• Introduction
  • Basics of plyometric training
  • Non-impact and impact plyometrics
  • Best plyometric exercises for improving athletic performance
  • Physiological benefits of plyometric training
  • How to program your plyometric training
  • Suitability for developing athletes and physical education
  • Final thoughts
  • Sources

Introduction

Plyometric training refers to quick and explosive bodyweight exercises, such as jumps, hops and skips that utilize your body’s elastic energy. The word plyometric comes from the Greek words of plio (more) and metric (to measure).

Plyometric training was first introduced as the shock method in the late 1960s-early 1970s by Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky, who then worked as the head of the Central Institute of Physical Culture and Sport Scientific Research Laboratory in the Soviet Union. As a result of his training and programming methods, the Soviet Union Olympic team completely dominated the 1972 Olympics in Munich, causing quite a stir in the athletic community. This lead to the rapid implementation of the shock method in the western world as well, where it became more commonly known as plyometric training. 

While the research and implementation of plyometrics have since been widely used for different sports applications, Verkhoshansky’s shock method still works as the foundation for improving explosive power among elite athletes. His training methods are especially useful in sports that rely on quick sprints, agility and vertical jumping such as different ball sports, track-and-field and martial arts.

This post explains the basic mechanics of plyometric training and what kind of effects it can have on your body. We’ve even listed some of the best exercises you can do to take your performance to the next level.

Basics of plyometric training

Plyometric exercises, or plyos, consist of fast and powerful movements that utilize the muscle’s stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) to provide more force than a regular muscle contraction. This means that every movement starts with a rapid eccentric (muscle lengthening) phase, followed by a concentric (muscle shortening) phase. To put it simply, the stretch-shortening cycle describes your muscle fibers‘ tendency to extend before contraction, much like a rubber band, which utilizes the muscle’s elastic energy for faster and higher force production during athletic performance.

Plyometric training involves exercises that specifically focus on improving the reactive ability of the neuromuscular system (muscles and their connecting nerves). This is a result of two different factors;

  • Myogenic: utilizing the elastic energy of the muscle-tendon tissue
  • Neurogenic: alteration of firing and timing rates of motor units involved in the myotatic reflex (stretch reflex)

As a result of improved neuromuscular responsiveness, your body adapts to produce more force during the concentric part of the movement. This is especially important for physical performance because even the strongest athletes sometimes fail to transfer their strength into sports-specific movement. Therefore, plyometric training bridges the gap between strength training and speed training.

Consistent and well-planned plyometric training increases your speed, power, strength and movement efficiency. Additionally, numerous studies have also proven it to have a positive impact on agility as well. After all, being able to produce maximum force in minimal time is essential for quick side-to-side movements, accelerations and decelerations during a variety of track, field and court-based sports. However, plyometrics are not solely meant for high-intensity athletes. Being able to produce more force with less effort on each step can also significantly boost your endurance performance.  

"Plyometric training can be beneficial for high-intensity activities as well as endurance sports."

Although plyometric training traditionally relies on short and explosive lower body exercises, some coaches use plyometric training principles to improve power production in the upper body as well. For example, clap pushups and medicine ball throws can be performed in a way that incorporates the muscle’s elastic energy, providing great performance benefits for certain sports. However, this shouldn’t be confused with ballistic training, which consists of fast and explosive throws. While these two training methods have some degree of crossover, what really sets plyometric training apart is utilizing the stretch-shortening cycle during ground contacts, such as the aforementioned jumps or clap pushups.

Plyometrics are often performed simultaneously alongside a well-periodized strength training program during preseason and competitive season. This means that you often alternate between plyometric training and strength training days, giving your muscles around 24-48h break between training sessions. The number of repetitions and sets depend on your training intensity; beginners should focus on performing fewer repetitions with higher intensity while focusing on good technique. However, as you improve and gain experience you should increase the training volume by doing more repetitions with less weight or even through loaded plyometrics.

A good rule of thumb is to perform 8-12 sets of 5-15 repetitions (100-250 total) and rest according to the intensity of each set. Usually, the recovery times range anywhere from 10s to 2mins depending on your skill, fitness level and fatigue. Not only does a well-periodized training program provide healthy athletic progress, but it also offers enough variety to keep training interesting and versatile.

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Plyometric Training


Explosive jumps, leaps & hopsBodyweight5 - 15 repetitions8 - 12 setsRest 10s - 2minPerformed alongside strength training during preseason & competitive season

Non-impact and impact plyometrics

Plyometric training can also be divided into non-impact and impact plyometrics. Non-impact plyometrics refer to exercises with a rapid muscle stretch-shortening cycle and no impact to the ground, whereas impact plyometrics rely on ground contact to fully utilize a muscle’s elastic energy.

Furthermore, impact plyometrics can be divided into low-impact exercises where your ground contact time is less than 0.25s and high-impact plyometric exercises, where contact times are greater than 0.25s. Basically, this means that the higher the initial impact is before contraction, the longer your amortization phase (the time between overcoming negative work and initiating force production) is. Naturally, the shorter this phase is, the faster you can utilize your elastic energy for physical movement. 

