| | Plyometric Training: Jumping

Author / Christopher McQuilkin

Part 1 of Power Athlete’s Plyometric Training series introduced many issues with the plyometric practices of today.  The lack of investment in teaching technique, getting wrapped up in the end result, and primarily, poor execution of the jumping and landing phases.  Focusing on the wrong piece has the potential to limit the effectiveness of plyometric training, and also put the athletes at a risk of injury.

The landing and catching position is the biggest oversight when training or testing jumps, and is the point in which every strength and conditioning coach should begin with an athlete. Building off this understanding, this article will introduce the phases of the take off and begin to train the coach’s eye preparing for pre-plyometric assessments and plyometric program implementation.

plyophases-power-athlete-amortization-plyometricsPhoto source:  Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning3rd edition.  (Human Kinetics, 2008)

Eccentric Action:
Demonstrated in picture A, the calf is being stretched and loaded as the ankle moves into a position of dorsiflexion.  This phase is present whether it is an initial jump or consecutive jumps.  The muscle goes through an eccentric action and elastic energy is stored.  A topic covered many times over on Power Athlete, the ankle girdle is invaluable for the athlete and plays a powerful role in plyometric training.

Amortization:
Picture B represents the time between the eccentric phase and the concentric phase.  The amortization phase is the most important component of the stretch shortening cycle.  If the duration of amortization lasts too long, the energy stored during the eccentric phase will dissipate, completely negating any true plyometric effect (1).

Concentric Action:
During the eccentric phase, the muscle succumbs to the imposed load and lengthens, either from the athlete initiating a jump or the previous jump.  During the concentric phase (picture C) the muscle produces force to overcome this load and uses the stored elastic energy to execute the jump.  This force producing phase is one we are all familiar with as receives the most focus and attention.  But, as covered in Part 1 and our Muscle Action article, begin with controlling force reduction.

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Coach’s Eye
There is an invaluable tool each and every coach must have to be successful, and we’re not talking about the iphone app.  Whether a coach comes from a field sport background or a sport of fitness background, the key for watching and correcting jumps is knowing what to look for.  The following video will provide a coach’s eye perspective working and communicating with an athlete the execution and expectation of a jump.

[vimeo]https://vimeo.com/105880696[/vimeo]

Alignment
This may seem intuitive from a coach’s perspective, but why are we consistently seeing valgus knees or the knees driving out during the amortization phase of the jump? The knee is a hinge joint and needs to track forwards over the toes, both during the amortization and concentric phases of a jump.

A coach’s eye needs reps, and the above video provides two viewing points; the front and the side view. What you will notice will the front view is Carl’s starting position; heels under hips, toes forward and knees forward. This alignment remains constant throughout all three phases of his jump.

The side view brings another fault many coaches miss, and something we need to clarify, especially in respect to plyometrics. During the well executed jumps, Carl pushes his butt back loading his hamstrings, knees track straight forward in line with his toes, and both move at the same rate. Notice the difference when his knees track straight, but too far forward. Carl’s knee and toe alignment in both side view jumps are pointing forward, but notice his hip position. The left image shows the knees track well over the toes, and clearly little hamstring involvement. This knee position shows a coach the hamstrings are not loading to their full potential, and there is no balance between the quad, hamstrings and hips which could lead to injury. If not this jump, somewhere down the line.

Plyometric-Training-Power-athlete-jumpThe right image provides the knee/foot alignment a coach should be looking for when watching their athletes jump. As discussed in Part 1, if aligned correctly, the muscles will be set up not solely as dampening springs or force generators, but be positioned to work together.  If alignment is off then dampening goes too much to one muscle group or too little to the other, then there will be a dysfunction.

An athlete showing competency and alignment in both starting and ending positions is a great start for teaching and testing a jump.  But if there is a loss alignment during any phase of the jump, this may be a bio-marker that something else is going on with the athlete.  Maybe a limiting factor in their hips, feet or somewhere in-between.

Depth
This is a phenomenon the coach’s eye begins to pick up on the more athletes observed and tested.  The depth during the eccentric phase of max effort standing vertical jumps aids in identifying what type of athlete you are working with.  We have discussed how the vertical jump can be used to direct specific programming needs for an athlete, but this is more of an observation to key on.

You’ll notice in the video Carl’s eccentric and amortization phases are short and explosive.  Carl displays an instinctive fast twitch approach to the jumps, and does not need a lot of time to recruit muscle fibers. He is also a rugby player with a 305lb Power Clean.

When asking an athlete to jump for an assessment, never give them a set depth to hit in the eccentric phase and how fast to be during amortization.  Focus on instructing alignment, but set them free for depth.  The lower they go instinctively, the more slower twitch an athlete they are.  And the more athletes a coach watches jump, the more they will see the range and difference between the fast twitch and the slow twitch athletes.

