A Starter Guide to Plyometrics

Let me put my fortune teller hat on for a second. If you ask most trainers, heck, even the average person walking down the street, “hey, what should I do to increase my vertical?” you’re most likely going to hear……. “Plyometrics bro.” 


Screen Shot 2019-12-16 at 6.33.20 PM.png

Que confusion. What does plyometrics even mean? What are the right exercises? How should I add them into my program? Maybe I will just do box jumps…….box jumps are the best.

The answer is right, plyometrics have been shown to increase the vertical jump, but does that mean you should run to the gym and start doing a million sets of depth jumps and single leg bounds?  Probably not.  

The world of plyometrics can be a confusing one and I want to do my best to make it a little less confusing/ stressful for you so you can start intelligently implementing Plyometrics into your training.

Are plyometrics a good choice for you?

The answer is always, it depends.

 


https://kellycrew.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/depends.jpeg

https://kellycrew.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/depends.jpeg

 

What’s your goal?

If it’s cardio……..well I would encourage you to forgo the 20 minutes of continuous box jumps, jump lunges and pogo hops. 

Plyometric training can be taxing on the body, and the risk to reward for a cardio goal is too much. There are just simply better and safer options to achieve that goal, such as prowlers, aerodynes, and rowers. 

Before you grab the pitchforks, yes there are exceptions, but for general fitness population this is for the better.

Now that that’s out of the way,  let’s get into why plyometrics can be a great option for you.

Increase strength, vertical jump, speed, quickness with an easy learning curve.

What is the foundational quality that sets the table for almost every other quality? STRENGTH, but guess what? Athletes can use explosive jumping to add benefit to their strength work. 

Now even if you have acquired a ton of strength in the weight room, how do you begin to bridge the gap of that general strength to athletic performance in the sporting environment?

You need to learn how to fire that strength quickly. 

Plyometrics provide a great option to improve your strength and your rate of force development by:

Improving Neuromuscular efficiency

Let’s try a metaphor…shout out to Thibs for the idea. This pains me to use this example as I’m a proud clippers fan (since the days before Blake Griffin, so get off me haha). The Golden State Warriors were a dynasty from 2014 – 2019 and dominated the NBA. Let’s imagine that they represent an efficient CNS system. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant are amazing players as individuals. You can throw them on any team and they are going to make a major impact to the success of that franchise. 

 


https://thumbor.kenhub.com/ppVT9SR2GsaElHfHW2wacbWfmrw=/fit-in/800x1600/filters:watermark(/images/logo_url.png,-10,-10,0):background_color(FFFFFF):format(jpeg)/images/library/6239/T1021_v02.jpg

https://thumbor.kenhub.com/ppVT9SR2GsaElHfHW2wacbWfmrw=/fit-in/800×1600/filters:watermark(/images/logo_url.png,-10,-10,0):background_color(FFFFFF):format(jpeg)/images/library/6239/T1021_v02.jpg

 

Their individual ability represents strong intramuscular coordination. This means the ability of your individual muscle fibers, for example in your hamstrings, to fire and generate force efficiently together.

What would the warriors success have been if every possession Curry or Durant tried to go one on one?  Definitely not as successful. Every game would of looked like pick up at the local YMCA.  

Golden State worked so well together, unselfishly as a cohesive unit, sort of like intERmuscular coordination.  This is the ability of your muscle groups to fire and work efficiently together to contract and relax in a given movement pattern.  For example your quads (KD), Glutes (Steph Curry) and hamstrings (Klay Thompson) during a jump.  

Another key to their success was their ability to put up an unbelievable amount of points on the board in a short amount of time.  They would be down 20, then 3 minutes later it’s a tie game, 3 minutes after that they were up 15, then next thing you know it’s a 30 point blow out……so frustrating, but I digress.

They played with a fast pace and that ball whipped around like a central nervous system (CNS) with an efficient firing rate.

This is how fast and frequent your motor neurons can recruit muscle fibres to contract.

 


https://specials-images.forbesimg.com/imageserve/1178376794/960x0.jpg?fit=scale

https://specials-images.forbesimg.com/imageserve/1178376794/960×0.jpg?fit=scale

 

Ok last one I promise, the Warriors got the most out of their bench.  Even with 4 all stars you still need the rest of the team to be able to contribute at a high level to accomplish the task of winning. This is similar to motor unit recruitment. A motor unit is made up of a motor neuron and the group of muscle fibres that it innervates.

