This article outlines one of the progressions I use to introduce plyometrics into my programmes here at PPG. Plyometrics (“plyos”) are often described as the bridge between strength and speed and are a great way to develop explosive power.
What are Plyometrics?
Plyometrics can be defined as a rapid lengthening followed immediately by a rapid shortening of the muscles. They are generally trained using various types of jump.
In true plyometrics the speed of the eccentric or ‘lengthening’ part of the movement is augmented by a drop from height (usually a box) so that you are landing and:
1. bending your legs to absorb the impact of the landing (lengthening the muscles)
2. Taking off as quickly as possible (jumping!) by forcefully straightening your legs (shortening the muscles)
For a more detailed explanation of Eccentric vs Concentric muscle action check out our article on Squats vs Sled Pushes.
What’s the Point?
The aim of plyos is to teach the muscles to impart force extremely quickly. When you’re sprinting your foot is in contact with the ground for only a fraction of a second with each step. In this fleeting moment you have to deliver as much force as possible as it is this force which will propel you forwards. The emphasis in plyometric training is on speed.
The Bridge Between Strength & Speed
The period of time during which you are in contact with the ground between landing and taking off again is called the ‘amortisation phase’ and you want this to be as short as possible. In essence the goal of plyos is to minimise the amount of time it takes for you to land and take off again. If you can reduce the time it takes for you to hit the ground, soak up all of the impact force, then jump back into the air, you will have increased the speed at which you can deliver force into the ground. We use strength training to increase the amount of force we can produce and plyometrics to increase the speed at which we can deliver it (hence plyos being the bridge between strength and speed)!
Don’t Miss the Point!
The goal is not to drop off the highest box you can before taking off. If you are dropping off a box or jumping over a hurdle that is too high you will have to spend so long on the ground soaking up the force of your landing that you will lose the benefit of the exercise! A 1-2 foot box height is plenty to begin with.
Jumps vs Plyos
You will see that some of the exercises in the progression are not truly ‘plyometric’. Box jumps are the obvious example of this. The whole point of a box jump is to get the benefit of a quick, explosive, contraction (muscle ‘shortening’) while eliminating the impact of a landing. It’s the landing part of a jump, when your muscles joints and connective tissues are coping with the weight of your body falling onto the hard, unyielding ground, that is the most intense and challenging part of a plyometric exercise. This is why plyometrics are considered advanced and also why they have such a dramatic training effect. Strength training and careful exercise progression will ensure your body is able to cope. It is also why jumping down off the box after landing on it makes having a box to jump onto in the first place pointless.
In week 4 you will introduce hurdle hops but will ‘stick the landing’ (land and stay on the ground without attempting to immediately jump over the next hurdle) this will allow you to develop the strength required to absorb the landing forces before you start trying to reverse the movement at high speed (which would make the exercise truly ‘plyometric’ and comes later in the progression).
This plyometric progression forms part of an athletic development programme aimed at increasing lower body strength, power and speed. In the full programme two lower body training sessions are performed each week. One has an emphasis on strength development and the other on power. Following a comprehensive warm up one of the jump/plyo exercises is performed as outlined. After this the athlete moves onto a heavier strength or power based exercise, depending on the emphasis for the day.
On a strength day this would normally be a heavy squat or deadlift variation and on the power day this would normally be an Olympic lift variation, trap bar jump or Speed Squats against chains or bands.
Each jump/plyometric exercise stays the same for 3 weeks before you progress. Do not skip past an exercise, each builds on the last and prepares for the next.
1a) Box jump 5×5
1a) box jump (holding light dumbells) 5×5
1a) Depth Box jump (low box) 6×3:
This is the first truly plyometric exercise in the progression as you are absorbing the impact of the landing then quickly transitioning into a jump. Step off a low box then leap immediately onto a higher box. Focus on spending as little time on the ground as possible (imagine the floor is covered in boiling lava!). It is important to select a low box to step off at this stage as too big a box will force you to spend too long on the ground before taking off again
1a) Hurdle hops (stick the landing): 5×3 hurdles
Jump each hurdle but ‘stick’ the landing. Do not attempt to take off as quickly as possible. This exercise will build tremendous strength in the hamstrings and other jumping muscles as they are forced to soak up the force of the landing. This will prepare you for the truly plyometric progression in the following 3 weeks.
1a) Depth Box jump (higher box) 6×3
Increase the height of the box you step off. Don’t get carried away and lose sight of the goal. Speed off the floor is still critical.
2a) hurdle hops plyometric 5×3 hurdles
Here we are starting to enter the realm of advanced plyometrics. Hurdle hops are essentially a series of depth jumps as you are dropping from height after each take off. As with the depth jumps try to spend as little time as possible on the ground between hurdles. These can be extremely challenging so don’t be afraid to continue sticking the landings and progress to these later if you don’t feel ready, it is ALWAYS better to master the previous exercise instead of butchering the next in line!
1a) Depth drop to broad jump 5×3 jumps
Step off a low box then leap forwards as far as you can. The aim is to stick the landing, not to have to ‘run off’ the momentum. Sticking the landing will force you to absorb the force (which will be extremely high!) so don’t stumble.
2a) Hurdle hops plyo 5×3 hurdles
1a) weighted depth drop to unweighted broad jump 5×3 jumps
Step off a low box holding a dumbbell in each hand. You should hit the ground holding onto the extra weight but release it before leaping forwards. The dumbbells will effectively increase your body weight adding to the impact force your muscles and connective tissues have to absorb before taking off.
2a) Weighted depth drop to unweighted Hurdle hops plyos 5x3hurdles
Step off a low box holding a dumbbell in each hand. You should hit the ground holding onto the extra weight but release it before leaping over the hurdles. The dumbbells will effectively increase your body weight adding to the impact force your muscles and connective tissues have to absorb before taking off.
Are Plyos for You?
Well if your interested in running faster, jumping higher and generally being more awesome then the short answer is yes! Many coaches insist that an athlete must have reached a target level of strength before introducing plyometrics (usually a 1.5x body weight squat) but I’m more concerned with their training background and level of coordination. If you can sprint at (your) top speed without pain and have a decent level of relative strength then you should be able to introduce jumps into your training. This is a relatively long term progression but don’t be tempted to skip levels. I recommend that you follow the programme as described at least once all the way through, but once you have developed a good level of explosive power feel free to experiment with the exercises. Plyometrics are almost limitless in their variations so there’s no need to get bored or stagnant!
Our plyometric program forms one part of a comprehensive strength and power program and is not carried out independently of other strength and power work. While this is a basic framework the exercises can and often do vary according to the sport and level of the athlete, but following the progression as outlined will give a dramatic boost to any athlete!
Want Help Using Plyometrics to #BeMoreAwesome?
Feel free to drop into the gym anytime and speak to us about introducing plyometrics into your programme!