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Jump Higher with Safe Plyometrics

by: Alan Stein, CCS, CSCS
Co-owner, E.A.T.S. - Elite Athlete Training Systems

The goal of this article is to take a closer look at plyometrics and how they can be safely incorporated into your training program.

Coaches and athletes of all sports are constantly trying to find ways to improve speed, power, and explosiveness. After all, these are the essential ingredients to being successful in almost every sport. It is believed that with all else equal (skill, etc.), the player or team that is the fastest, most powerful, and most "explosive" will be dominant and thus be victorious! There is a great deal of controversy in the sports training industry on the "best" ways to improve these attributes through training. One way is through plyometrics.

What are plyometrics?
By definition, plyometrics are exercises that enable a muscle to reach maximal strength in as short a time as possible. These exercises usually involve some form of jumping, hopping, or bounding movement for the lower body and some type of swinging, pushing, and throwing for the upper body.

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How do they work?
In theory, plyometric exercises use the force of gravity or of a weighted implement (medicine ball, etc.) to store energy in the muscles, and then immediately release this energy in the opposite direction. The energy stored, in addition to physiological responses and mechanisms in the body (stretch shortening cycle, myotatic reflex), during the eccentric (negative, muscle lengthening) phase of a muscle contraction is used to produce a more powerful concentric (positive, muscle shortening) phase of muscle contraction.

Are they safe?
If appropriate exercises are picked and properly supervised then plyometrics can be a safe and productive training tool. However, most sports are already "plyometric" in nature, so adding a large volume of additional exercises can be counterproductive and produce overuse injuries (orthopedic trauma to the joints, tendons, ligaments, and bones can occur from too much "pounding"). It is very important to completely understand the clientele/athletes you are working with when devising a program. It is also imperative that you use as "giving" of a surface as possible to reduce stress on the body. We are not huge advocates of "depth jumps" or adding weight to ballistic movements (power cleans) because of their high risk of injury.

What role do genetics play in speed, power, and explosiveness development?
These characteristics can NOT be improved through training:

  • Fiber type
  • CNS efficiency
  • Body type (limb length, hip width, tendon insertions, etc.)
These characteristics can be improved (to a degree) through training:
  • Muscular strength & muscular endurance
  • Flexibility
  • Current fitness level (body fat %, conditioning, etc.)
  • Nutritional habits (hydration, adequate intake, etc.)
  • Specific skill performance (running form, etc.)
An activity must be specific to an intended skill in order for maximal improvement or "carryover" to occur (transfer of learning).

Four elements define whether or not two activities are specific or not:

  • Muscle specificity
  • Movement specificity
  • Speed specificity
  • Resistance specificity

What are some safe plyometic exercises? Here are some that we incorporate into our athlete's workouts:
Lower Body
  • High knees
  • "Butt" kicks
  • Power skips
  • Squat jumps
  • Knee tucks
  • Split jumps
  • Crossovers
  • Box jumps (on to box only)
  • Lateral bounding
  • Broad jumps
  • Forward hops (over hurdles)
  • Lateral hops (over hurdles)
  • Jump rope (heavy rope)
  • "Speed" ladder
Upper Body/Core
  • Over / Under
  • Half twist (and full twist)
  • Push press
  • Shovel toss
  • Twist toss
  • Tornado" ball
  • Throw downs
  • Sit up throw
  • Push up (clap, step, or ball)

Read Alan's article on Improving Athletic Power

Contact Information:

Elite Athlete Training Systems, Inc.
P.O. Box 1141
Germantown, MD 20875

Rockville Office:
5510 Wilkins Court
Rockville, MD 20852

Office: (301) 972 - 0558
Fax: (301) 972 - 0524

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