The TRUTH About Plyometrics

PLYOMETRICS.

You’ve heard the term before.

Countless articles and videos have been published extolling the virtues of plyometrics for developing explosive power.

I’m here to tell you that most of what you’ll read and watch about plyometrics is completely WRONG.

The reason is because a lot of people call any type of jump a plyometric exercise. But this is inaccurate and will not help you understand where true explosive power comes from.

But as a reader here, you’re all about doing things RIGHT, so now, you’re going to understand what plyometrics really are and how to do them properly.

In this article, I’m going to explain the science behind plyometrics, how to use it to improve your explosive power and show you the difference between a simple jump and a plyometric exercise, and give you a few exercises you can use.

Let’s begin.

A Brief History of Plyometrics

The first book I read about plyometrics was by Don Chu called “Jumping into Plyometrics”, which was first published in 1992.

It’s a book big on exercises but short on background info. However, some of the background info is very good and accurate, even though many of the exercises contradict it.

When I first read it, I did probably what most would do and skimmed the 2-3 pages of background info to go right to the exercises.

But it’s not just about the exercise, it’s the precise way you perform the exercise that makes it effective. The thinking that goes into it.

While Chu’s book was the first big taste the west got of plyometrics, they were studied and being used in Eastern Europe since the 60’s, led by famous Soviet coach Yuri Verkhoshansky, who passed away in 2010 (RIP).

But the Europeans did not use the term plyometrics; instead, they used the term “shock method”, speaking specifically about the Depth Jump exercise.

It makes complete sense why, once you understand the physiology.

Physiology of Plyometrics (Translated from Geek)

True plyometrics harnesses the power of the stretch shortening cycle (SSC). If you’re not familiar with the SSC and you want some more depth, read this article, then come back here to continue.

To summarize, the SSC is a result of 2 phoneomena:

1) When a muscle lengthens at a rapid rate, invoking something called the myotatic stretch reflex, which is an automatic muscular contraction of a muscle when it is quickly stretched.

A common example of the stretch reflex is when the doctor plunks below your kneecap with a hammer and your quads contract, causing the knee jerk reaction.

To use this in training or to improve explosiveness, you rapidly lengthen the muscles involved in the movement you want to perform,  then quickly decelerate and contract those muscles to perform the desired movement.

2) Elastic energy that is created from stretching the elastic components of muscles (cross bridges, actin-myosin) and tendons.

Just like the stretch reflex, rapid lengthening and QUICK deceleration right into your movement is key.

And it’s these reasons why most exercises you see that are labeled as plyometrics are not actually so – because the time from lengthening to concentric contraction is too long to induce the stretch reflex and causing the loss of all elastic energy.

Supertraining by Mel SiffIn the classic book “Supertraining” by Mel Siff, he states, “If the transition phase is prolonged by more than about 0.15 second, the action may be considered to constitute ordinary jumping and not classical training plyometrics.”

This is why the Europeans refered to this as the “shock method” – because of the rapid change of direction of muscle action, the neuromuscular system must be as fast as lightning to coordinate the proper muscular action. Also, because of the rapid change, high forces must be controlled, which can be a shock to the body.

That’s why any true plyometric training must be performed by individuals who possess a base level of strength and have trained regularly, so their tendons and ligaments are ready for the high forces involved.

Strength Guidelines for Plyometrics

For lower body 2 foot plyometrics, a minimum level of strength required is a 5RM Back Squat with bodyweight. For 1 foot plyoz, I’d up that to at least a 5RM Back Squat of 1.5 x Bodyweight.

Without these minimum levels of strength in the Back Squat (or comparable exercise), the knees will get hammered and you risk a meniscus injury or problems with your patella, since the muscles won’t be able to absorb the force and it will all go into the other joint structures. And there’s nothing worse for explosive power development than injuring a ligament or meniscus.

For upper body plyometrics, a 1RM Bench Press of 1.0 x Bodyweight would be the minimum I’d recommend, for the same reasons as the Back Squat, except here it will be the shoulder and elbows taking the beating.

With these principles in mind, you now have the knowledge to distinguish between a simple jump and a true plyometric movement.

Now there is NOTHING wrong with simple jumping exercises. They train acceleration and force absorption.

But I’m sick of hearing simple jumps referred to as explosive plyometrics. Let’s get the terminology and science correct.

