To Jump or Not to Jump

Plyometric activity can be an amazing tool or a misused disaster.  Plyos have been around since 1920’s but became more common through the 60’s.  They have been a common component in athletic performance training for sprinters, jumpers, and a variety of athletes ever since. When implemented correctly they can have a beneficial impact on development. The main reasons I recommend situation dependent plyometrics are to train the central nervous system, activate fast twitch muscle fibers, increase eccentric strength, and ultimately increase an athlete’s power.

Two main problems exist.  The first is using this type of exercise solely to increase cardio-respiratory capacity.  The second problem lies in exercise prescription without attention to details such as volume, intensity, quality,  progression, and seasonal programing.

A large percentage of athletes and coaches right now are gung ho on pushing olympic lifting.  Which is great because O-Lifting features the body working as one piece much like in sport, can be used to increase power as well as explosiveness, and elicits great metabolic and hormonal responses.  However before an athlete should progress to this type of weight training, groundwork in general physical preparedness, grinding quality human movements, and some exposure to less technically demanding ballistic motion.  For example, before an athlete is expected to perform a clean, they should be proficient in the human movements of the hinge and the squat.

This same fundamental approach should be applied to bodyweight plyometric activity.  Before making an athlete run faster or jump higher, a series of deceleration training drills should be conducted.  The athlete should be taught to slow their body weight down properly by absorbing forces into the musculature and landing into an athletic position instead of just slamming into the ground in a haphazard manner.  Weight training with emphasis placed on the eccentric phase of the contraction is another method to increase one’s ability to decelerate while underload.  After this is addressed, it may be time to add low level plyometric activity and slowly progress to more advanced exercises while keeping in mind a specific parameters.

Questions to ask yourself before starting a plyometric program:

  1. Does the athlete display the relative strength levels, mobility, and proprioception necessary to safely perform the plyometric exercises prescribed with high quality of motion?
  2. What training phase is the individual currently in (off-season, preseason, in-season, postseason)  If the athlete is already accumulating a large number of foot contacts from sport, many would agree this is not the best time to administer this type of training to their program.
  3. Is your athlete in need of this type of training?  Perform two jumping tests.  One test with the athlete coming from a paused athletic position and one where the athlete uses countermovements to initiate the jump.  If there is already a great difference between the two jumps, this might not be the most productive training for your client and you can continue driving up absolute strength.
  4. What is the your athletes appropriate plyometric volume? The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends 80-140 foot contacts depending on plyometric experience. Also, athletes over 220 lbs should reduce the amount of foot contacts on high level plyometrics due to the increase in compressive force on the joints associated with a higher body weight.  Other factors to consider are points of contact, speed, drill height, and appropriate rest periods.

Program Wisely,

Frank Donley