will vary from athlete to athlete.
Prior to any training endeavor, it is key to having a firm understanding of what it is you're doing to the body, and why. Never program a movement just for the sake of doing so. Thanks again for reading and have a great week.
Jimmy Pritchard has a B.S. from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the assistant strength coach at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Pritchard's passion is to help others meet, and often exceed their goals in all areas of fitness. Contact him at 970-331-3513 or firstname.lastname@example.org