Now, I’m going to further your knowledge and give you a few exercises to work on in the video below. It’s quite a long vid (about 15 minutes), so watch it when you’ve got the time to take it all in at once.

Before we do that, you’ve got to understand the THINKING that goes into these exercises…

The best way to approach a plyometric exercise is to think of yourself as a ball – if you’re not bouncing like a ball would, you’re not utilizing the stretch reflex and/or elastic energy.

If this is not happening, you either need to build your strength, start with a lower intensity exercise., do fewer reps, or rest more between sets. Each and every rep should be bouncy.

Think quality, not quantity, my friends.

Now, the video:

Again, when doing plyoz, every rep must be good – once they’re no good, you stop.

In fact, this is a principle that applies to ALL exercises. Don’t program your neuromuscular system with bad motor patterns. You’ve been warned.

So that means short sets (15 secs or less), long rest (2-3 min) and a low number of total sets (3-6) and total exercises (2-3 at most, decreasing in intensity/complexity as you go).

When it comes to programming, think in BLOCKS.

Phase 1 (4 weeks) – Warmup, Plyoz (1 simple exercise like a standing Tuck Jump), Strength (2-3 exercises)

Phase 2 (4 weeks) – Warmup, Plyoz (2-3 exercises), Strength (1-2 exercises)

So a base strength phase then followed by a plyometrics-dominant phase works best performed 2 days per week, especially for fighters who are doing a bunch of other training (MMA, grappling, Wing Chun or whatever) on top of S&C.

That’s why I recommend linear/block periodization (like in the Ultimate MMA S&C Program)– because I only want you training strength or plyoz 2 days/week so you have energy and recovery ability for the rest of your workouts.

And that concludes my article and video on plyoz.

Thoughts?

Do you fully understand the concept?

If not, what don’t you understand?

I’m also interested in seeing if YOU can find on YouTube some exercises that are called plyometrics, but now knowing what you know, aren’t. Leave the link in the Comments below.

One last thing…

It’s good to be back.

It’s been too long since I wrote a solid training piece for ya’ll.

Missed you. 🙂

I’ve been focusing my efforts on my Kyoudai, who are the members of my new project called powerDOJO, FYI.

For now, I’m out, brutha.

PEACE~


Plyometrics QnA

As I was writing this post, I asked peeps on my Facebook page if they had any questions about plyoz that they wanted answered.

I received a flood of questions, so I've added those that I feel I haven't addressed in the article above here.

Enjoy and if you'd like, connect with me on Facebook, too.

Satya asks, "Are plyometrics for agility or strength?"

Plyoz are for explosive power and agility, not so much strength. Because you're training the elastic ability of muscles/tendons and you're not loading up with heavy weights, they won't build strength, but can help with strength building by making you faster.

Andy asked, "What are the best plyometric exercises for footwork, and Agility ladder for footwork for MMA/striking?"

Basic drills like the Pogo Jump are excellent for developing the ability to bounce in and out of striking range.

The agility ladder can help people learn to relax and coordinate their feet. But I find most people are too tight when doing the ladder and it then becomes ineffective.

Footwork in general should be trained more relaxed and bouncy and non-patterned, so I love shadowboxing to some good hip hop (I’m really feelin’ J Cole right now) and just getting into it more like dance. Be smooth and relaxed, not tense and rigid.

Nicolas asked, "How best to mix (if at all) "very heavy" squats/deadlifts + olympic lifts + functional light weight/bodyweight plyometrics? How to balance plyometrics and (strength) endurance training?"

I think I answered that above, think in blocks. Once you reach an intermediate/advanced level of training, trying to do everything at once is near impossible, unless all you're doing is training and your recovery and nutrition are PERFECT.

I would do a strength block, then o-lifting block, then plyometric block personally as a good model periodization.

Chris asked, "Why are plyoz placed at the start of a workout? Are there better exercises for quickness vs. explosive strength?"

Plyoz are done first because they are the most neurologically demanding exercises and can only be done effectively when your nervous system is fresh.

Kathryn asked, " My question is, how can we tell when we have reached the appropriate amount of stretch for the rebound?"

The stretch reflex is activated through decelerating either a fast moving and/or heavy load, because you must change the direction of movement and it will either be a brief eccentric or an isometric muscular contraction before changing to concentric. So the muscle might not stretch perceivably. You know if you're doing it right if you feel bouncy.

