The Power of Plyometrics | Put The Jump Back Into Your Training

Updated: Jun 18


an image of man performing a plyometric jump onto a a stack of tyres.

Article Contents

Introduction
The Benefits of Plyometrics Training
Plyometric FAQ
To Conclude
Best Plyometric Equipment

Introduction

Plyometrics! If you’ve ever wondered what that odd, seemingly technical sounding word means, this article is for you. But if you’re unsure as to what it means don’t fret, you’re not alone.


Surprisingly, few people who exercise and participate in sport understand what plyometrics is and how it can be used to enhance performance, which probably goes some way to explaining why so few exercisers incorporate plyometrics into their training. In truth, when I first heard the word used, I thought it was probably a mathematical theorem conceived by the Greek philosopher Pythagoras.


I later learnt that, though plyometrics isn’t a formula for explaining cosmic phenomena, it is a training methodology that can enhance physical performance. And while the concept doesn’t have Greek origins the name does: ‘plyometric’ is purportedly derived from the Greek word ‘‘pleythyein’, which means ‘to increase’ or ‘plyo’ and ‘metric’ meaning ‘more’ and ‘measure’’ (Watson 1995).


Actually, though the word connotes complexity, it is startlingly simple. ‘Plyometrics,’ as Chu defines it, ‘is the term now applied to exercises that have their roots in Europe, where they were first known simply as “jump training”’.


And there is the essence of plyometrics demystified: essentially it is the training methodology of performing explosive exercises such as ‘jumps, leaps, hops, rebounds, springs and throws’ all of which are ‘carried out with the expressed aim of engaging the stretch-shortening cycle’ (Watson 1995).


However, there’s a bit more to plyometrics than just jumping and it can be applied to a plethora of fitness disciplines, exercises and sports.


Before we have a look at the ways which plyometrics can be used in training, let’s firstly consider the science behind how it enhances physical performance.


The Benefits of Plyometric Training

Plyometric exercises are typically short duration explosive power movements, such as sprinting, box jumping or performing a clap-hand press-up. Such exercises engage what is called the ‘stretch-shortening’ cycle where the muscle rapidly contracts and relaxes.


When specific emphasis is placed on training the stretch-shortening cycle, a speciality of plyometrics, ‘the force developed in the positive or shortening phase is dramatically increased when the action is preceded by a rapid short eccentric contraction.’ In other words, explosive bursts can build a power base in the muscle which enables the muscle to deliver more force during a contraction.


this text box says: Plyometrics have been a popular method of training for athletes who seek to run faster, react quicker, jump higher and throw further. Watson (1995)

The capacity to exert more force during a muscle contraction, however slight the increase, should translate to improved performance irrespective of your fitness and/or sporting discipline. This is because ‘plyometrics or stretch-shortening cycle actions are common to most sporting events that involve running, jumping, throwing, turning and changing direction in an explosive manner’ (Watson 1994).


However, plyometrics isn’t just limited to these types of movement and is ever increasingly being applied to combat sports, CrossFit and Olympic lifting – and a whole host of other training disciplines too numerous to list. (I once watched an Olympic bobsled athlete perform a double footed jump onto a 1.5-metre box – and he executed the jump with disconcerting ease.)


In addition, plyometrics can be adapted to traditional callisthenic and resistance movements making them yield far more physical fruit. For example, a study cited in Exercise Physiology (2000) showed that when trainers added a ‘ballistic’ throw at the end of the traditional bench press exercise, they experienced ‘significantly greater average force, average power, and peak power outputs.’ Furthermore, the athletes were able to sustain higher levels of exertion at peak contraction; the point where the force that muscles generate drops off precipitously.


As well as developing power plyometrics can also improve muscular responsivity and the elastic qualities of the muscle-tendon complex. Muscular responsivity can be seen when the footballer, genially jogging the length of the pitch, puts in an almighty sprint to receive a pass. Another example of responsive muscle action is where the boxer unleashes a lightning-quick counter punch to exploit a fleeting window of opportunity. Of course, the ability to be able to react quicker, whether it be in a specific sporting situation or in everyday life, is highly advantageous and can be the difference between receiving the ball or marginally missing it, or landing the punch or it being parried.


