In part one of the reactive strength series I explained what it was and why it was important for people looking to increase their vertical jump to try and develop it.
In this second part I will look at some of the more commonly used methods that are available to the everyday athlete to enhance eccentric strength. These methods described here are what most people would consider to be the classic reactive strength training techniques as they have been used successfully for years by coaches and athletes around the world.
I refer of course to the depth jumps, altitude landings, and more recently the weighted reactive strength lifts. One of the benefits of these three training methods is that virtually no specialized equipment is necessary which means there is no excuse for an athlete to have poor reactive strength levels.
The classic depth jump is performed simply by dropping off a box and trying to explosively jump up again as soon as you land. The most common performance cue given for depth jumps is to try and minimize time spent on the ground between landing off the box and jumping again.
The often cited example is to imagine the ground is like hot coals. To do this you should try to minimize knee bend when you step off the box and jump up.
The rationale for this is that as described in part 1, reactive strength is about being able to absorb and overcome force QUICKLY. The more knee bend you have the higher your ground contact time, and the slower your jump will be. As we know, slow jumping is low jumping.
PROS: Highly jump specific manner of developing reactive strength
CONS: Highly taxing on the CNS, can be hard on the joints
For a more detailed look at depth jumps you can check out our article Depth Jumps: A Closer Look.
Altitude landings are similar to depth jumps in that you step off a box, but unlike depth jumps you don't actually rebound back up into a jump. Instead you drop off the box and focus on sticking the landing.
What is sticking the landing? Basically this means that you should be trying to land softly, with minimal knee bend and with minimal noise. I tell my athletes to pretend they are ninja's silently dropping into enemy territory. Most coaches tell their athletes to land like a cat. Personally I think the ninja thing is way cooler.
The idea behind the altitude landings is that like depth jumps, the drop off the box overloads the eccentric muscle contraction and teaches you to more efficiently absorb force. In fact a 2002 study (Kerin), actually concluded that it was the eccentric portion of the depth jump (no surprise there) that produced the greatest training effect.
The study indicated that it was during the actual landing itself that the eccentric stress on the muscles was the highest. As a result of the study it has been hypothesized that if you lack the necessary eccentric strength to do a depth jump correctly (i.e. with minimal reversal time) then your jump will be quite low and there would be little point in doing the exercise.
Of course in order to reduce ground contact time and get the full benefits out of the exercise you need to increase eccentric strength. So what do you do? You do altitude landings until you develop the necessary eccentric strength to do depth jumps properly. Or you use a lower box to do your depth jumps from.
PROS: very jump specific for developing eccentric strength
CONS: Highly taxing on the CNS, can be REALLY hard on the joints
The last of the commonly used reactive strength training methods are what as known as reactive lifts. In all forms of eccentric strength training the obvious goal is to place a greater emphasis on the eccentric, or yielding phase of the exercise.
In a vertical jump the eccentric phase occurs when you dip your knees before, reversing back into the concentric phase, which is the actual upwards motion. As you can imagine then the reactive lifts are weighted exercises that overload the eccentric, or lowering phase.
Now it has been well known for a long time that we can actually lower in a controlled manner a heavier weight than we can lift (concentric), or even hold still (isometric), so one method of overloading the eccentric is to use very heavy weights and slowly lower it.
Now doing this might provide some benefits but there is one slight problem with that method which is that reactive strength is the ability to absorb force quickly. A better way is to lower the weight in a very fast fashion. of course, you can't do that using ultra heavy weights because you won't be sufficiently strong enough to absorb the downward momentum and you will be crushed by the weight.
What you can do is to use a lighter weight and descend in a rapid fashion before catching (absorbing) the load and exploding back up. This type of lifting basically involves a drop and catch action where you drop the weight and then catch it at the bottom.
In this manner you are able to overload the eccentric portion by deliberately speeding up the descent of the bar which then rather handily results in the development of reactive strength.
Some excellent exercises to use for this type of lift include squats (see video below), split squats, and my favorite (trap bar) deadlifts.
PROS: Easier on the joints than other methods
CONS: less specificity, could be dangerous if you use too much weight
So there you have the 3 most commonly used methods for developing reactive/eccentric strength. There are video examples and technique tips for all of these different drills in our vertical jump exercise library.
In Reactive Strength Part 3 I will walk through some of the training parameters to consider when using these techniques including box height, volume, rest periods, load and so on.
Although all of the techniques mentioned here are effective for developing reactive strength these methods are by no means the only ones available to use. In Reactive Strength part 4 I will take a closer look at some of the newer methods being used to increase reactive strength.
Alternatively, you could save yourself a lot of thinking time and sign up to our vertical jump coaching program, and have us design you a custom training program with all your exercises, weights where applicable, sets, reps, rest, etc all set out for you.
Depth Jumps and Eccentric Strength - Terrific and very detailed article on depth jumps and eccentric strength from Shawn Myszka at Explosive Edge Athletics.
Plyometrics Part 1 - Part 1 of our 2 part plyometrics article covers some of the theory involved in this type of jump training.
Reactive Strength Part 1 - An introduction to reactive strength and why it is important for helping you jump high