Mike asked, "Can you get equally fast doing sprints?"

Plyoz are not so much about pure speed, but power and quickness – the ability to change direction and/or explode.

Naomi asked, "Are they worth it (risk to benefit ratio) for the older (50+) crowd?

Depending on your goals, if it is general fat loss, not really. If it is to continually improve fitness, development of the strength base then moving towards plyoz is a possibility without injury, it’ll just happen slower and you’ll do less volume and lower intensity exercises.

Micayla asked, "How much more effective are plyoz than traditional weight lifting?"

If your goal is to develop explosive power, then they go hand in hand. You can get away with strength training to a point, at which your explosive power would be more further developed through the introduction of plyoz.

But they are not a replacement for traditional weight lifting if your goal is explosive strength and power.

Nikki asked, "Can you use plyoz for mass?"

Not really, because you're not stimulating the muscles enough. You need weight training with controlled movements to properly stimulate your muscles to grow.

Lloyd asked, "How do plyometrics affect adolescents and, what is the minimum age they can do them?"

I don’t really recommend them as most adolescents don’t have the proper body control to handle the forces, nor the desire or attention span required to properly learn how to perform them.

I could see most adolescents watching the video I posted and getting bored after 30 seconds because nobody almost died or got kicked in the balls.

For most youth, I would focus on strength training and proper movement patterns and general motor skills until about 16 years old, at which point if they’re strong enough, they can start to learn true plyometrics.

[Psssst – extra karma points if you hit ‘Like’ below. Extra super bonus karma points if you use the ‘Share’ button]

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Miroslav
Miroslav

Yo, coach E! I have a problem; when running more then 10 min per day for more then 4 times per week, with my tibial miscles – they hurt too much! So, do you think that by doing plyometrics, like pogo jumps, I can strengthen them and be able to run like crazy after? also, I do HFS (I have it for more then 2 years, and right now I’m finishing another 10 week-er) on a regular basis so I think that the hips are not the problem here… 🙂
thanks, E!

Reid
Reid

Thanks for this article. Would you use plyometrics in a position that requires great flexibility? For example, as a dancer, I want to be able to do split jumps. Would the following help me: going into a split and then trying to open the legs further and then letting them come down in the rapid pace described above?

Jayson Leisenring
Jayson Leisenring

Great information

destin
destin

Rope jumping* lol.

I found a video of the p90x guy doing plyo pull ups. Is he doing actual plyo pull ups? Or is there no such thing as plyo pull ups? http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=QCcC5CIfvbM&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DQCcC5CIfvbM&gl=NL

destin
destin

so jump roping at a decent level is also some sort of plyometric exercise? Man its actually quite a shock, so many exercises on the internet are NOT plyo’s. Thanks for sharing this Eric!

Marlon
Marlon

Hi Eric, im currently at university and doing a study on ‘ can combining Whole Body Vibration training and Plyometric training increase performance in agility ans speed’ . Its been difficult to find good plyometric exercises that can be done on a WBV platform ( PowerPlate etc…).
Have you any good one’s that i could use in the programme I only need between 6-10 exercises and mostly for lower body.
It would be a great help.
Thankyou

Eric
Eric

Uhhh, I don’t know about that dude. Doesn’t sound like the best idea to me – would really ‘f’ with your nervous system trying to do plyos on a vibrating platform. Sorry to say it.

vince
vince

Thank God someone else actually read Supertraining! Great job explaining how plyo and jumping differ.

Angelo
Angelo

Thanks for clearing this up for us.

Benji
Benji

what about footwear bud? I always thought barefooted were better as it feels like you’ve got the most control over takeoff and landing? or is that dangerous? s and c coaches at my college were always adamant about wearing “soft” sports trainers, but then again their description of plyos was any kind of jumping, which you’ve just explained is wrong, so i no longer have faith in them

Eric

For plyos, I’d definitely use shoes, but not super cushiony shoes. Nike FREE are good, NB Minimus. That small layer between the foot and ground will help avoid destroying the bones/joints in the foot.

Joe Chandler

Nice work Eric. I do a lot of cross training with clients and you did a good job of clarifying the terms in laymens language. As you said a lot is being refererred to as plyos that are not actually. Do you have any lateral exercises you suggest ?

Eric

It’s all about the principles Joe. Any type of lateral jump is fine, if done following the true plyometric method.