The Pre-Preseason: The power of plyometrics

Posted 7/14/2017 By Jeff Richter CSCS, USAW

Plyometrics is a popular training technique because it has potential to make athletes more explosive if utilized in a way that is properly designed and implemented.

These exercises produce a potentially significant impact because of neuromuscular and biomechanical factors all working in symmetry.

On the most simple of levels, plyometrics is based on the stretch shortening cycle (SSC) that takes place when an eccentric muscle contraction (the muscle being lengthened while under tension) is immediately followed by a concentric action in which the muscle is shortened through a contraction to display force and power.

The time that takes place between the eccentric and concentric actions is of crucial importance. Basically, the time must be as short as possible.

Elastic recoil that is produced in the tendons because of this SSC can result in a powerful concentric action which is precisely why training with plyometrics can make football players more explosive. By maximizing the positive effect of the myotatic reflex in the muscle spindles and minimizing the negative effects of the Golgi tendon organ, football players are preparing their neuromuscular system for the quick and explosive actions necessary to excel on the football field. 

What does all this mean for athletes and coaches? Here are three key plyometrics fundamentals to consider:

Remember that the engine doesn't matter without brakes. In football, the ability to decelerate is crucial for success. More directly, our ability to have body control as we change directions, land, stop-and-go and jump can all result in positive performance. A lot of people forget that the most important factor of plyometrics is first being able to teach your body how to "brake." When the neuromuscular system is taught how to brake through landing drills, change of direction drills, and weight training that emphasizes the eccentric and isometric phase of muscular contraction, we set ourselves up to be able to display our concentric actions with greater efficiency. Power can be produced on the football field with greater ability when our body is first trained to quickly decelerate force at slow and high velocities.

Emphasize strategic use of tempo during strength training sets. It would be a mistake if a weight training program for football only focused on the "up" (or concentric action) during a strength training exercise. To optimally train your neuromuscular system to decelerate force at varying velocities, putting an eccentric or isometric tempo on the exercise where the time spent "down" during a movement is emphasized and exaggerated can train an athlete to have strong braking ability. As an example, look at the squat. Squatting down for three seconds during the eccentric phase teaches an athlete to control the weight down and gets the braking ability of our muscles strong. Also, look at the countermovement jumps with a weight vest. Sinking into your hips and immediately jumping teaches the body how to quickly control force at high velocity during quick eccentric actions. There is not one single way to train these principles. However, careful manipulation of the sets, reps and tempo can produce the desired effect of preparing the muscular system for efficient plyometric training. 

Focus on biomechanically sound body positioning. Like most training, the ability to produce plyometric power is largely dependent on our positioning. For football especially, our bodies thrive when they are in good positioning and this is no different in plyometric training. For example, letting your knees cave in (what we refer to as valgus collapse) when landing or before jumping can result in injury or, at best, decreased power production. Consult a performance coach to determine if your plyometric program is optimizing the powerful effects of strategic joint angles. 

These tips are by no means are an exhaustive list; however, they are helpful to keep in mind when considering a plyometrics program.

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