Using Plyometrics With Other Training
Jump training and upper-body plyometrics are relevant to many sports. Gymnastics, diving, volleyball, and jumping events in track and field are all arenas where success depends on the athlete’s ability to explode from the standing surface and generate vertical velocity, linear velocity, or both in order to achieve the desired result.
But plyometrics is not a panacea in athletic conditioning. It does not exist in a vacuum, nor should it be thought of as a singular form of training. Instead, plyometrics is the icing on the cake—to be used by athletes who have prepared their tendons and muscles (through resistance training) for the tremendous impact forces imposed in high-intensity plyometrics.
Anaerobic conditioning, in the form of sprint or interval training, is essential to developing the stride patterns required in proper plyometric bounding. The explosive reactions of sprinting or of movement drills that require changes of direction can be performed as part of interval training (repeated efforts with measured recovery periods).
Done together, resistance training and anaerobic training help prepare the athlete’s body for plyometrics. In turn, plyometric training enhances the athlete’s ability to perform in resistance exercise and anaerobic activity—a true partnership in athletic training.
Resistance training is the ideal counterpart to plyometric training because it helps prepare the muscles for the rapid impact loading of plyometric exercises. In resistance training, the athlete works to develop the eccentric phase of muscle contraction by first lowering the body or weight and then overcoming the weight using a concentric contraction. Plyometric training can be successfully integrated with resistance training by immediately imposing a speed-strength task on muscles that have been subjected to pure strength movements such as those in weightlifting.
Open-chain resistance training (using machines that isolate a single joint) is useful for developing strength in specific muscle groups. However, athletes who use plyometrics also need to perform closed-chain exercises that involve multijoint activities, such as free weight exercises using barbells, dumbbells, and medicine balls. These exercises, which are generally performed with the feet fixed to the ground as in squatting, are more functional for athletes, allowing them to assume positions specific to their sports when they exercise. Closed-chain exercises have proven themselves to have much higher carryover value than isolated-joint exercises in developing athletic ability.
The more intense the plyometric exercises become, the more crucial the need for strength. Some of the early European literature spoke of the need for athletes to be able to squat 2.5 times their body weight before undergoing a training program. There is no doubt that those authors had a high-intensity program in mind—with a goal that might be unreasonable for the average high school or age group athlete. However, a strength requirement is part and parcel of plyometric training at all levels.
The parameters used to determine if an athlete is strong enough to begin a plyometric program may center more on testing of functional strength (including power) than on the traditional one-repetition maximum (1RM) squat that measures pure strength. One such test has been used by a number of practitioners in plyometric training programs. As a test of power more than strength, it may have more direct applicability. For the test, weight equal to 60 percent of the athlete’s body weight is placed on a squat bar, and the athlete is asked to perform five repetitions in five seconds, tested against a stopwatch. If the athlete cannot do so, the emphasis of the athlete’s training should be on a resistance training program, and the intensity of the plyometric training program should remain low to moderate.
Poor strength in the lower extremities results in loss of stability when landing, and high-impact forces are excessively absorbed by the soft tissues of the body. Early fatigue also becomes a problem for athletes without adequate leg strength. Together, these factors will result in the deterioration of performance during exercise and an increased chance for injury (as in any overuse situation).
Anaerobic, Sprint, and Interval Training
Plyometrics trains two anaerobic energy systems—the creatine phosphate system and the lactic acid system. The creatine phosphate system depends on energy stores that already exist in the muscles. Plyometric exercises that last a mere 4 to 15 seconds deplete the energy stores. In a program designed to train the creatine phosphate system, a considerable amount of rest or recovery should be allotted between exercises; the emphasis is on quality of work, not quantity. The lactic acid threshold is reached when the muscles’ energy stores have been exhausted by the creatine phosphate system. Exercise that proceeds past the point of using the energy stores will tax the lactic acid threshold. Exercise bouts at near-maximal effort that last around 30 to 90 seconds are appropriate for training that system.
In general, jumps in place, standing jumps, and depth jumps are short-duration activities used to train the creatine phosphate system. Multiple jumps, box drills, and particularly bounding can qualify as exercises for training the lactic acid threshold.
Training the creatine phosphate system is beneficial for athletes involved in sports that require quick bursts of power with long recovery periods between performances, such as the long jump or triple jump. Training the lactic acid threshold is helpful for athletes in sports such as football or volleyball, where activity is fairly prolonged and rest periods are more infrequent.
Sprint and interval training are running programs that require the athlete to perform high-quality efforts in training for a certain amount of time (usually around 30 to 90 seconds) with prescribed recovery periods. This type of training is closely related to plyometric training of the lactic acid threshold, but sprints are used instead of multiple jumps, box drills, or bounding exercises.
One of the many benefits of plyometric training is that it can be organized into circuits with other types of training. By moving from station to station, the athlete can do a variety of exercises that stress the vertical or linear components (or both) of various movement patterns. For coaches, circuit training also serves the purpose of group management very well. Entire teams can be involved in a circuit of plyometric exercises, thus ensuring some uniformity of exercise application and intensity levels.
By using circuits, athletes can perform activities of even greater duration than with anaerobic, sprint, or interval training. This may move the level of cardiovascular stress toward the point where improvement in aerobic conditioning occurs, resulting in increased stamina. The cumulative effect of circuit training is considerable, so the recovery period should be at least two days.