The muscle tendon complex (MTC) is an expression of the force generated by the muscle and its subsequent redistribution through the tendon – but, to complicated matters further, the tendons can also act as power ‘amplifiers’ thus augmenting the force of the muscle (Fukashiro et al 2006). Analogously speaking, the muscles can be thought of as motors and the tendons as wires (and bones as rigid supports). When the motors are engaged, they exert force on the wires which translates into movement. Think of a crane hoisting a heavy load.


this text box says: Unlike ligaments and tendons, the other supporting structures, muscles possess a unique ability to impart dynamic activity to the body. Chu (1998)

MTC plays a crucial role in sport and exercise as it can enhance both the effectiveness and efficiency of performance. The stored elastic energy, similar in many ways to the stored energy in a compressed spring, which is channelled through the MTC, can be developed during dynamic movements.


Studies have shown that short, explosive contractions increase the muscle’s stock of stored elastic energy while also thickening the relative muscle fibre density. And there is a substantial body of experimental evidence showing that dynamic, plyometric movements, when adopted as part of a training programme, are ‘effective in improving athletic qualities’ that generally translate to positive physical outcomes (Watson 1995).


Other benefits of plyometric training include

Improved agility and body coordination
Developed proprioception (as you are required to concentrate more on the movement)
Enhances the power of the peak maximal contraction phase of a movement
Improves muscular responsivity
The impact can help strength bones and ligaments
Adds diversity to a training regime
Offers novel exercise modification options


Plyometric FAQ


So what does plyometrics mean?

Technically plyometrics is defined as ‘exercises that enable a muscle to reach maximum strength in as short a time as possible,’ (Chu 1998). Put more simply, plyometrics translates as ‘jump training’. But as this article has attempted to show, the explosive element of a plyo movement can be incorporated into almost all exercises and sporting disciplines, making this training methodology very inclusive.


When was plyometrics first used?

According to Donald Chu, author of Jumping into Plyometrics, ‘Interest in … jump training increased during the early 1970s as East European athletes emerged as powers of the world scene.’ When it became apparent that the secret source in these athletes’ exercise programmes was jump training, other coaches hastily adopted it. The methodology has grown in popularity ever since.


However, the word ‘plyometrics’ was ‘first coined in 1975 by Fred Wilt’ who was one of America’s ‘more forward-thinking track and field coaches.’ The name stuck and the training methodology has come to form a staple of the athlete’s training diet ever since.


What constitutes as plyometrics movement?

For a movement to qualify as plyometric, it must exhibit certain characteristics. For example, a plyo movement must be preceded by an eccentric contraction. Plyo movements are anaerobic and are thus ‘powered’ by the creatine phosphate energy system. Also, plyo movements are typically static and are initiated from a fixed position, as in the double-foot box jump. And finally, plyo movements are explosive and involve maximal muscle contraction.



To Conclude

This article has endeavoured to provide a surface level outline of the fitness benefits associated with plyometrics. However, since it was first conceived and adopted as a recognised training method back in 1970, much research has been conducted showing the multifaced ways which plyometrics improves athletic performance. Consequently, much interesting information has been omitted from this regrettably terse overview.


For a full and comprehensive treatment of plyometrics procure yourself a copy of Donal Chu’s excellent and highly informative book Jumping into Plyometrics.


But, if you are satisfied with the introductory insight offered in this article, and feel ready to incorporate plyometrics into your training regime, follow the link below:


Plyometric Training | Everything You Need To Know


Jumping into Plyometrics

First practiced by the dominant Eastern Bloc athletes of the 1970s, today plyometrics has become a mainstream form of training used by serious athletes around the world. The reason is that plyometrics offers athletes at all levels a proven, straightforward way to enhance their athletic abilities and to get an edge on the competition. This second edition of Jumping Into Plyometrics presents 100 illustrated plyometric exercises in seven categories: Jumps-in-place Standing jumps Multiple jumps Box drills Depth jumps Bounding Medicine ball exercises excellent for both recreational and elite athletes, the exercises can be used to improve quickness, speed, and jumping ability while also helping to develop better coordination, body control, and balance. This edition includes the latest research on plyometric training, a new layout with a much-improved format for drills, and sidebars on star athletes who have benefited from plyometrics.



