The Power Athlete Plyometric Series has been steadily progressing and building a solid foundation for plyometric program implementation. We have focused on reverse engineering a jump from the landing up and developing the coach’s eye in preparation for athlete assessment into eventual plyo program application. As we work closer to plyometric program development, we must now introduce the components of plyometric training: classical plyometric exercises, supplementary plyometric exercises and preparatory drills for plyometrics.
Classical plyometric exercises are broken up into functional and non-functional. Functional activities are matched as closely as possible to the specific explosive actions of the particular sport trained for with respect to muscle involvement, movement patterns, direction of motion and timing. Think of these as a wide receiver jumping to the height or distance of the football after designed routes, or a triple jumper practicing their bound steps of their take off.
Non-functional plyometrics are exercises most of us are familiar with, they offer general training of the explosive qualities required by sport. Examples of these include consecutive broad jumps or single leg bounds for field sport athletes.
Supplementary and preparatory drills consist of weight training exercises to develop sufficient muscular strength, especially eccentric strength, and connective tissue strength and elasticity to handle the forces involved. These also include varieties of jumping, throwing and landing drills with longer duration and transition phases many of you are familiar with in the Field Strong program.
Understanding these components, we introduce an issue we’ve seen with the application of plyometric training: Overtraining.
Overtraining is entirely controllable and may be avoided if recognized that it is produced in two ways; overload and overuse. Overload is the an instant of too great a force or too large a load. Overuse is the application of too great a volume of an exercise without sufficient recovery. The imposition of either large masses or large accelerations can lead to rapid failure of any bio-mechanical system in the human body, so overtraining needs to be understood by a strength coach in order to effectively prepare an athlete.
The purpose of this article is to introduce preparatory movements that will correct limiting factors identified in the assessment, prepare muscles for eccentric loading, and introduce connective tissue to lower, more controlled levels of force. Integration of the following movements into warm ups allows for the necessary application of gradual, progressive stress with competency of execution.
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Purpose of Preparatory Drills
Simply put: Invest in preparatory drills to avoid overload.
Opposition of plyometrics often presents the dangers from the magnitude of the impulsive peak forces on the joints is misplaced. These opponents should be confronting the strength coaches for lack of athlete preparation. Joints and connective tissue, like muscle, follow the principle of Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID). They must be stressed to progress and handle the forces associated with plyometric training, but the adaptation process takes longer than muscle.
Ligaments, tendons and the cartilages of joints subjected to regular impulsive loading with relatively high contact stresses are mechanically much stiffer and better adapted to withstand the exceptional loading of running and jumping than softer connective tissues associated with low loading (Verkhoshansky & Siff, 42, 46, 269). This leads us to introduce more value in the weightroom to sport coaches and more responsibility for the strength coach.
Neglecting plyometric training will not effectively prepare an athlete for the forces seen on the field, and improper application of a plyometric program puts an athlete at risk for overload and/or overuse.
Preparatory Plyometric Drills
Quarter Step Up
The assessments discussed in Part 3 identified common misalignments and weaknesses in the hip, glute or hamstring. This quarter step allows for an athlete to target and strengthen these common weaknesses. It also allows the athlete to intercoordinate and educate their hips, glutes and hamstrings how to work in-balance and become efficient before the high impact of plyometric forces is introduced.
The box should be roughly 6-12″ tall, and the knee to hip position should mimic that of the athletic position. This needs to be executed as a pull with the hamstring and hip introt/ extrots doing the work. Proper execution of this simple movement goes a long way for correcting misalignment and many strength issues in athletes at any level.
Forces generated during the landing are significantly greater than the push-off stage of a jump. The purpose of this movement is to build strength through the eccentric contraction and wire in the mid-foot, dorsiflexion landing under a lower stress/force. The strength needed most is not from extension of the push-off leg, but in prevention of excessive flexion of the hip and knee during amortization.
The key coaching points with this movement will be maintaining dorsiflexion through the step up down, and having the athlete in 100% control of the eccentric movement. Using the key points discussed in the plyometric assessment from both the step up and step up down, a coach can identify whether an athlete is progressing and/or prepared for plyometrics.
Seesaw Walk to Vertical Jump
The key to plyometrics is to get maximum eccentric contraction, which develops maximal tensing of the muscle, and then to have the central nervous system switch this contraction to concentric, which produces the desired movement. The seesaw walk is a perfect tool to teach an athlete to eccentrically load their hamstring while stabilizing their hips, and actively pull themselves back to standing at a low force and zero impact.
This movement also trains the hamstring and hips where to go and how to operate upon contact with a surface, effectively training an athlete how to land, minus the impact. The vertical jump is then added to integrate the muscle action into the landing. Notice the knee position at the peak of the athlete’s seesaw walk, and the knee position upon landing.
Cocky Walk w/ Double Tap
This exercise introduces ballistic movement to the athlete at the ankle girdle. The landing, jumping, and prep-work up to this point have been single, perfect reps. Now the athlete is challenged to connect consecutive movements together, and replicate perfection while moving through space. This is a low force drill that challenges athleticism, and begins to stress the foot and ankle in preparation of higher forces.
High Knee A-Skips
The skip is an assessment, warm up, sprint prep, and plyo prep tool all rolled into one. This broken rhythm movement involves all the positions and ROM needed to execute majority of the lower body classic plyometric exercises. The skip also allows for low force to be applied that can be progressed with either height of the skips, speed, or banded resistance! Going through the skips at varying heights, speeds and resistances allows the athlete to challenge posture and position preparing the muscles and joints for the coordination and execution required for a plyometric program.
Notice the athlete’s alignment above. These are two very common misalignment issues you will see in skips. The broken rhythm allows for coaching on the fly to correct misalignment. Limiting factors could be coordination or mobility in the hips or ankles, which cannot be ignored. The low impact skip will allow for these to be seen and corrected before high impact plyos are applied.
As an athlete is introduced to new movements or speed, many athletes revert back to faults identified during the assessment. This is nothing to fret about, and is part of the relearning process and why simple movements like the skip are so valuable. Time invested in perfect execution of landings, take offs, and the integration drills is important for accelerated adaptation and avoiding overtraining. Instill perfect foot, knee, hip position and posture all the way from the quarter step up to the skip. The athlete will not only be more coach-able during the application of more advanced movements, but also progress farther, faster.
Opponents of plyometrics often overlook the fact that running, jumping and other ballistic activities are an integral part of field sports. As stated earlier; ligaments, tendons and the cartilages of joints CAN be strengthened with progressive loading, and NEED to if you’re playing a high force field sport.
The tools and approach discussed above will help prevent any overload or overuse injuries when either preparing or guiding athletes through a plyo program. Any lack of safety in plyometric training has more to do with inappropriate and ineffective prescription than the mode of exercise itself, with overtraining being a major contributory factor. Which leads to our next topic in the Power Athlete Plyometric Series: Programming!
Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. (2009). Supertraing: 6th Edition. Rome: Ultimate Athlete Concepts.
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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