Applying Plyos

Plyometric exercises can safely build an athlete’s explosive power. Here’s how it’s done.

By Brian Roberts, MS, ATC

Brian Roberts MS, ATC, is a rehab and training specialist who is Director of the Sports Performance and Rehabilitation Center in Diamond Bar, Calif. He has extensive experience rebuilding explosive strength in elite and professional athletes.

Training & Conditioning, 11.9, December 2001,

Explosive power is a critical asset for athletes who play football, basketball, volleyball, soccer, hockey, and practically any other sport. This asset is crucial because it enables athletes to edge out competitors in acceleration, jumping, landing, and quickly changing direction.

Plyometric exercises are specifically designed to train an athlete's nervous system, muscles, and connective tissue to improve explosive power. The key to plyometric exercise is the development of the "stretch-shortening"cycle --a quick deceleration immediately followed by a powerful acceleration in the opposite direction. This article describes how to progress an athlete from beginning to advanced plyometrics and how plyometrics can help injured athletes regain explosive strength.

Plyometrics often are extremely intense exercises that, at the minimum, require a moderate level of aerobic capability and core strength before they can safely be applied. So, the first step for introducing an athlete to plyometrics is to start him or her on a six- to eight-week foundation training program designed to build cardiovascular fitness and core strength. In the case of a recovering athlete, this foundation will serve as a transition from a therapeutic regimen into advanced preseason conditioning and eventual plyometric exercise.

This foundation of core strength and cardiovascular exercise serves as an essential safety factor in any plyometrics program. Even the most highly skilled and coordinated athletes can be at risk of injury if they are not physically capable of performing basic jumping or stepping skills without becoming fatigued.

I suggest that the athlete not progress from foundation exercises to actual plyometrics until he or she is capable of maintaining 45 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise at 75 percent of VO2 max. In addition, an athlete must be able to demonstrate competency in the performance of foundation and core exercises. These would include box drills, step-ups, lateral steps, slideboard, and lunges.

Workouts designed to build this cardiovascular and core strength foundation should include some cross-training work starting with full-body, partial weight-bearing exercises on machines such as stair climbers or elliptical trainers. These machines are excellent tools for preparing the athlete for more intense exercise because they provide a conditioning regimen with a decreased amount of orthopedic trauma generated on the joints. Once the athlete attains minimum aerobic and core standards, he or she should begin activities that prepare for the transition to advanced plyometric training.

For athletes who are in a transition mode of training, only two days per week should be dedicated to plyometric and other anaerobic training. These days should focus on plyometrics in which sport-specific drills are used to enhance the athlete's ability to generate high-power output over a period of time.

If an athlete needs to do more than two days of plyometric training per week, make sure he or she is allowed proper recovery time. Plyometric drills should not be repeated on consecutive days. Table One provides some sample plyometric transition drills for basketball, football, and volleyball players.

Once the athlete is past the transition stage and is ready to do intensive preseason work, you can increase the amount and intensity of your plyometric drills. In order to safely proceed to the next level of intensity in the drills, the athlete must demonstrate competency in the technique throughout the drill. For example, when using a Shuttle MVP, the athlete must keep his or her upper body flat, head back, with a loose grip on the handles, and have no breaks or rests between sets. If the athlete is able to maintain explosive strength and proper form throughout the set, then he or she can proceed to the next level.

As your athletes make the transition to intense plyometrics, remember to institute exercises that are as sport-specific as possible. For example, slideboard exercises are particularly useful for developing lateral speed and agility for ice hockey players or side-to-side movements for shortstops (for more information about slideboard training, log onto and do a search for "slideboards"). Here are some examples that I find useful for baseball, basketball, football, and volleyball players:

Shuttle MVP training
• supine leaping, 2x10, three bands.
• alternate legs, 2x10, three bands.
• right leg only, 1x10, two bands.
• left leg only, 1x10, two bands.

Prone leaping
• one leg only with back straight, head up, and arms straight, 2x10, two bands.

Slideboard training
The athlete uses a 10-foot slideboard with sport-cord resistance either tethered to the wall or attached to the waist and ankle.
• 2x2 minutes, one-minute rest.
• 2x15- to 30-second sprints with resistance emphasizing sport-specific athletic position (knees bent, head up, back straight, arms bent and slightly out in front).
• 2x60-second running striders, sliding feet back and forth, lengthwise on slideboard, with a speed emphasis.

• 2x side-straddle hops, with repetitive jumping in place 60 seconds, then perform side-straddle hops from one BOSU to the other for 15 seconds.