Best Plyometric Equipment


Splay Agility Speed Training Hurdles (£18.75)

Product description (click image for availability)

These speed training hurdles, typically used to develop sports performance, are just the job for a beginner’s home gym plyo kit. Made from high-grade Polyethylene material, the Splay Classic training hurdles are perfect for plyometrics training and agility drills. The varying heights will enable you to practice varying intensity jumps and because they are both lightweight and flexible they reduce injury risk. The sizes of the 5 hurdles range from 6- to 15-inches.



POWERSHOT Hurdle Training Kit (£74.99)

Product description (click image for availability)

PowerShot’s hurdle kit is a step up from the previous product. These enable you to set some serious height jumps (see image above). And you’ll be able to jump with confidence thanks to the flexi-material and loose-fitting crossbar. Also, because there are multiple hurdles, you have the option of setting a plyometrics complex of ascending height jumps, which is a great way to develop explosive power.






BodyRip No-Bounce Slam Medicine Ball (£41.99)

Product description (click image for availability)

Moving away from plyo boxes for a minute, BodyRip’s no-bounce slam balls make for a multipurpose plyometric training tool. Beyond the single slam ball exercise outlined above, there are numerous ways which you can apply this piece of kit in a plyometric capacity. For example, there are the wall toss, push-out and throw exercises, all of which are great for developing upper body strength, and then there’s the power squat, jump and lunge exercises, which are great for developing explosive strength in the legs. BodyRip’s slam balls are perfect for this type of training for not only are they super-durable, but, more importantly, unlike standard medicine balls they don’t bounce.



Yes4All 3 in 1 Wood Plyometric box with 4 different Sizes (£58.85)

Product description (click image for availability)

For the price Yes4All’s nest of plyo boxes is an absolute steal. Built from high-grade plywood these plyometric boxes will provide a solid platform on which to jump. The advanced internal bracing design guarantees superior strength and durability so you can jump with confidence. And because they come in three different size they will enable you to vary the intensity of your jump training. This product also comes with a nifty feature: the puzzle box design boasts 4 different sizes available - 16x14x12”, 20x18x16", 24x20x16", 30x24x20" – and because they are fully stackable they save on gym space. Making them perfect for a home set-up.



BuoQua Plyometric Box Jump Platform (£166.75)

Product description (click image for availability)

BuoQua’s bomb-proof steel plyometric platform is a serious piece of kit for the person looking to really ramp up their training. For the price you get 4 boxes of varying sizes and they are fully stackable. Meaning, if you ever outgrow the tallest box, you can start stacking them together until you reach the moon – also it’s a great space-saving feature. The fact that they are constructed from steel means they’re going to be much heavier than the hurdles and wooden box (obviously). Consequently, they are NOT going to be as forgiving if you fail to surmount the platform. What am I trying to say here? If you don’t jump high enough, you’re going to face-plant – it’s as simple as that. But the solid rubber non-slip surface will ensure that, if you do safely clean the box, you won’t slip off the top when you fist punch a celebratory ascent.



Body Revolution Stackable Soft Plyo Box Set (£399.99)

Product description (click image for availability)

The price is worth it just for the aesthetic appeal alone. I love colourful kit, especially when it’s well made and thoughtfully designed. Each plyometric box has a different jump height, allowing you to progressively develop your training performance over time. The heights range from 15cm (Green), 30cm (Blue), 45cm (Red) and 60cm (Black). In addition, the boxes are fully stackable which not only saves on space but also enables you to create even more customisation and variability. For added durability and stability the boxes can be lashed together with the fixed Velcro straps.


Body Revolution boast that their plyometric boxes are built from a high-density EVA foam, providing a solid and secure base that reduces impact injury for any mistimed jumps. Furthermore, the soft padded landing platform also reduces impact shock to help protect joints and reduce injury risk. And finally, the tapered design results in a slightly wider base which further increases stability.



(As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)

Blog Author

Adam Priest, former Royal Marines Commando, is a personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.



References


Fukashiro, Senshi & Hay, Dean & Nagano, Akinori. (2006). Biomechanical Behavior of Muscle-Tendon Complex during Dynamic Human Movements. Journal of applied biomechanics. 22. 131-47. 10.1123/jab.22.2.131.

(https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6915454_Biomechanical_Behavior_of_Muscle-Tendon_Complex_during_Dynamic_Human_Movements/citation/download)


McArdle, W. D., Katch, F. I., Katch, V. L (2001) Exercise Physiology Fifth Edition. Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.


Watson A. W. S (1995) Physical Fitness & Athletic Performance. Longman. England.