Every athlete wants to enhance their speed and jumping ability, but few understand that they can also be increasing their range of motion (ROM) at the same time. Learn Doug Fioranelli’s top 8 plyometric exercises ranging from basic to advanced.
When a new athlete comes into the gym and we go through the standard routine of a health history, physical assessment testing, and training goals; one of the most common goals I hear from the athletes, and even more so the parents, is the desire to increase speed and jumping ability.
I let the athletes and parents know that those are two very important athletic attributes to develop, and they are enhanced through much more than simply doing sprints for speed and jumps to improve their vertical.
I assure them that the best results are acquired through a properly structured program focusing on increasing the athlete’s necessary range of motion (ROM), building proper strength as the foundation for these movements, and then fine tuning the movements with power, agility, and appropriate plyometric training.
Most athletes and adults involved with sports have heard the term “plyometric training” and many associate it with explosive jumping movements, which is partially correct. A true plyometric movement involves a power movement, like a jump, only after a quick counter landing movement. The transition time between the landing time and the power phase is very short (between 0.1-.02 seconds) to allow for the best performance effect.
To further illustrate this type of training think of the muscles like rubber bands; when the body lands the muscles go into an eccentric loading phase that lengthens or stretches creating potential energy. When that energy is used immediately, within the 0.1-0.2 second timeframe, it creates a powerful concentric phase where the muscles lengthen and generate a powerful movement towards a desired direction.
Though conceptually simple and very beneficial for sports performance, it is very important to establish a good foundation and progressively program the athletes into training programs to get maximal benefits and avoid some serious injuries along the way; in this article I will explain exactly how to do so. I will be primarily focusing on plyometric training for the lower body since it is more popular and relevant to increasing speed, agility, and power.
First thing is first; athletes need a good foundation of strength and proper movement mechanics. Being able to squat and lunge through a full ROM with control and stability is mandatory. Once this is achieved being able to perform the same movements with an external load is essential.
During the landing of even a small jump, the body absorbs the weight of the body as well as the force of gravity; being able to perform the movements using bodyweight only is not enough to deal with the force of gravity coupled with bodyweight.
If the knees or ankles collapse during the landing, at the very least, the athlete is not generating maximal transfer of power due to their body structure not being aligned and energy is leaking improperly through the limbs. If the athlete performs plyometrics poorly for a longer period of time the injury risks become more probable.
Injuries to the Achilles tendon, shin splints, and patellar tendinitis are all possible when doing plyometrics with poor movement mechanics and a low strength foundation.
After the foundation is built and the athlete is ready to add plyometric movements into their training there are some things to consider.
Like all exercises, there are different levels to the plyometric exercises and the exercises should be appropriately in accordance to the age, sports and ability of the athlete.
Even using low-level plyometric exercises the power and energy expenditure is going to be around 90-100% of the athlete’s ability. Simply stated; it is very difficult to perform plyometric exercise slowly with half effort.
With the amount of speed, power, and energy required to perform these movements they are best done towards the beginning of the training day, after the warm up and before big lifts like squats and deadlifts which can drain strength and tax the central nervous system.
Start off with low volume (low sets and reps) and gradually increase as the athlete gets better throughout the weeks. Where plyometrics are considered, especially at the higher level exercises, the quality of movement could depend on how well recovered the athlete is. If they had a tournament or heavy training a day or two earlier they might not be rested enough to perform optimally. Take each athlete’s physical readiness session by session and always stop the movement if form breaks down.
Low-level plyometrics are ones I deemed as entry level exercises that introduce the athlete to plyometric training and get them moving quickly and explosively in different directions. These are considered low-level because they are relatively easy to learn, carry over well towards the more challenging movements and are generally low risk exercises in terms of injuries.
Forward and Backward Hops have the athlete with their feet close together and hoping 6-10 inches forward and then immediately hopping the same distance backward. Initially start the movement slowly to ensure proper mechanics with joint alignment and body looseness. As the athlete gets used to the exercise the speed can be picked up as well as the repetitions.
Side to side hops start with the same set up as the forward and backward hops with the difference having the athlete moving side to side.
Jump rope training could either be a low or intermediate exercise because of the coordination requirement of the upper and lower body as well as the timing of jump as the rope rotates. If the athlete has never skipped rope or has not done it for a long time this exercise is worthless unless they can string at least 10 repetitions together in unison. Jump rope trains the ankles and the surrounding muscles in a reactive fashion to move the body vertically.
The next plyometric progressions are slightly more challenging for the athlete because they require more coordination to perform properly.
Speed Skater Hops are similar to the side to side hope however the athlete must decelerate their body after a lateral bound with only one of their legs. When starting out have the athlete do short bounds to reinforce proper landing and avoid over-travel where the athlete does not absorb the momentum properly causing them to lose their balance and continue to fall towards the side they are jumping.
It is ok for the free leg to travel behind the leg that is decelerating the body to counter the force and help maintain balance with the movement. As the athlete gets more proficient with the movement have them just as far as the can while maintaining proper alignment and technique and increase the speed between jumps limiting the ground contact time.
Low Box On/Off Hops are one of my favorite exercises for my athletes which teach them to be reactive while moving towards an elevated surface. The athlete will spring up to a box of approximately 12 inches in height and then immediately hop backward off the box, properly absorb and force and repeat back to the platform. As the athlete becomes more quick and consistent with the distance they are jumping, increase the number of repetitions.
Advance level plyometric training is for the athletes who have a strong foundation with the basics and a great understanding of proper movement.
Knee Tuck Jumps start from a squat position and the athlete explodes upwards and tucks the knees towards the chest at the top of the movement. As the athlete moves downwards they will go right back into the squat, absorbing the force properly and go right into the next repetition.
Alternating lunge jumps are challenging to replicate the landings with proper form and alignment. I like this plyometric exercise because it teaches the legs to absorb and transfer force in both a quadriceps (rear leg) and hamstring (front leg) dominant position. We all know that sports are not patterned in their movements and being able to absorb force in many different leg positions is not only key to higher performance but invaluable for injury prevention.
Depth Drops to Jump has the athlete stepping off a box, landing properly and immediately going into a vertical jump. As the athlete becomes more proficient with the exercise you can increase the size of the box they are dropping from and/or you can have them jump up on top of another box after the landing.
There you have a list of polymetric exercises for sports performance and their progressions. Add them to you or your athlete’s program, progress them appropriately and watch their athletic performance increase dramatically.