Plyometrics: Training vs. Testing
This month we talk plyometric training. By definition, it means exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time, with the goal of increasing power (speed-strength). Basically power is how much force can you produce in the shortest amount of time? This is different from maximal strength because maximal strength does not account for time; you can go as slow as you want to get to your maximal force.
Many of you already know all of that, so let's go over training power through plyometrics. Many people TRAIN WRONG, because they are TESTING! Check out J.J. Watt jump a 61-inch box in the video below.
A lot of people see this video and will attempt to recreate it, by consistently jumping up a box as many times as they can, however jumping on the highest box possible is TESTING power, not training power. Proper plyometrics training is actually more about how you land than how high you can jump. The benefit of jumping as high as possible for a few reps is that you may develop muscle endurance for that height, not power. Instead, train smart by following the principles below:
- Get triple extension. Triple extension means your hip, knees, and ankle are fully extended. This ensures the training will be directed at all muscle groups that propel you or an object forward. This also maximizes power output. A good exercise for this is to simply jump in place while keeping your lower extremities straight (squat jumps). A great cue is "try to touch the ceiling with the top of your head".
- Keep ground contact time short. The phase between landing and initiating another movement (either the next jump or a sprint), is called the amotorization phase. The shorter this phase is, the faster your stretch and shortening cycle (SSC) can adapt to producing more force. By starting from a low height and practicing short contact time, you will get better motor control for shortening you amotorization phase. A good exercise to get the feeling down is simply jumproping with quick short hops. To progress, increase the height of the hops while keeping the amotorization phase short. A good cue for this is "Imagine the floor is on fire, stay off of it".
- Land quietly. By landing quietly, one is developing muscles via eccentric training. Eccentric training is has been shown to have similar improvements as concentric training. By landing quietly, the muscles feel the need to develop strength to dampen the load. It also teaches athletes how to land safely so that articular cartilage in joints does not get excessively damaged over time. Good cues for this include, "land like a ninja", "land and float on the ground, don't sink", and "land like a spring".
- Land from a higher height. By landing from a higher height AND quietly, one is increasing the load that the body needs to eccentrically load while landing quietly. This principle only works if one is landing quietly and with proper form. If there is a lot of noise from landing, it is a good idea to shorten the height for optimal improvement. This principle is more of a means of progression.
- Rest adequately. Plyometrics develop power which is a high energy task. This taxes the ATP and creatine phosphate energy system of muscles, which takes 3-5 minutes or more for recovery. The point is to give maximal effort per repetition, and not to get fatigued or out of breath.
Try this basic plyometric progression out below
1) Jumprope (work on short ground contact)
2) lateral hops (single of double leg, focus on short ground contact time)
3) Stepping off a 12-18 inch box and landing on two feet (focus on quiet soft landing)
4) Broad jumps (focus on triple extension and soft landing)
5) Depth jumps: come down from a high height (24-36 inches), and jump as high as you can after you land. Keep ground contact time short between landing and max jump
6) Cyclical box jumps: jump on and off multiple boxes while keeping ground contact short
Remember, training power and vertical jump is all about how soft and quiet you can land, and how fast can you produce another movement right after landing, NOT how high of a box can you jump.
What You Should Watch: Shortness vs. Tightness by Quinn Henoch
"My hamstrings are tight". We hear it all the time, and people begin stretching. Now stretching is appropriate if you actually have shortened muscles, however that may not be the case. Dr, Quinn Henoch of Clinical Athlete and Juggernaut Training Systems explains more in the videos below:
What You Should Read: Debunking Bad Exercises by Human Performance Lab
With my clients, I like to teach movement over specific exercises. For example, I teach the horizontal push, horizontal pull, vertical push, vertical pull, squat, hip hinge, rotation, and lunge. We take these movements, and add equipment, lines of pull, and different moment arms to train all muscles that create the movement. This develops independence in the gym and understanding exercises that work specific muscle groups.
Often times, people ask me, "Is this a good exercise?", "Is this a bad exercise?". My reply is always "It depends". This month's read comes from Michael Lau's Human Performance Lab website blog. Click here to read his great post on the matter.
Mike, along with his friends/colleagues Craig and Arash, also created "The Prehab Guys" and collectively post excellent options of exercises selection. They also describe the function for people to better understand movement. Click the picture below to see their instagram page. They are also on twitter and facebook; give them a follow and like!
Vien is Doctor of Physical Therapy Student and also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He has 6 years of experience training youth, college, and pro athletes in 1-on-1 and team settings. He has shadowed several Strength and Conditioning Programs in a addition to having clinical rotations in sports settings.