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.
Photo source: Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd edition. (Human Kinetics, 2008)
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.
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).
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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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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
(1.) Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd edition. (Human Kinetics, 2008)
John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.
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