Groups of motor units work together to coordinate the contractions of a single muscle. These motor units have different levels of thresholds, low to high.  The level of task demand determines the amount of motor unit recruitment, think a 5 pound vs 50 pound bicep curl.

If your CNS can fire individual fibres of a muscle more efficiently (intra), fire them faster (rate of firing), recruit more of them to produce more force (high threshold motor units), and fire different muscle group as a cohesive unit (inter muscular coordination) you have a great recipe for success. This could lead to more weight on the bar, a faster first step, an improved vertical and overall better athletic performance.

Plyometrics can be an amazing option to help achieve this efficiency but we need to make sure a few criteria are met:

1. Max intent for every rep.

To get the desired neurological adaptations we want out of plyometrics we have to ‘try’ on every rep. This means you must jump as high as you can and/ or attack your landings with good intent and focus for each rep.

*Sam’s note – I like to tell my athletes that we don’t do re-do reps, so make each one count.*

To ensure this happens:

2. Keep the quality of each rep high

This comes back to my earlier point about using jumps and plyos for a cardio goal. Without adequate rest, technique and intent breaks down. You won’t be able to challenge your max outputs and create desirable adaptations. Not just thinking about performance, if quality and technique begin to break down the risk of injury may go up. A main objective of training, in my bias, should be to minimize the likelihood of injury, this doesn’t just include keeping the quality high, it also means:

3. Selecting the right variations at the right times and at the right volume and frequency for the individual.

To get the benefits of plyometrics you should introduce the right variations at the right time. This is where a lot of professionals and general gym goers go wrong. Considerations such as: 

  • High vs low training age 

  • High vs low sporting age 

  • Sporting demands

  • Goal variation selection

These need to be at the top of your mind when selecting variations for yourself, a client or an athlete. If done correctly this can have the desired performance adaptations and potentially minimize chances of injuries on the field of play. Do it wrong then you might just do the opposite of the latter.

Now if you’re saying great, I still do not know what to do. Well, let’s get into it then!

Key Points and Distinctions

Phases of the Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC)

 


https://image.slidesharecdn.com/23-131104080652-phpapp02/95/peter-mallarias-research-fellow-latrobe-university-and-queen-mary-university-of-london-clinical-director-complete-sports-care-3-638.jpg?cb=1383552481

https://image.slidesharecdn.com/23-131104080652-phpapp02/95/peter-mallarias-research-fellow-latrobe-university-and-queen-mary-university-of-london-clinical-director-complete-sports-care-3-638.jpg?cb=1383552481

 

The SSC is complicated, and the concept itself can be its own blog post, so we will keep it short and sweet. The SSC is a ‘pre stretch’ or ‘countermovement’ of muscles followed by a rapid shortening of the same muscle or muscles. There are three phases of the SSC

  1. The eccentric lowering phase

  2. A short paused transitional phase at bottom of the movement called amortization 

  3. The concentric phase that propels your body through space.

The SSC can be thought of as a spring. The harder or faster you load that spring the higher or farther it will be displaced. This is why most athletes can jump higher with an approach or a swing of the arm than just standing in place. 

Training true plyometrics is the most advanced display of training for the SSC. This brings us to our next key point:

Jump Training vs Plyometric Training

 Ah…… you’re scratching your head, don’t worry, let’s make it simple. If we look at the 2nd phase of the SSC, amortization, to get all the goodness of the SSC we need to be able to bounce out of that phase in a very, very short period of time. 

True Plyometrics = For a movement to be a true plyometric, the intensity of the movement has to be very high and the amortization phase must be fast enough. Think multiple consecutive max effort jumps, OR a landing from height to an explosive movement, where the ground contact time does not exceed more than 0.2 seconds.

Jump Training = Every type of jump outside the criteria listed above.

True plyometrics can be very intense, complex and taxing on the body. It usually is represented with sexy variations shown all over social media that athletes want to add to their training.  However, while plyometric training is very effective, it’s important to make sure you are ready for them and implementing them appropriately. To begin to do this we can start to break down and work on the different phases.

Implementing Plyometrics Training With a Balanced Intelligent Approach.

