Plyometrics Part 2: Practical Application
Plyometrics plays an important part in the development of your vertical jump. As mentioned in Part 1, it rapidly facilitates the types of positive adaptations in your body required to get you jumping high. However, as was also mentioned in Part 1, this type of training can, if incorrectly applied, quickly lead to injuries.
In this article, we will discuss the training parameters surrounding who should use this type of training, how much volume they should use (sessions per week, reps and sets, rest etc), the different types of plyometric exercises, and how they should be incorporated into a training program.
Variables Impacting Work CapacityBefore we describe some of the training parameters that apply to plyometrics it is very important to understand that all training advice should always be tailored to an individuals athletic needs. Plyometrics is no different.
The reason that an individualized approach to training programs is required is because each athlete has different strengths and weaknesses that can and should be improved, and that may or may not make plyometrics the best way for them to train.
With that in mind, the number of sessions per week, the number of sets and reps trained, the amount of rest between sets, and the types of exercises performed, will all be influenced by a wide variety of factors. Some of the more important ones are listed here:
To try and give you exact numbers of sets and reps etc without considering the abovevariables would not only be incomplete and bad advice, but also possibly dangerous.
It is for this reason that when you see a web page, magazine article or jump program that suggests you simply do x number of sets for x number of reps without considering your individual strengths and weaknesses, you would be best to ignore it.
However, in order to give you some general guidelines about plyometrics so that you have an idea of the complexities involved, we will examine each of these variables individually and discuss how they can impact your workouts.
AgeThe age of an athlete plays a significant role in determining how much plyometrics they should do. All that jumping around is pretty stressful on the joints, tendons, central nervous system, and muscles. If you are a younger athlete and still growing you should try and limit the total plyometric workload you are undertaking. Excessive plyometrics on young athletes can impede the proper development of their joints causing long term effects.
Conversely, once you reach a certain age, usually around 35+, you should also start to examine closely how much jumping you are doing. There is a great saying that goes "you are only as old as you feel". This is excellent to keep in mind if you are an older athlete. Generally speaking, if you have trained your whole life and have fairly high levels of base fitness and relative strength, you will probably be bale to handle more work than someone who has decided to take up vertical jump training after an extended layoff.
This is scenario is clearly evident when you see professional athletes playing into their late 30's and 40's without time off. In most cases these athletes have done all the right things over the years conditioning wise to keep themselves healthy, and have probably been a little lucky to have not had a serious injury.
This highly developed athletic state means they can still compete with guys 10-15 years younger. Yet when you see a guy who is an office worker go on a get fit campaign they are sore all the time and their performance will be far below that of their younger colleagues. They are also very likely candidates for injury.
So if you are still growing, or are getting on a bit, it is important to monitor your plyometric workload for signs of over training. In between those brackets you should be peak health so you should be able to, provided all the other variables are in place, train at a higher level. of course, if you are in between those age groups and haven't exercises for a while, you should be looking to gradually increase your workload, not starting out with a full on hardcore program of jumping and weights.
Training Experience and Base StrengthThe level of training experience and base strength often ties into age. If you are a seasoned athlete with plenty of strength and conditioning under your belt, your ability to handle higher volumes of plyometrics will be greater than someone who is newer to training.
High base levels of relative strength in particular is a key determinant of how much plyometrics, if any, an athlete should do. Numerous reports have demonstrated that athletes with higher relative strength levels respond better to plyometrics than weaker ones.
Part of the reason for this is the relationship between muscular power being a combination of speed and force application. The stronger you are the more force you can apply. Often though the stronger you are the more you are lacking in speed training. As we know improving an area of weakness is the quickest way to performance gains.
The other reason a stronger athlete does better with plyometrics is that their muscles and joints are better conditioned to stand up to the heavy pounding the jumping exacts on them. The extra strength makes them more resistant to injury and more capable of recovery.
If you don't have a decent level of base strength we would strongly advise you to hit the gym and get stronger before you undertake plyometrics. As is often mentioned by sports trainers, a barbell squat of 1.5 times your body weight is the generally accepted minimum level of strength you should have before engaging in high intensity plyometric work.