  • Non-impact plyometrics: jump squat etc.
  • Low-impact plyometrics: jump rope, box jump etc.
  • High-impact plyometrics: drop jumps, bounds etc.

The most suitable type of plyometric exercises depends on your own sport. For example, low-impact plyometrics are great for speed and agility related activities where you don’t have to overcome a lot of external resistance. On the other hand, high-impact plyometrics are essential training sports-specific power.

Best plyometric exercises for improving athletic performance

Because plyometric training aims to improve explosiveness, you have to perform exercises that challenge your body in the same way. For example, basketball players need to produce a lot of force vertically to be the first on the ball. On the other hand, ice skaters and hockey players have to constantly push sideways with the blade to move forward. With this in mind, you should select exercises that rely on similar movement patterns that you need in your sport and perform them as powerfully as you can. Here’s a list of some of the more well-known and most effective plyometric exercises out there.

Alternate leg bounding: Continuously leap forwards with alternating legs, try to stay in mid-air as long as possible.

Box jumps: Place your feet shoulder-width apart, jump onto a large box and off of it.

Bounding: Place your feet shoulder-width apart, jump forward continuously with both feet. You can also swing your arms forward during every jump to provide more momentum.

Broad jumps: Place your feet shoulder-width apart, squat and jump as far as possible. You can also swing your arms forward during the jumping phase to provide more forward momentum.

Depth jumps: Step off a box and immediately jump vertically as high as possible. They can also be varied by landing into a lunge, full squat, on one leg or any combination of the three.

Jump rope exercises: Lots of different variations to choose from. Great for warming up as well!

Lateral jumps: Jump side-to-side on both legs, repeat. They can also be varied with one leg jumps & hurdle hops etc.

Lunge jumps/scissor jumps: Start off from a lunge position, jump as high as possible and switch your forward foot in the air. Great exercise for glutes, hip flexors, calves, quads and hamstrings.

Medicine ball throws: Multiple different variations for increasing upper body power such as slams and throws from different angles.

Power skipping: Continuous skipping with an emphasis on height instead of length.

Pushups: Place hands shoulder-width apart, extend your arms powerfully enough so that your hands come off the ground. They can also be varied with clap pushups as well.

Side-to-side bounds; Jump side-to-side in a 45° angle, land on one leg, try to maintain balance and repeat back to the other side. They can also be varied by landing into a lunge. Great for ice hockey and figure skating.

Single-leg square hops: Jump continuously on one leg and draw a square on the ground, try to be as accurate as possible and perform with both legs.

Step-ups: Step on a box and jump vertically as high as you can, land with the same foot and step off the box, switch legs and repeat. They can also be performed with light additional weight.

Squat jumps: Place your feet shoulder-width apart, squat down and jump as high as possible, land softly. They can also be performed with light additional weight.

Split/Pike/Straddle jumps: Feet shoulder-width apart, jump as high as you can, spread your legs and land softly, great for increasing power and maintaining active sports-specific flexibility.

Tuck jumps: Place your feet shoulder-width apart, jump as high as you can, tuck your legs in and land softly.

Tuck squat jump: Similar to tuck jumps, but starts off from a full squat.

Vertical depth jumps: Drop down from a box and immediately jump back on it. An advanced plyometric training exercise.

Plyometric training improves the reactive ability of your neuromuscular system.

Physiological benefits of plyometric training

Plyometric training and its beneficial effects on performance are well-documented in sports science. In fact, numerous studies have shown that it can improve strength, power, speed and agility, increase joint awareness and anaerobic capacity, as well as enhance proprioception, coordination and movement efficiency. All of these factors contribute to better athletic performance and even increased injury prevention.

Improved power and plyometrics go hand-in-hand. The reason for this is that they both rely on the same training principle – producing as much force in an as short amount of time as possible. Consistent plyometric training improves your nervous system’s ability to recruit more muscle fibers and at a faster rate. Therefore, it can significantly increase your explosiveness and speed which are useful in nearly every sport out there. Additionally, since muscular strength also relies on enhanced muscle recruitment and better activation of motor units, fast plyometric exercises can even increase your overall strength without adding more muscle mass (hypertrophy).

Enhanced proprioception, or kinesthesia, is another significant benefit of plyometric training. It refers to your ability to sense your body’s position in relation to your surroundings, which is also why proprioception is often called the sixth sense. Proprioception encompasses three aspects; agility, balance and coordination. All of which can be improved through plyometric training. This is because your body adapts to being more aware of every movement, which significantly improves your movement efficiency during whatever exercise you do. As a result, every skill you perform gradually becomes more powerful, more precise and effortless even when your body is tired. Improved proprioception and strength are also closely related to enhanced dynamic balancebetter landing mechanics and decreased ground reaction forces, which both lead to improved injury prevention. 

"The shorter your ground contact time is, the faster you are."