Not all jump and plyometric variations develop the same attributes. We can categorize them so we can better select variations to achieve specific goals. I have broken it down into 4 categories to make it simpler.

 


 

  1. Eccentric Force Absorption 

  2. Plyo-Strength (concentric development)

  3. Plyo-Elasticity (Slow SSC and fast SSC development)

  4. True Plyometrics or Shock Method

These categories can also be seen as a quasi continuum. Certain qualities must be in place before getting to true plyometrics. Here are the rules:

  • Learn how to absorb force and develop eccentric strength before learning propulsion. I really love Defranco’s line here, would you get into an airplane with a pilot who didn’t have his landing license? Guess it depends how crazy you are….

  • Low intensity to high intensity. I can guess, that you started squatting first with your bodyweight for higher reps before slapping a barbell on your back and grinding out some 1RM’s? Starting with a 40 inch high depth jump is like the equivalent of this. Also think of two feet vs one. Jumping and landing on one foot is going to be much more intense compared to two feet.

  • Simple to Complex. We need to have a low number of components first so we can learn the movement patterns before adding in crazy complicated variations. For example, a basic squat jump vs a triple bound for distance.  

Just a quick note, I said quasi continuum for a reason. Even if you’re a beginner, you can be working on different variations in multiple categories during the same training block. There are beginner to advanced variations for each category and remember, just because you’re advanced does not mean you shouldn’t sprinkle in beginner variations from time to time.

I know this is getting a little lengthy, but stay with me – now for the goodies.

Eccentric Force Absorption

The goal is to help increase your ability to absorb and dissipate ground reaction forces with the right muscles and mechanics. These drills are going to engrain landing mechanics and challenge your eccentric strength. Doing so should set you up to be able to save your joints, build you more resilient to injury, and develop your foundation. 

Bilateral and unilateral swipe downs (beginner)

 

 

Keys:

  • Stand tall on your tippy toes with hands high overhead..

  • Swipe down with max intent, like a magnet is pulling you to the ground. You should feel a little air time to the floor.

  • Sound landing mechanics. Imagine your sweeping your hips back with your arms on the ways down, knees to toes, knees out, chest up, belly tight. This should look similar to an athletic stance for most team sports, or a quarter squat position.

  • Attack the landing and stick the position.

Volume:

  • 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps.

Low/medium/high box altitude landings (beginner, intermediate, advanced)

 

 

Keys

  • Stand tall on the edge of the box of choice with hands over head.

  • Step, don’t jump off the box with straight legs. Bending the standing leg will make it feel awkward and lower the height you are dropping from.

  • Land with same mechanics as the swipe downs.

  • Height of the box determines level of difficulty. If the height of your box is way less than your vertical consider it beginner (low). If it is around your max vertical, intermediate, and if it’s higher than your vertical, advanced.

Volume

  • Beginner: 3-4 sets of 5 

  • Intermediate: 4-5 sets of 2-3 

  • Advanced: 4-6 sets of 1-2 with a lot of rest between.

Bilateral and Unilateral Low Hurdle Hops (beginner, intermediate)

 

 

Keys

  • Focus on quality of landing, not how high you are jumping.

  • Hold each landing for 1-2 seconds before the next jump.

  • Attack each landing and stick the position, same as swipe downs.

Volume 

  • Bilateral (beginner): 3-4 sets of 5-8 hops.

  • Unilateral (intermediate): 2-3 sets of 5 hops per leg.

Plyo-Strength

The goal with plyo-strength variations is to develop the concentric phase. For these variations we take the eccentric/elastic lowering phase out of the equation and focus on generating as much force as we can, and ask quickly as we can. Just remember, what goes up must come down, solid landing mechanics on every rep for these variations is important.

BW or DB Squat Jump (beginner, intermediate)

 

 

Keys

  • Sink down to a quarter squat position

  • Pause for 2-3 seconds

  • Explode into the jump with max intent

  • If you are using DB’s start light. A good place to start is around 10% of your max squat, total in your hands. 

Volume

  • Beginner: 3-4 sets of 5-8 jumps

  • Intermediate (loaded with dbs): 4-6 sets of 3-5 jumps 

Seated Jumps (beginner, intermediate)

 

 

Keys

  • Sit on a box or bench that keep your squat depth between parallel and quarter squat depth.

