Some of the most effective exercises for improving strength, power, and speed involve little to no equipment. While the sports training and fitness industries are inundated with all types of resistance training machines and speed training devices, the combination of gravity and the human body is all that is required. Over half a century ago, coaches and sports scientists developed an approach to training that took advantage of a system of explosive athletic movements to improve the force production qualities of the human body. This system of training is now commonly referred to as plyometrics or plyometric training.
Plyometric training in a nutshell
We can safely say that plyometric training is one of the biggest training innovations in the field of sports in the last thirty years. The foundations of the plyometric training method were first established by Soviet scientists gathered around Yuri Verkhoshansky. According to Verkhoshansky (1979), the main goal of this training method is to increase explosive strength and reactive ability of the muscle-tendon system, i.e. elastic strength.
Explosive power can be defined as the athlete’s ability to give maximum acceleration to his own body, an object, or a partner, and is manifested in activities such as throwing, jumping, kicking, and sprinting.
In its beginnings, plyometric training did not produce the results it does today, and that was solely due to the unsystematic approach and application of this type of training. However, at the end of the 60s, due to the great success of Russian high jumpers, long jumpers, and triple jumpers, the study and more systematic application of plyometric training began, and it became an indispensable factor in the fitness preparation of almost all athletes.
In its truest form, a plyometric exercise makes use of the body’s natural response to the rapid lengthening of muscles. This response has also been referred to as the stretch-shortening cycle or myotatic reflex. Research has shown that a muscle stretched rapidly before a contraction will contract and shorten more forcefully and rapidly, creating positive adaptations for strength, power, and speed.
For example, a basketball player preparing to grab a rebound will gather and lower his center of gravity before forcefully jumping up and securing the ball. Similarly, a volleyball player will drop rapidly into a deep knee bend before jumping up to block an opposing player’s spike attempt. It is a natural human response to load up or gather before an explosive movement. In golf, a backswing actively stretches the key muscles required for the powerful, high-velocity forward movement of the club. A baseball pitcher will wind up before delivering a high-speed pitch over home plate. You witness the benefits of plyometric activity in every sporting event. Hence, because plyometric actions are actively required in numerous track and field events, it makes sense that athletes and coaches would incorporate these activities into their training regimens
Plyometric training includes different variants of vertical and horizontal jumps, hops in place, hops in motion, bounds/leaps, and/or skips, and for the upper body, we can distinguish different explosive-reactive ballistic throws of medicine balls. In the application of plyometric training, as well as in the application of other methods, we must follow certain rules. The application of plyometric training requires a certain level of general fitness preparation, especially in the area of general strength development.
As you can see, plyometric exercises are actually very similar to the movement structures that occur in different sports activities. But what needs to be paid attention to are the specific requirements of a particular sport, that is, it must be well established whether the movements in the sport are mostly linear, vertical, lateral, or a combination, so that later the training could be adapted to these requirements.
A maximum of 40-60 jumps for beginners, 60-80 jumps for intermediate-quality athletes, and 80-120 jumps for highly prepared athletes are recommended in one training session. There must be at least 24-48 hours of rest between two plyometric trainings, and it is not recommended to combine plyometrics and maximum strength training in the same training session. If we do not comply with the above rules, it is very likely that improperly conducting plyometric training will leave out good results and increase the risk of injuries.
Plyometric training results in great fatigue of the central nervous system, so it is not recommended to carry out any other kind of training after plyometric training. However, it is recommended to combine it with stretching and other forms of active regeneration.
When performing jumps, the cushioning must be as short as possible, and the transition from eccentric contraction to a concentric contraction as fast as possible. Since in plyometric training there is a great load on the joints, that is, muscles and tendons, we can say that the correct technique of performing the exercises is also the best prevention of injuries. Plyometric training can also be carried out for the purpose of rehabilitating athletes after sports injuries.
Upper-body plyometric drills
These animated plyometric drills are used to develop explosive power in the upper body.
single arm overhead throws
explosive start throws
Lower body plyometric exercises
These animated lower-body plyometric exercises can be used to develop power in any sport that involves sprinting, jumping, quick changes of direction and kicking, etc.
jump to box
lateral box push-offs
lateral hurdle jumps
lateral jump to the box
single leg lateral hops
split squat jumps
bounding with rings
box drill with rings
Closing thoughts: Plyometric training
Plyometric training is defined as a quick, powerful movement involving an eccentric contraction, followed immediately by an explosive concentric contraction. This is accomplished through the stretch-shortening cycle or an eccentric-concentric coupling phase. The eccentric concentric coupling phase is also referred to as the integrated performance paradigm which states that in order to move with precision, forces must be loaded (eccentrically), stabilized (isometrically), and then unloaded/accelerated (concentrically). Plyometric exercise stimulates the body’s proprioceptive and elastic properties to generate maximum force output in a minimum amount of time. Plyometric training is beneficial in developing dynamic athletic power and performance.