Overall Training WorkloadConsideration of your overall workload is essential when determining your training volume and type. For example, If you are a college level athlete with 3 or 4 practice sessions a week plus games you will have very little time and capacity to perform extra plyometrics sessions. Any high impact-high intensity training on top of that already heavy schedule would most likely result in over-training and injury.
On the other hand, if you are a recreational athlete who plays only once a week, you obviously have a lot more time and energy to devote to the development of your vertical jump through plyometrics. The philosophy of reducing specific plyometric training is common amongst professional strength and conditioning coaches who work with NBA and NFL teams. During the season professional athletes perform virtually no high intensity plyometrics outside that which occurs naturally in playing their sports. Instead they focus on lifting weights to maintain their strength and let the games and practices take care of the plyometric element.
The reason for this is due to the highly taxing nature of the training and games and the simple fact that too much can easily lead to injuries. This in-season training philosophy applies equally to everyone, not just professionals. If you already have a heavy jumping workload, it is a good idea to reduce or even stop all specific plyometric training if you are finding it is getting too much.
Phase of the ProgramAnother consideration that must be made in determining the volume and type of plyometric work is at what stage of your long term training program are you at. A typical periodized program usually has a number of phases. These phases are generally designed to lead up to a competitive peak by building on the areas developed in each of the preceding phases.
For example, a 16 week pre-season basketball training program which is designed to lead into the beginning of the season might look like this:
Weeks 1 - 4 General Fitness Preparation. This would involve the athlete lifting weights to build base strength and some general conditioning work such as interval sprints.
Weeks 5 - 8 Sports specific Conditioning. This phase would focus on improving the athletic qualities specifically required for the sport. In a basketball program this would be where you introduce plyometrics to improvevertical jumping.
Weeks 9 - 12 Sports specific Conditioning and Skill Training. During this phase you focus on training the athletic qualities of basketball combined with more skill based work such as shooting drills, rebounding etc.
Weeks 13 - 16 Skill Based Training. During this phase the athlete focuses primarily on developing and improving the actual skills of basketball with athletic any improvements coming as a result of the intensity of the skill work.
Whilst this is a made up example, it illustrates how the individual phases of a program have different requirements. Before you start adding plyometrics to your training you should consider where your athletic development will fit into any other longer term goals.
Time Frame of the ProgramThis consideration is important as it allows you to assess how much total work you will be doing in your program. If you are undertaking a short burst 4 week program it is easier to perform more plyometric work.
The reason for this is that in a 4 week time frame, even with a reasonably heavy plyometric volume, it is harder to over train or wear yourself down to the point of injury. Of course, results will be limited in such a short training window, which is why many athletes take a much longer view.
If you are planning to train for a longer period of time it is much smarter to take a more conservative approach to your training volume. Obviously the longer your program is the greater the total number of workouts etc will be. The impact on your bodies ability to recover and adapt is therefore important to remember.
This actually raises an interesting point about jump programs. As you train your body should adapt. Accordingly, you should regularly test and adjust your program to account for these adaptations. You do not want to do it too frequently though as you will not be able to get a clear picture of what is working if you change your program all the time.
However, every four weeks or so it is a good idea to re-test your capabilities to ensure you are continuing to make positive improvements. If you are not going forward you might need to re-assess and play with the different elements of your program to try to find what it is that is holding back your progress.
On this point it is also good to remember that the greatest improvements will come in the early stages of your training.
Most commercial vertical jump programs will work over the first 8-12 weeks, but beyond that, most aren't flexible enough to adapt with you so that you can continue to improve.
There is only really one program currently available that offers this sort of long term adaptability and that is Verticaljumping.com's own
Vertical jump training program.
Nature of the Exercises SelectedThis factor is a fairly straight forward one. Basically all plyometric exercises are not created equal. Some are much higher impact than others. The more high impact exercises you select, the less number of sets and reps you should do. Depth jumps for example are far more stressful on your body than bounding.