  • Keep good posture, you can lift the feet slightly if you want and explode into your jump.

Volume

  • Beginner: 3-4 sets up 5-8 jumps

  • Intermediate (loaded with dbs): 4-6 sets of 3-5 jumps 

Trap Bar Jumps (Advanced)

 

 

  • Have a good foundation built with trap bar deadlifts as a prequel to the exercise.

  • Use around 30% of your 1RM, or a weight that can move quite quickly.

  • Do not try and stop the weight on the landing, let the Trap bar offload on the floor or mats.

Volume

  • 3-5 sets of 2-3 jumps.

Plyo-Elasticity 

The goal of this category is to develop the eccentric phase. This is where we start messing around with the stretch shortening cycle. We can challenge this initial phase of the SSC with  overload by using a slow movement with challenging load (build the engine) or velocity (pedal to the metal). It is good to do both and is probably better to sprinkle both in from time to time. 

Slow Eccentric Trap bar Deadlift to Jump (intermediate, slow with load)

 

 

  • Use good deadlift technique

  • Lower for 4-6 seconds

  • Explode into the jump once the trap bar touches the floor.

  • Jump out of the trapbar to make sure you do not land on it.

  • If the trap bar is advanced, you can perform a countermovement squat jump with db’s at your sides, and drop the db’s once you reach depth. Jump forward to make sure you do not land on the db’s

Volume

  • 4-6 sets of 3 reps 

Band Accelerated Eccentric Box Jump (intermediate, advanced)

 

 

Keys

  • Grab a medium to heavy band.  

  • Drop fast to depth, then let go of the band and explode into your box jump.

  • Be careful not to just let go of the band at the top.

  • You should have a good foundation of strength before trying this variation.

Volume

  • 4-6 sets of 3 reps.

True Plyometrics

Ah at last, the peak of the mountain, true plyometrics.  This is the SSC in full display. Remember ground contact times need to be less than 0.2 second, that is not a long time. Make sure you are honest with yourself and adjust heights of boxes, hurdles, etc. Get rid of that ego so you can get the proper benefits and stay safe.

Depth Jump (Intermediate, Advanced)

 

 

Keys

  • Set up as you would for an altitude landing.

  • Execute the exact same way as an altitude landing.

  • Land with solid technique and attack the jump out of the landing as fast as you can.

  • Stick the second landing

  • Intermediate height is lower than your max vertical, advanced is higher than your max vertical.

Volume

  • Intermediate: 4-5 sets of 2-3 

  • Advanced: 4-6 sets of 1-2 with a lot of rest between.

Bilateral Hurdle Jumps (Intermediate, Advanced) 

 

 

Keys

  • Keep a good stacked position with the torso

  • Do not let the knees cave in

  • Stay on the balls of your feet

  • The lower the hurdle, the easier this is. The higher, the more advanced it gets.

  • Note that I was limited by space and equipment in the video, you can set up more than two hurdles.

Volume

  • Intermediate: 3-4 sets of 5-6 jumps.

  • Advanced: 4-6 sets of 4 jumps.

Integration into your training plan

There are many ways to start to incorporate plyometric jump training into your regime. For simplicity, you can start to add 1 to 2 variations from the categories immediately after your warm up. A good combination could be an eccentric force absorption and a plyo-strength variation, or a single variation from plyo-eclasticity. If you are implementing the true plyometrics I suggest just selecting one on a given training day to start. A good spot to place these variations is after your warm up on a lower body/ full body focused day. This will prime your CNS which could help your performance for the day and this will be the time you are most fresh. This will allow you to keep the quality and effort high.

One last note on quality, make sure you are taking a long rest between each set to ensure you are recovered, this is not conditioning.

Thank you

My goal with this was to make plyometrics a little less daunting and confusing.  I truly hope this has helped. Good luck my friends and start jumping to the moon.

 


 

By Nathan Obrigewitsch @hoopstrengthkelowna on Instagram

Nathan is a former collegiate basketball player and current strength and conditioning coach based in Kelowna British Columbia.  During his time in post-secondary basketball, he began to realize that his true passion lived in strength and conditioning.  He now strives to provide effective movement and performance coaching to help as many athletes prepare, feel, and perform at their best.