Plyometric training can be carefully included in a rehabilitation program that is aimed at restoring an athlete's eccentric strength and endurance. However, due to the intense nature of plyometrics, injuries can occur if the athlete performs high-intensity exercises too soon. In addition, plyometrics can generate significant joint shear, so make sure the athlete is progressed based on efficient functional return. I recommend that athletes begin by using little or no eccentric loading, with no explosive component.

For example, a recovering athlete can be placed on the Shuttle MVP with no resistance bands in place, or only one resistance band. Then, the athlete simply finds his or her functional range of motion by doing an unloaded squat and toe raise.

Normally, the Shuttle MVP is used as a horizontal jumping device, but in this instance, the athlete is retraining his or her proprioceptors by utilizing a minimal amount of eccentric loading with no explosive component. Gradually, the squats and toe raises are increased in frequency and duration until the athlete is able to reproduce this motion upright and bear weight with little or no substitution. From there, the athlete can transition to more ballistic work--although you must continue to be cautious of joint trauma and shear.

Another example would be baby squats (with slight resistance added) and toe raises on a Shuttle MVP, transitioning to standing baby squats, toe raises, and, most importantly, step-downs from a five- to eight-inch step without experiencing breaking or momentary muscle failure. As the recovering athlete continues to develop strength and joint stability, he or she can progress to supine leaping on a Shuttle MVP with various bands of resistance added.

As mentioned earlier, putting a deconditioned or injured athlete into an intense plyometrics regimen can backfire, resulting in injuries and a discouraged athlete. To avoid this situation, keep the following tips in mind when creating your own performance program:

Keep it safe: Develop and modify training regimens to meet the needs of the athlete, not the other way around. Do not progress the athlete to the next functional step unless he or she can demonstrate good muscle control and strength. If necessary, make modifications in the program to ensure safety and success.

Emphasize proper technique: Just as with weight training, do not sacrifice technique for more weight. In other words, the athlete may progress to the next stage of training only after he or she understands how to use the equipment correctly, and can maintain proper technique.

Use a training calendar: A calendar will help your athletes understand the training schedule and the commitment required to safely build explosive strength. It will also eliminate any questions regarding the training schedule or rehab regimen. A normal training schedule will include three days of foundation-building work, with two to three days of weight training and power-oriented training that includes plyometrics, running, and agility drills.

Add nutrition and rest: It is impossible to properly train without adequate rest and nutrition. When developing the training calendar for your athletes, build rest days into their schedules. Those rest days are the most important commitment your athletes can make for their return to high-level competition. Nutrition should also get high priority. Some athletes look at food as a reward, or are completely ignorant when it comes to having fuel in the tank.

Listen to your athletes: If you are not effectively communicating with your athletes or seeking their input regarding the progress and relevance of their individual training programs, then they will not buy into the long-term plan. These workouts are difficult, and a serious commitment from the athlete is needed in order to be successful. Talk with your athlete, and work with him or her on the training schedule. Make scheduling modifications as necessary to keep the athlete focused. This will yield fantastic dividends in the future.

The most important point to remember about plyometrics is that the athlete must reach a level of conditioning that will allow him or her to safely engage in the exercises. Due to the intensity of plyometrics, many coaches restrict these types of drills to the preseason in order to reduce the possibility of overuse and stress-related injuries during the competitive season. Your job as a strength coach is to weave plyometrics into your total sports program in a way that safely and effectively boosts the sport-specific performance of your athletes.

TABLE ONE: Transition Drills

The following mix of plyometric and non-plyometric drills are examples of what I use for basketball, football, and volleyball players who have attained the minimum core and cardiovascular conditioning and who are making the transition to more intense plyometric routines. The following activities are done in one workout, two times per week:

• aerobic training on a dynamic device, 45 to 60 minutes. Elliptical trainers and stair climbers are ideal for this drill.

• box drills with sport-cord resistance, 2x2 minutes. Include step-ups, lateral steps, and step-downs.

• slideboard with resistance, 2x2 minutes. Use a five- to eight-foot slideboard for this drill.

• lunges, 2x50. Straight ahead and diagonals.

• Shuttle MVP with two to three bands, x10.
Have athletes perform individual sets using both feet, right leg only, left leg only, alternate left and right leg, on side lying right and left, and prone kneeling.

• BOSU training, 2x30. Include weight shifts, single hops, double hops, and squat jumps.

• hamstring curls, 2x to 3x30.

• gymnastic ball, 2x20. Supine, double leg and single leg.

• side hurdle hops, 5x6 (10 inches high for beginner, 15 inches for intermediate, and 18 inches for advanced athletes).

• rope jumping, 4x30 seconds, fast pace.

• side lunge hops, 5x30 seconds.