Plyometric exercise refers to those activities that enable a muscle to reach maximal force in the shortest possible time.
In practical words, the goal of a plyometric exercise is to increase the power of a subsequent movement using your muscles' and tendons' elastic components and the stretch reflex.
Plyometric exercises should be selected to match physical status including factors such as body weight, training experience/time, and injury history. This is important to minimize the risk and to experience the benefits of plyometric exercise.
The success of a plyometric training program depends on the design, and choices made regarding mode, intensity, frequency, duration, recovery, and progression.
The mode of plyometrics refers to the regions such as lower body, upper body, or trunk. Lower body plyometrics usually benefit any athlete and any sport including running and triathlon because these sports require producing a maximal amount of muscular force in a short amount of time. There are six main groups of lower body plyometrics:
- Jumps in Place
- Standing Jumps
- Multiple Hops and Jumps
- Box Drills
- Deep Jumps
Within each group are exercises of varying grades of difficulty, requiring more ability and experience of the athlete to perform them safely
Intensity of plyometrics refers to the level of stress imparted on muscles, connective tissue and joints. Intensity is impacted by speed as well as how hard the body impacts the ground. For example, skipping is low intensity, while depth jumps are high intensity. Two other factors that affect intensity are points of contact and body weight. The intensity should be chosen based on your experience, training cycle, and age. Brand new athletes, youth athletes, those carrying excess weight, and athletes with a history of knee and ankle injuries should avoid high intensity, one point of contact plyometric drills like one leg depth jumps.
Frequency (sessions per week) depends on the time in the training cycle and the sport. There should be a higher number of sessions in the off-season than on-season, decreasing to 1-2 sessions per week when the season begins.
Recovery The goal of recovery in a plyometric workout is to gain a complete and adequate recovery during reps, sets and workouts. The specific recovery time depends on the intensity, frequency and volume.
Duration Program duration depends again on athletic experience, age, and timing with the training cycle, but commonly it begins with an off-season program that lasts 8-14 weeks, with variations throughout the training program.
Progression Increase the reps per week by a maximum of 10% during the first two weeks. Then include a week of recovery at 50% volume of the previous week, or you can maintain or slightly reduce the volume but increase the intensity week to week.
An off-season plyometric program could be three days per week for beginners and four days per week for advanced athletes. The sessions should be on non-consecutive days alternating low intensity plyometrics exercises with high intensity plyometrics exercises.
Set your total plyometric volume according to your experience, remembering that every time your foot contacts the ground, it counts as a repetition:
- Beginner: 80 to 100 reps.
- Intermediate: 100 to 120 reps.
- Advanced: 120 to 140 reps.
In upper-body plyometrics, repetitions are counted each time your hands contact the medicine ball or the ground if you are performing a variation of pushups with jumps.
Everyone should include a warm-up of exercises from a very low intensity and low complexity exercise to a little higher intensity (but still low intensity) and higher complexity.
- 2 x 20-yard Marching drill
- 2 x 20-yard Jogging include toe jogging, straight, leg jogging and butt-kickers.
- 2 x 20-yard Skipping
- 2 x 20-yard Footwork. You can perform shuttle and stride drills by example.
- 2 x 20-yard Lunging, it is better if this drill is performed multidirectional.
The drills increase in complexity and intensity (in that order), beginning with the ones that mimic running movements and emphasize technique to the ones that prepare the body for impact and prepare the legs for faster exercises.
The main portion of the plyometric work out should include a maximum of two drills or exercises, the warm up reps should be counted, and the main portion will be the difference between the total volume less the reps of the warm up.
Again, the first exercise should be a drill with less intensity and less complexity. Here are some examples of main sets:
- 2 x 10 squat jump, rest max 40 secs between sets. This exercise should be performed without recovery between reps
- 2 x 10 Split Squat Jump, rest 50 secs between exercise and between sets.
- 1 x 10 Jump and Reach. No recovery between reps.
- 1 x 10 Jump over some kind of a barrier no greater than 10 inches in height and no wider than 4 inches.
- These exercises are performed as maximal efforts with 8-12 secs of recovery between reps and 1-minute rest minute between sets.
- 1 x 50-yard single-leg bound (25-yard each leg)
- 1 x 50-yard double-leg bound
- 1 x 50-yard alternate-leg bound
- These exercises are performed as maximal efforts with 1-minute rest between sets.
- 2 x 8 double-leg Tuck Jump without recovery between reps.
- 2 x 10 single-leg vertical jump.
- 1 x 5 depth jump to second box (box between 12 and 15 inches max)
- 1 x 10 side to side push-off.
After the main sets it is important to perform some low to medium intensity aerobic exercise for at least 20 minutes to help the body to recover from the anaerobic work just performed. Keep it aerobic, because the body has already performed anaerobic work!
Now that you know more about plyometrics, include it in your off-season and in-season program to become stronger and faster!
Dr. Manuel Delgado Gaona is a USAT Level II and Youth & Junior Coach, Ironman and FMTri Level II Certified Coach, an ACSM exercise physiologist, and a physician specializing in anatomic pathology. He is a coach with Team MPI (www.teammpi.com) and can be reached at manuel@teamMPI.com.