Andy Kay looks at why these kind of bounding exercises are useful for athletes entering their winter block of work
With plyometrics, we’re not necessarily training the muscles, we’re looking to train the tendons and the nervous system and utilise what we call the stretch shortening cycle (SSC).
We’re trying to use that neurological feature to make us faster and more efficient.
The SSC is what happens when we land and quickly push off. It is what gives us the power and elasticity or bounce.
Using running as an example – as your foot hits the floor, your Achilles tendon starts to eccentrically lengthen and that lengthening creates a reflex or contraction within the muscle itself. The tendon stiffens and then starts to absorb the force before that eccentric load is converted into a concentric output and we take off.
Think of your Achilles as like a spring. You’re loading it when you land, it’s got a little stretch and then it bounces back and that pushes you off.
The more efficient you are at using that, the less muscular effort and the less metabolic effort is expended when running. The more efficient you are, the faster you can go.
In terms of training that, plyometric exercises are really your golden egg.
The minimum dose
We always like to start with extensive, rather than intensive, plyometric exercises which means we can do a lot of them at quite a low cost.
With all plyometrics, it’s all about the minimum dose and getting your body used to them. What typically happens is that people do too much too soon and we get things like shin splints or stress reactions. Start with adding them to your training maybe one or two days a week.
As a beginner you want to keep things under maybe 60 to 80 foot contacts for the entire session. Each impact is one. It’s all about quality rather than quantity and at max effort.
Make sure you have plenty of rest – maybe two to three minutes – between sets and try to avoid doing these on very hard surfaces.
Drop holds: Before you do any kind of jumping we want to make sure you can land and this is a good way to practice. Take something like a 12-inch box – nothing higher than that – and all you have to do is to step off and land on the floor, but go as quietly as possible. You’re looking to land flat-footed but with the weight bias slightly toward the balls of your feet. Knees over toes, slight hip hinge, head up, chest up. That forms the foundation for the exercises to come. Start with three sets of five.
Pogos: There are little two-footed bounces with your legs pretty much straight and your ankles nice and stiff. It’s just getting that little bounce and using the elastic energy in your Achilles. You’re not yielding and squatting into it. It’s very stiff. Imagine yourself being like a ball of rubber. Three sets of eight to 10.
Box jumps: This is not technically a plyometric but it does help build that speed and force output. In terms of how high to have the box, I would say jump as high as you can, but we always want to land in no lower than a 90-degree squat. Also step down off the box. Three sets of four to six reps would work well for these.
Drills: Standard warm-up exercises like A-skips and B-skips are a really good way to sneak in an extra dose of plyometrics.
See ppconditioning.com for more
» This article first appeared in the August issue of AW magazine
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