It is a good idea to select the higher impact exercises earlier in your program. The reason for this is that you want perform the highest impact exercises whilst you are still relatively fresh. Performing depth jumps on tired legs for example is a sure fire way to hurt yourself. This also highlights the need for a proper and thorough warm up.
If you are struggling with the stress on your joints and muscles caused by regular plyometrics we have prepared a guide to low impact training. This article explains how to minimize the impact on your body whilst still obtaining some plyometric benefits.
Click here to read our article on
Low Impact Training.
General Plyometrics PrinciplesNow that we have covered some of the key variables that influence the way in which you should approach plyometric training, it is time to go over some of the generally accepted principles associated with this sort of work.
First off, reps per set. This is an easy one - except reps per set isn't as appropriate as time per set. Why? A vertical jump only lasts for a split second. Accordingly, you should only train for very brief periods of time. By very brief we mean a maximum of 6-10 seconds. Why 6--10 seconds? specificity! You see a max effort vertical jump uses the anaerobic energy system. This energy system usually runs out after about 6-10 seconds. If you are doing jumping sets that last longer than that then you are training at a lower intensity. This is not good.
With plyometrics it is much better to perform a few extremely high quality, high intensity jumps, than to burn yourself out trying to do too many. It is quality, not quantity that will bring results.
This leads into the next training parameter - rest between sets. It has already been mentioned that plyometrics severely taxes the CNS. It has also been highlighted that quality (quality being maximum intensity of effort combined with no loss of technical form) of repetition is more important than quantity.
These two points, combined with the diverse nature of the exercises involved in plyometrics, means the rest periods you should use between sets, has quite a wide range. Depending on the level of impact (intensity) of the exercise, we recommend you take between 60 - 300 seconds break between sets. The higher the impact, the more rest required. For example, altitude drops off a very high box can require up to 4 to 5 minutes rest, whilst some power skipping may only need 60 seconds between sets.
The next variables are the number of sets per session, and number of sessions per week. These training parameters are more difficult to define the ranges for because they depend so much on the factors already mentioned.
In terms of the number of sets, here are some very general guidelines. A stronger, more experienced trainer, will be able to handle more work then a new trainer. A lighter athlete will be able to do more than a heavier one. An athlete doing lower impact work will be able to do more sets than an athlete doing high impact work.
Regardless of your suitability for plyometrics, we would never recommend performing more than 15 total sets of plyometric work per session unless you are using very low reps per set (4-6 reps per set is usually what can be done in 6-10 seconds). This comes back to the quality issue. You need to be able to maintain maximum intensity and performing a high number of sets starts to turn your session into an endurance event, not a power focused one.
With regards to the number of sessions you should do, again, an athlete who is doing little else can perform plyometrics more often. A stronger athlete who is used to the demands of plyometric training will recover quicker and be able to train more frequently. We would recommend an absolute maximum of 4 times per week even if you were doing nothing else and those sessions were relatively brief. A more common sense approach would be 2 sessions which provides sufficient time for recovery. You should also never do sessions on consecutive days.
By now you should have a good idea of how the different factors impact the capacity to perform plyometrics and you should be prepared to adjust your workouts accordingly. It is our experience that less is nearly always better when it comes to plyometrics.
ConclusionAs you can see, determining the right way to apply plyometrics, if at all, to your vertical jump training is a very complex task. Intuitively it might seem that getting out and doing a lot of jumping is the best way to improve your vertical. However, much research both in controlled experiments, and in the world of professional sports shows us that this isn't always the case.
Ultimately, the best way to tell whether or not your plyometric training is right for you is in your results. If you are including this type of training and are getting results, keep it up. If you aren't getting the results you want, or are finding yourself starting to develop niggling injuries, then cut back.
The smartest way to go is to consult with a qualified sports trainer at the beginning and get them to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Do your research on a trainer first though. Try to find one whose area of expertise is that of the development speed and power.
Alternatively you could have a look at our vertical jump training coaching program.. This program is the best one on the market by far for pre-testing you fully and basing your workloads and workouts on what you need most.
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