Plyometrics are a form of training that athletes often use to increase their power and speed. You may have actually come across some plyometrics-based programs aimed at improving your vertical jump. You may have even followed the programs yourself. And while plyometrics work great for some athletes, they work very poorly for others. But how do you know whether they will work for you? Read on.
First, let’s define plyometrics (sometimes known as jump traning from the definition of plyo meaning to jump). Don’t skip this, because if you think you know what plyometrics are, you’re probably wrong. Plyometrics in the traditional sense involve only 2 groups of exercises: depth landings and depth jumps. Depth landings are exercises where you drop or jump off an elevated platform and stick the landing. Depth jumps are exercises where you drop or jump off an elevated platform, and then jump right back up. That’s it. These are true plyometrics. So squat jumps, start jumps, and other jumping exercises don’t qualify as true plyometrics. That’s not to say that they are useless (they aren’t), but they aren’t plyometrics in the true sense of the word.
So back to the issue. How do you know whether plyometrics will work for you? Take this short test:
Do you have any pain in any of your joints?
Do you have optimal strength and flexibility around all joints?
Are you able to squat 1.5 times your body weight for at least 1 repetition?
If the answer to the first question is yes, then plyometrics will not work for you. Why? The reason is that if you have pain or some form of instability at one joint, your body will shut down your ability to produce force at other joints (even joints that seem unrelated). This process is called “central inhibition.” First, you have to take care of the pain at every joint before undertaking a training program. See a qualified healthcare practitioner.
Chances are you can’t answer the second question. You don’t know whether you have optimal strength and flexibility around all joints. Covering the assessment process for all joints in the body is far beyond the scope of this article, so it would be best to see a qualified professional. But let’s cover why this is important.
If you have strength imbalances around a joint, what happens is muscles expend their energy trying to fight each other, as opposed to getting you to jump high. Additionally, strength and flexibility imbalances create something called “shear forces.” Shear forces happen when joints glide against each other. When that happens, your chances for injury are increased. Repeat a movement with less than optimal muscle balance, and it’s only a matter of when you get injured rather than if you get injured.
If the answer to the third question is “no”, you may get some benefits from plyometrics, but not as significant as if the answer was “yes.”
You might be wondering why the necessity of squatting 1.5 times your body weight before plyometrics have a true effect. I’ll tell you. The more force you can put into the ground, the more the ground can “push back” at you. Elementary physics: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Let’s use an example. Let’s say that you weigh 150 pounds, and your max squat is only 100 pounds. That means that you only have 100 pounds of additional force to propel yourself into the air. Now what if your maximum squat is 225? Now, you have 225 additional pounds of force to propel yourself into the air. And yes, in case you’re wondering, increasing your squat strength without any additional plyometric training will increase your vertical jump all by itself.
If you don’t have any pain in any of your joints, if you have optimal strength and flexibility around all your joints, and if your squat is at least 1.5 times your body weight, you will gain some good benefits from plyometrics.
Just be careful how you use plyometrics. Most of the programs you find on the internet use too many exercises for too many reps, too many sets, and not enough rest. Sounds like a great recipe for injury.
In future articles, I will discuss the proper application of plyometrics, and where most generic plyometric programs go wrong.