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Integrating Plyometrics Coaches, personal trainers, and athletes have always sought out methods to increase explosive power, rate of force development, and reactive ability. On this front, every practitioner has heard the promises of plyometric training to provide the link between strength in the weight room and speed on the field.
In fact, the use of plyometrics has run rampant through American weight rooms since its introduction into the United States by Wilt in the mid 1970s (3). Even though plyometrics has been around for decades, many coaches and personal trainers still remain misinformed on how to incorporate plyometrics into their athlete and client training plans properly.
A number of common mistakes are made when it comes to the application of plyometrics that have direct correlations to the success one realizes through the use of this unique training method.
Looking at the MistakesMistake #1: Lack of understanding regarding the key scientific theories underlying the plyometric concept.Example: Coaches incorporate exercises (such as those using a static start or too slow of countermovement) that do not actually match up with the true ideas of plyometrics, or take advantage of stretch-shortening cycle mechanisms.
Mistake #2: Scientific principles are often overlooked at the expense of added intensity.Example: Depth jump box height is set too high for athletes, and as a result, ground contact times are lengthened (Short ground contact times are a primary goal of depth jumps for athletes).
Mistake #3: Turning plyometrics into conditioning.Example: A coach/personal trainer does not allow for full recovery between sets or exercises. This not only reduces the likelihood of training benefits but also subjects the athletes or clients to greater risk of injuries.
Mistake #4: Emphasis on quantity instead of quality (an extension of #3).Example: A coach/personal trainer places too much emphasis on increasing aspects of the program design variables, such as volume (sets and ground contacts) instead of keying in on the quality, intensity, and speed of movement.
Mistake #5: Focus on force exertion (overcoming, concentric muscle actions) instead of force absorption (yielding, eccentric muscle actions).Example: A coach/personal trainer places an overemphasis/inclusion on box jumps (jumps onto a box) and avoids/excludes altitude drops (jumps off of a box).Avoiding MistakesWith these mistakes in mind, what can we do as coaches and personal trainers to avoid these mistakes during plyometric training? To start, it is necessary to come to a common ground regarding what truly makes up a plyometric exercise. A practical definition of a plyometric activity is a quick and powerful concentric movement, preceded by an active pre-stretch, or countermovement, that involves the use of the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC), and is used to exploit the elastic-reactive qualities of strength.
Next, it is important to be reminded of some of the basic scientific ideas that create the foundation of proper application of plyometrics. At the forefront of this is the overall importance of attaining higher levels of ground contact efficiency which will revolve around the eccentric movement action and essentially determine the degree of involvement of SSC mechanisms during the exercise execution. Ensuring Correct Body PositioningIt is well established that the amortization (transition time between eccentric and concentric movement actions) is the most important phase of the SSC, so proper and efficient landings are paramount. On this note, a pre-landing body position as well as proper posture, balance, and stability after ground contact is key (2). An athlete should learn to land on the balls of the feet (front two-thirds of the foot) with the ankle dorsiflexed, and slight flexion at all major joints involved upon landing.
If the heels touch the ground during the contact phase, then the intensity is too great and should be reduced (1,2). The shoulders, knees, and toes should all be in alignment in the landing position. All of these biomechanical considerations in combination will allow for the quickest absorption rate, lowest ground contact time, and a more rapid recovery of potential energy which will make a more powerful concentric action more likely.
Without proper landing mechanisms, it is unlikely that we can expect an athlete to be able to efficiently stabilize the forces at the time of ground contact and switch into a positive work position in the amortization time window. In addition, because of the extreme amounts of forces the body is required to withstand in many plyometric exercises, incorrect landing mechanisms could put an athlete at a much greater risk of technical inefficiency or non-contact injury.
Basically, the quicker an athlete is able to switch from yielding (eccentric) work to overcoming (concentric) work, the safer the movement becomes (2). A good guideline based on research suggests that an athlete should execute most jumping movements (plyometrics) in a “bounce” fashion where the athlete aims to land and immediately complete the push-off/take-off phase with little countermovement and ground contact time (1,2). Program DesignFinally, no discussion on plyometrics implementation would be complete without briefly touching on program design variable manipulation. Like with any training modality, plyometrics are only as good as the coach’s or personal trainer’s points of emphasis taken in the training program. Variable adjustment regarding sets, reps, intensity, rest periods, and exercise selection cannot be done haphazardly if we expect the athlete or client to see proper benefits.
This may seem to be common sense but it is difficult to overstate their importance as the over-estimation of an athlete’s readiness can lead us back to a number of the mistakes previously mentioned. On this note, remember that plyometric exercises are not meant to be conditioning. They are exercises aimed at increasing power development. Thus, it is important that you treat them as such and keep volume relatively low, movement quality and speeds very high, and utilize proper exercise progression at all times.
Obviously, this was only a brief look into some common plyometric application mistakes. However, by adhering to what proven science shows us regarding the important factors, components, and underlying mechanisms of utilization we can ensure that we take full advantage of many of the positive benefits that proper plyometrics offer.
Shawn Myszka, MS, CSCS,*D is currently the Co-Founder/Athletic Performance Director of Explosive Edge Athletics in Minneapolis, MN. He serves as a consultant to coaches at numerous professional, collegiate, and high school athletic programs. Shawn is a former national-level competitive bodybuilder who has become a well-known and highly sought-after clinician and leader in the field of jump training, plyometrics, and sport-specific power development. Shawn, who is the Founder of the Plyometrics/Jump Training Special Interest Group, has also recently developed the first-ever Jump Training Certification designed for coaches looking to specialize in training to increase jump performance. He is a founding member of the Minnesota NSCA Advisory Board and was voted the 2008 Minnesota NSCA Trainer of the Year.
Dr. Jump! Good stuff, as always!
Very good article!