The term “Plyometrics” was coined by an Olympic long-distance runner from the USA named Fred Wilt. After watching Russian athletes using various jumps in their warm-ups before track and field events, he came up with the term.
Plyometrics is essentially “Jump Training.” However, we can also describe upper body exercises that emphasize using the stretch-shortening cycle (stretch reflex) to produce an explosive movement as plyometrics. For example, plyo push-ups.
Yuri Verkoshansky (a Russian sports scientist) is often considered the godfather of plyometrics and is infamous for his “Shock Method” of plyometrics.
Shock training involves the athlete dropping from a set height before performing a vertical jump (broad/long jumps can also be used).
The two shock methods I commonly use are:
- Depth Jumps: More hip and knee bend – longer ground contact time.
- Drop Jumps: Less hip and knee bend – shorter ground contact time.
We often start an athlete on a 20cm-30cm box but can work up to 100cm – a great tip is to work at a box height that elicits the highest jump.
A lower box will minimize ground contact time and is more effective for building reactive strength. In contrast, a higher box will increase the ground contact time and, therefore, increases overall force production – I use a 30cm for greater speed development and a 50cm box for greater strength development.
The shock method is, of course, an advanced plyometric technique, and therefore, coaches would commonly recommend an athlete should be able to squat 1.5 x their body weight before dropping off high boxes.
This recommendation makes some sense when you consider the stresses involved with dropping off a 100cm box. However, this guideline was wrongly attributed to plyometrics as a whole.
It is key to understand that plyometrics range from basic to advanced, for example, an assisted pogo to a 100cm depth jump.
Chu (1998) recommended that athletes should be able to perform 50 squats at 60% of their body weight before taking on plyometric training – for me, that is currently 53kg for 50 reps.
I can definitely smash out 50+ reps at that weight. However, we can’t just broad-brush all plyometric exercises into one category.
Running is plyometric (sprinting is the fastest form of plyometrics), and yet we are more than happy for most people to pound the pavements. Many sports also require maximal jumps, and we don’t think twice about allowing children and youth athletes to jump.
Ultimately, when it comes to athletic development, plyometrics should be programmed to some degree at most levels, even if it simply teaches jump technique and builds the ability to tolerate landings.
If a coach is unsure about programming plyometrics, I usually recommend that they microdose the exercises into warm-ups rather than developing full plyometric sessions (15-minutes +) – add in a few ankle jumps, pogo’s, vertical and horizontal countermovement jumps, and sprints into the potentiation phase of a warm-up.
Initially, stick to 2-3 sets of 1-3 jumps on 2-3 exercises and build from there.
Do you program plyometrics, and what is your favourite plyometric exercise?