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Training Plyometrics, Part 1

My job as a strength coach is to help people get better. At the end of the day, it’s as simple as that. Training plyometrics is essential to that, but there’s an educational hurdle that needs to be overcome.

I create a plan and execute that plan for each individual athlete. In order for this to be successful, the athlete and strength coach need to be on the same page. I need to have an understanding of the athletes needs and current abilities and the athlete needs to trust me and buy into the program. For elite or advanced athletes, the second part is often easier if the athlete has an understanding of what I’m trying to accomplish with my program and how that affects them.




Once in a while, and this is more common with beginners because they have little understanding of the physical characteristics needed for high performance, I get athletes who seem to be resistant to my training plan. One of the biggest problems in some power and strength sports is that kids start to believe that the more muscular they are, the better they’ll be. They start equating bodybuilding with performance. In my opinion there’s too much desire for lifting and not enough time spent jumping.  So here’s a little primer on training plyometrics for beginner athletes, so you can better understand your own programs.

 

Almost every sport that I train athletes for, has a dependence on lower body strength and power. In some way, you’re required to accelerate and decelerate your body using your legs to maneuver yourself around a field, rink or ice chute. Yet, in sports like football, young athletes get drawn in by the addiction of strength training, especially the upper body. A focus on bench numbers and pull up numbers becomes the new measure of success. What these athletes don’t realize is, if you can’t ever get ahead or keep up with other players, your upper body strength becomes null and void.

The biggest impact on performance comes from lower body speed and power. Hands down. That’s why combines test speed and jumping drills. How much power can you generate and how quickly can you generate it? Without speed and power, conditioning, coordination and other factors become words instead of game changing characteristics.

I’ve created a series of posts to help you develop a system to build your lower body strength and power using jumps.

This Plyometrics series will cover (as a progression):

  • Deceleration and Landing Mechanics
  • Forceful Muscular Contraction
  • Counter Movement Jump
  • Reactivity and Stiffness

 

 

DECELERATION AND LANDING MECHANICS

Many athletes understand they should be jumping to get better but don’t understand progression. I know that I didn’t either as an athlete, so I can’t blame them. They want to start with 50″ box jumps and hurdle hops because they look impressive. These would produce a training effect but it’s like beginning at the end, the likely scenario is that the athlete won’t know how to get the IDEAL effect. For this reason, every athlete I train starts by learning proper Deceleration and Landing Mechanics. Don’t forget, rapid deceleration is still acceleration in the negative direction. So as boring as it seems, landing teaches extremely important transitions for more complex jumps AND still provides a training stimulus. From a movement perspective it reinforces positioning, timing and loading order. From a physiological perspective it teaches proper deceleration and rate of force development. It doesn’t matter if they already play a pro sport, don’t skip this step. It can be a short learning curve but it’s essential for training plyometrics.

(below is a youtube video describing the landing position)

 

 

 

FORCEFUL MUSCULAR CONTRACTION (FROM REST/STOP/PAUSE)

When we pre-stretch a muscle (and tendon) we get a build up of kinetic energy that can provide performance benefits. This is where the elastic band analogy usually comes into play. This is why most plyometrics start with a counter movement. This is true, but not always possible and is also dependent on the ability to properly decelerate the eccentric force first. Imagine trying to shoot a sling shot and your arm is so powerful that it rips the elastic off the frame, or snaps the band,  your slingshot won’t produce a lot of power and you won’t be hitting anything that day! So that isn’t the starting point. The next step after landing mechanics is to jump from a stop by creating a forceful and rapid muscular contraction.

For a musculotendinous unit to be able to handle rapid stretch shorten cycles it needs to have a certain minimum level of strength and resiliency within the muscle. You’ll know this is true if you’ve ever worked with young athletes. Try giving them a difficult jump drill and they will breakdown during the eccentric phase (or transition) of individual reps. You’ll see positioning issues and poor execution. This is why we need to do jumps from a static starting position. This eliminates the stretch reflex and relies primarily on muscular contraction. This will help develop strength as well as concentric rate of force production. This can be done simply with box jumps or jump squats by having them pause for 2 seconds at the bottom of their jump, just before take off. Only then can we progress to a proper Counter Movement Jump.

 

 

No matter what your goal, you’ll need to develop lower body power to achieve it. If jumping and plyometrics aren’t a significant portion of your current training program, you won’t improve in this area.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll continue to breakdown jump progressions!

Remember,

It’s About Getting Better!

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