Improved agility is a significant benefit of plyometric training, and it describes your ability to maintain body control with great accuracy during quick movements, such as dribbling between defenders. Agility is often considered a skill-related component in physical fitness that is also highly sports-specific and contains elements of balance, speed, strength and coordination. The good news is that since plyometrics have the ability to improve movement efficiency, increase force production and reduce ground reaction times, you’ll be able to maintain your balance and posture even during the most intense physical challenges. And, as long as you can stay in an athletic position you are more likely to stay agile, powerful and free of injuries throughout the competitive season.

Better coordination is yet another benefit of plyometric training. The reason for this is that the central nervous system (CNS) is responsible for everything that the skeletal muscles do. However, the central nervous system doesn’t activate every available muscle fiber for any given movement. In fact, everything you do requires a coordinated effort of contraction, stabilization and relaxation. Plyometric training helps your body coordinate these muscle contractions better which results in better accuracy and movement efficiency.

Increased anaerobic capacity refers to your body’s ability to produce the maximum amount of energy anaerobically, or without oxygen. This includes both the phosphagen and lactic acid systems that are responsible for producing energy during short (>3mins) and high-intensity exercises. Continuous plyometric exercises boost your anaerobic energy storages, improve energy production speed while also improving lactate buffering and lactate tolerance.

Plyometric training requires a solid technique and a good strength foundation.

How to program your plyometric training

Much like every other training program, plyometric training should also follow the progressive overloading principle. This can be achieved by changing the training volume, such as resistance, repetitions, sets, distance or height from one training phase to another.

Plyometric training is often performed alongside a strength training program in 2-6 week blocks with varied exercises to prevent plateauing. For example, if you are doing heavy weight training three times a week, you should incorporate explosive plyometric exercises on off days to maintain adequate recruitment of fast-twitch muscle fibers (type IIa & IIb). The training volume (foot contacts) of each plyometric training session can be programmed by athletic ability and exercise intensity:

Athletic ability:

  • Beginner 80-100
  • Intermediate 100-120
  • Advanced 120-140

Exercise intensity:

  • Low 400
  • Moderate 350
  • High 300
  • Very High 200

Naturally, higher intensity training requires more challenging exercises. This means you also need to reduce the overall amount of foot contacts to have a beneficial effect on your performance. Additionally, there is still a lot of debate about the perfect amount of repetitions during a single training session. Luckily, most studies have shown that any progressive plyometric training program, whether low or high in intensity, has a beneficial effect on performance.

It is also important to keep in mind that plyometric training should be designed to provide the ultimate performance for the competitive season. This means that your training load should change as the season progresses. Therefore, you should begin with lower repetitions and a higher load to develop performance factors like strength and power. As you get closer to the competitive season you should decrease the overall load and focus on technical performance factors at higher velocity. Of course, every program should always be individualized and take the athlete’s physical demandsage, fitness level and injury history into account to ensure healthy athletic progression.

Suitability for developing athletes and physical education

It is important to remember that due to plyometric training’s high-impact nature, it can be very strenuous for your neuromuscular system. Additionally, since plyometrics are considered complex movement skills that require a high level of skill and coordination, they may not be suitable for beginners or growing athletes. In fact, some strength and conditioning coaches have even taken a stand against plyometric exercises in order to prevent overuse injuries and muscular strains. 

However, experienced athletes with a solid strength and skill foundation in combination with good coaching and optimal training volume can safely implement plyometrics into their training. It is also crucial to remember that finding the right training intensity for each athlete can be very tricky. Although the training volume is easy to measure with repetitions (or contacts in this case), pinpointing the correct training intensity requires some special attention. This is due to the fact that every athlete is different, and so are their needs. Therefore, you have to take your body mass, direction and amplitude of movement as well as movement speed into consideration when creating your own training program. After all, a heavier athlete must absorb and produce more force during a high-impact exercise, which naturally causes more stress for muscles, tendons and ligaments.

With this in mind, you need to make sure you have a good strength foundation especially in the core and lower body before you proceed to plyometric training. This helps stabilize movements while also maintaining good posture and joint alignment. As a result, you’ll be able to improve your performance both safely and effectively. 

If you are unsure whether you are ready to incorporate plyometrics into your training, start with regular strength training, and slowly build up to more explosive and sports-specific movements. And, once you are ready to start your jump training, the best way to do this is by going low and slow and gradually increasing height and intensity.

Final thoughts

While plyometric training may not be the safest training method for beginners, there is no doubt that it can significantly improve your athletic performance. What’s even better, different plyometrics can be customized to fit nearly every athlete out there no matter what sport you participate in. Maintaining a training routine that focuses on explosiveness, strength and dynamic balance ensures that you can stay ahead of your competition when it matters the most. However, as plyometric training can be very straining on the body, you should also pay special attention to workout intensity and recovery. 

Sure, proper training and sufficient rest are the cornerstones of athletic progression, but you shouldn’t forget what you put on your plate either. The right diet is essential if you want to maintain a physically challenging lifestyle. This will make sure you get enough nutrients to stay healthy and energized. 

Did you learn anything new about plyometric training? Let us know in the comments.

Sources

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