BUT, no matter how low an athlete must go, keep in mind all points of performance discussed in the video and the alignment section.  If their instinctive depth is causing navicular drop or valgus knee, then alignment takes precedence of motor unit recruitment.

Navicular-Drop-Valgus-knee-vertical-jumpConclusion
Alignment is everything, whether an athlete is jumping or landing.  Not identifying or allowing for multiple jumps to occur with misalignment, no matter the height they’re soaring to, is doing a disservice to your athletes.  Yes, in competition they more than likely will be forced to jump or react with misalignment, but there is no excuse in training or testing.

Once an athlete proves the competency to execute a single jump take off and landing with proper posture and alignment, then begin to test their ability to replicate singles.  Posture, position and alignment must be dialed in.  An athlete’s vertical jump height number may be lower at first, but they must learn how to jump with proper alignment.  Take the same approach as a #toesforward Power Athlete squat.  At first the squat number may not be as high, but lock in the posture, position and alignment no matter what.  Once an athlete learns how to squat or jump in correct alignment, the possibilities are endless.

Part 3 of our Plyometric Series will continue to help develop the coach’s eye by providing assignment tools and what exactly to look for to prepare an athlete for effective plyometric training.

Sources:
(1.)  Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning3rd edition.  (Human Kinetics, 2008)

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AUTHOR

Christopher McQuilkin

MS, CSCS, SCCC, CHES
Book a consult with me regarding coaching, training, life, education... anything your heart desires. Click below:
calendly.com/pahq-tex

Former collegiate lacrosse defensive midfielder, 4-year letter winner and 3-year team captain. Coached strength and conditioning collegiately with Georgetown University football, Men's and Women's lacrosse and Women's Crew, as well with the University of Texas at Austin's football program. Apprenticed under Raphael Ruiz of 1-FortyFour-1 studying proper implementation of science based, performance driven training systems. Head coached CrossFit Dupont's program for two years in Washington D.C. Received a Master's in Health Promotion Management from Marymount University in 2010, and has been a coach for Power Athlete since October, 2012.

9 Comments

  1. Denny K on September 16, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    Great article as usual Tex. Per our conversation earlier I noticed a lot of slow-twitch efforts in the jumps I saw at our PATS.

    Looking forward to #3.

    Talk to you soon bro!

    • Tex McQuilkin on September 16, 2014 at 5:20 pm

      Thank you, sir! A lot of coaching is just knowing what to look for. If we dropped the programming portion first and it is executed poorly with poor results, then the program would be viewed as dangerous or non-effective. All about execution and application.

  2. dpelletierbeacon on September 19, 2014 at 9:03 am

    Tex,

    I’m currently designing a S&C program for High School Teams (Boys and Girls). I love the CFFB template but am unsure how to dose plyos. Are you or Jon available for a skype consult (paid) to help me out?

    • Tex McQuilkin on September 21, 2014 at 8:50 am

      Dave,
      I’ll reach out to you personally and make sure you get your program started on the right foot!

  3. Nick on October 28, 2014 at 6:20 am

    Tex,

    Any thoughts on an athlete’s ability on being to BB squat close to their BW before working jumps (particularly box jumps)? This would be more in line for younger athletes…Just thinking about the SSC and the impact it has on an athlete , especially in the landing phase if an athlete is not strong enough to support his or her own body weight on a BB? Would love to hear your thoughts on it.

    Thanks!

    Nick

    • Tex McQuilkin on October 28, 2014 at 6:40 pm

      Nice question, Nick.
      Don’t get lost in the numbers game, especially with youth athletes. Show me a high school basketball (or any sport) team that doesn’t jump at all until they are close to a BW squat, and I’ll show you a losing team. Jumping, the SSC, and forces beyond an athlete’s control are all components of sports. Best you can do as a strength coach is put them in the best position to stand a chance against those forces, and I mean that literally. Teach them the athletic position and how to load their hamstrings upon landing.

      You will get a lot farther faster working with youths putting them through our plyo assessments and getting them really good at all of the preparatory movements in your training time with them. High School sports often provide all the plyometrics these kids need.

      The programming article will provide progressions and insight in developing plyo programs for athletes from youth to CF. All the other pieces had to come first because without them application would be worthless.

  4. Nick on October 30, 2014 at 9:39 am

    Thanks, Tex…I agree with you on the point of sports providing a lot of the plyos needed. When I have the time, I am going plow through the articles for plyos again. I skimmed over them previously. And as always, thanks for the reply. Its greatly appreciated

  5. Chretien Teitelbaum on January 22, 2016 at 8:29 am

    @mcquilkin

    So if two athletes have the same strength, one more fast twitch and one more slow twitch. Is it possible for the slow twitch athlete to match the vertical jump of the fast twitch as long as he increases the depth of his dip to maximize his muscular output?

    Thanks,
    Chre

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