So, this is my 3rd edition of the Performance Division Blog (I wanted to call it Higher. Faster. Stronger. but I seem to have lost that battle and instead the heading tells you exactly what it’s about).
This month, prompted by my social media feed whose algorithm has been pushing posts such as “If you’re not adding plyos into your workouts, you’re missing out” and “Five plyos you need to know”, I’m sharing my thoughts on plyometrics, which, in my opinion are long overdue the attention they deserve.
Plyos are fantastic and more people really should do them, but first we need to know what they are – and what they’re not – and how to do them properly.
What are “true” plyometrics?
For starters…they’re not box jumps. In fact, a plyometric exercise consists of three components as outlined by Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky (the original plyometric guy) in his book Supertraining¹ and Special Strength Training.
- The muscle is stimulated by means of a sudden stretch preceding any voluntary effort
- The above stimulation is characterised by an impulsive action of minimal duration between the end of the eccentric breaking phase and initiation of the concentric action phase
- If the above transition is prolonged by longer than 0,15 seconds, the action is an ordinary jump and not classically plyometric
(A note on Point 3, the acceptable transition time was later changed to 0,25 seconds for something to be considered plyometric. Transitions are incredibly hard to measure, so 0,25 was deemed more practical to measure.)
Let me explain exactly what all this means. A plyometric movement must possess a landing and launching action, with the transition between the 2 actions occurring quickly, in under 0.25 seconds.
So there we go, box jumps are just box jumps. Not plyometric. For something to be truly plyometric we need to have a landing and launch component, and there’s a reason why this is important. Incorporating landing is an incredibly important component of training. If we think about our favourite spectator sports – soccer, rugby, cricket and field hockey – all require speed, sharp changes in direction, landing from jumps and fast reaction times. In order to prepare and train for match time, players certainly incorporate these skills into their gym work, so maybe you should, too.
Benefits & physiological properties explored
So now that we understand what a true plyometric is, let’s explore the benefits and physiological impacts on the mind and body. Research shows the following benefits:
- Enhanced speed
- Increased height in vertical jumps
- Increased strength
- Increased agility
Some other specific benefits include:
- Improved control for the varus & valgus movements at the knees during landing
- Enhanced knee stability during landing
- Enhanced power in all planes of motion
Plyometrics makes use of the elastic nature of muscle to teach the athlete to generate maximal force. During the landing phase you are forced to call on an increased amount of muscle strength to stabilise the body and then produce high amounts of force in a minimal amount of time. This stimulates the CNS to use this new information to influence muscle tone, motor execution and body awareness.
Before you go jumping into some training (see what I did there!) there are some guidelines we should adhere to when considering plyometric training. While super beneficial, plyometrics is inherently stressful on the body and often people tend to over-exert themselves too quickly. Remember, you are still jumping and landing repeatedly. It’s important to condition for this. We measure and plan plyometrics by what we call “ground contacts”, which is effectively counting every time one or both feet make impact with the ground.
Here are some suggestions for a single-training session. To start with, I would recommend keeping it lighter, for example, for a low-intensity session start with 200 ground contacts and build up from there. Another option is to split your ground contacts; you don’t have to do 400 in one session. Instead, you can have two sessions of 150 ground contacts which will add up to 300 for the week. Expand that over four weeks and you’ve had 1200 contacts.
- Low-intensity training = 400 ground contacts
- Moderate-intensity training = 350 ground contacts
- High-intensity training = 300 ground contacts
- Very high intensity training = 200 ground contacts
Experience and intensity should also be considered when prescribing plyometrics. Athletes with minimal experience using plyometrics should keep the ground contacts to fewer than 100 maximal efforts per session while those with considerable experience could have as many as 120–140 maximal effort ground contacts per session. High jumps with hard landings are considered more intense, while smaller jumps with less impact are considered less intense. Body weight also comes into play here. A 65kg athlete will experience less force then a 102kg athlete so it’s important to factor weight in given that the force experienced when landing is equivalent to 4 – 11 times our bodyweight.
Well, that’s another month’s instruction in another blog post and I hope you’re enjoying them as much as I’m enjoying writing them, and that you are finding them beneficial. After reading this, I hope you will consider incorporating some plyos into your training. You don’t have to suddenly switch to being a jump master, but adding some volume in weekly will certainly unlock new heights in your training. Good luck!
¹Verkhoshansky, Y. and Siff, M. (2009). Supertraining. Rome, Italy: Verkhoshansky.
Potach DH, Chu DA. Plyometric training. In Baechle TR, Earle RW, eds. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. 2nd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2000.