Plyometric training was first introduced in the United States by a Track and Field coach, Fred Wilt in 1975. The core idea behind plyometrics is the idea of reactive power; essentially, an aggressive lengthening of muscle fibers (eccentric phase), followed by a powerful shortening of muscle fibers (concentric phase). Reactive power is another way of saying stretch shortening cycle. The stretch shortening cycle utilizes sensory receptors in the belly of muscles called muscle spindles. Muscles spindles are sensitive to change in length and the speed of the change in length. The faster the muscle spindles are stretched, the faster and more powerfully the muscles contract in response to the stretch. The stretch shortening cycle has three primary phases: (Baechle, 2008)
- Eccentric loading phase: Muscle stretching.
- The amortization phase: The transition after the eccentric portion, and before the concentric portion.
- Concentric phase: Muscles contracting in response to the change in length.
There a couple ways of making the concentric phase more powerful, they are a fast eccentric loading phase, and a quick amortization phase (so, no pause).
How we commonly mess up plyometric training
There are plenty of ways that we commonly mess up plyometrics in our training, some of the common ways are:
Calling anything that involves jumping, such as box jumps, plyometric training
- The problem with calling jump training plyometrics is the lack of the eccentric loading on the muscles, tendons and ligaments. There is little, or no loading phase. Plyometric jumps are defined by the incredibly small ground reaction time, or the turnover from being in the air, hitting the ground, and being in the air again.
Utilizing plyometrics as conditioning, or even the entire workout
- Trying to use plyometric training as the entire workout is just silly. Plyometric training, when done properly, is very intense and hard on the body, and should be programmed with volume in mind. Also, there are detrimental factors of performing plyometric jumps with improper form. When it comes to plyometrics, quality is always more important than quantity.
And lastly, labeling plyometrics as some miracle fat burning exercise plan
- The last mistake goes hand in hand with the previous statement. Using plyometrics as a fat burning miracle workout is silly. Yes, you will burn calories, but the demand of volume is entirely too high to have an entire fat burning session of plyometric training.
How to perform plyometric training efficiently
To properly perform plyometrics keep these four things in mind:
- You must have a loading phase; for example, drop jumps.
- You must have a fast amortization phase; meaning, the time on the ground must be very, very short.
- Keep volume in mind: Do not put your athletes through a two hour session of plyometrics and expect them to improve, in fact, they will most likely get injured.
- Lastly, quality over quantity: Keep an eye on your athletes, if the exercises are getting sloppy, take a break and do something less demanding.
True plyometric training is focused around improving the muscle-tendon unit as well as the stretch reflex. Plyometrics are designed to improve power.
What is Sport Specific Training?
The common misconception is that sport specific training is done in the gym, but the reality is sport specific training should be done primarily in team practices. Movements in sports require precision and coordination which are most efficiently trained during team practices. Sport specific training, however, should be accented with physical fitness (Baker et al., n.d.) (Thompson et al., n.d.). If you are fit and skilled in your sport, you will perform better than an athlete is less fit but equally skilled.
How we commonly mess them up
It is common to see strength and conditioning coaches put athletes through exercises such as loaded bat/racquet/club/stick swings. The reason this is detrimental to sport specificity is the idea stated above, that sport movements require precision and coordination. By loading the implement and swinging away you are taking away from both the precision and coordination of the movement you are trying improve and are actually training improper motor patterns.
How to perform efficiently
The primary take away for a strength and conditioning coach is to focus on the specific force generation patterns, not necessarily the exact movement. For instance, in sports that an implement is swung, it is beneficial to work on weighted, and powerful trunk rotation; for instance, lateral med ball tosses. Or for athletes that throw or kick, focus on the primary muscles groups that perform the desired force generation pattern.
What is Functional Training?
Functional training might be the most distorted out of the types of training discussed in this post. If you want a plethora of examples of what functional training is NOT, google image search ‘functional training.’ Functional training is simply training that targets and improves specific motor patterns in sport, and daily living (Boyle, 2004). For example, everybody sits down and stands up, thus a squat is perfect functional exercise for the average person.
How we commonly mess it up
It seems that personal trainers get the worst rap for prescribing improper functional training. It is common to see personal trainers put their client’s through odd looking, unsafe, unstable surface exercises and labeling it functional training. The question I pose is: What sport-related motor pattern, or daily living motor patter is getting targeted while trying to do a barbell squat on a swiss ball (yes, I have seen pictures of this)? If you answered none, you are correct. Being unstable does not automatically make an exercise functional. In fact, most of the time it takes away from functionality because it is dangerous, and you cannot overload your muscles due to the biomechanical disadvantages of being off balance.
How to perform efficiently
As I touched on above, to perform functional training appropriately and efficiently you must target and aim to improve specific sport and daily living motor patterns. For example, squatting, lunging, deadlifting, pushing exercises, pulling exercise, loaded carries; these are all examples of functional training because they improve motor patterns of sport and daily living. Sure, you can use accessory exercises to help even more, especially focusing on your personal weaknesses, but they are just that, accessory exercises, not functional training.
- Baechle, T. (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning (3rd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Baker, J., Cote, J., & Abernethy, B. (n.d.). Sport-Specific Practice and the Development of Expert Decision-Making in Team Ball Sports. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 12-25.
- Boyle, M. (2004). Functional training for sports. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Thompson, C., Cobb, K., & Blackwell, J. (n.d.). Functional Training Improves Club Head Speed And Functional Fitness In Older Golfers.Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 131-137.