Chapter 17 – Plyometric and Speed Training

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Chapter Objectives:

  • Give details on the mechanics and the physiology of plyometric and speed enhancing exercises.
  • Know the phases of the stretch-shortening cycle.
  • Discover the different roles of plyometric and speed training.
  • Give device on the proper use of equipment during plyometric exercise performance.
  • Make safe and effective plyometric and speed training programs.
  • Instruct on the correct plyometric and speed training technique and recognize common errors.

Plyometric Mechanics and Physiology

We use power to define the relationship between speed and force. 

We have two proposed models to explain the increased production of muscular power.

Mechanical Model of Plyometric Exercise

In this model, energy known as elastic energy is stored after some rapid stretch and then released during the following concentric action by the muscle. This will increase the total force production of the concentric contraction.

The function of the musculotendinous unit is related to three mechanical components: the series and parallel elastic components and the contractile component.

The series elastic component, or SEC, is the primary contributor to force production when we are plyometrically exercising. It is mainly made of tendons and very few muscular components.

The SEC acts as a spring when the muscle is stretched in an eccentric contraction and stores the energy. The muscle then uses this stored energy as soon as a concentric contraction starts, thus improving the total force produced. 

If a concentric action does not happen immediately, the stored energy is lost via heat.

Neurophysiological Model of Plyometric Exercise

This model deals with a change in the force-velocity characteristics of the contractile components of the muscle that are affected during a stretch.

The contractile force s increased with the stretch flex’s use.

The stretch reflex is an involuntary response in the body when an external stimulus causes a rapid stretch within the muscle.

The response is a signal going to the spine and telling the return message to give a concentric muscle contraction to offset the eccentric stretch.

It responds at the same rate of stretch in the muscle.

The best example of this is the reflex test that the doctor uses when they tap your patellar tendon and it causes the knee jerk we all know. The faster the stretch, the greater the contraction.

Stretch-Shortening Cycle

The SSC, as its also called, is a model used to explain the SEC and its ability to store energy and stimulate the stretch reflex that will maximally increase muscle recruitment over the smallest amount of time possible.

There are three distinct phases.

Phase 1 is the eccentric phase, where there is a stretch of the agonist’s muscle. During this, energy is stored, muscle spindles are stimulated, and a signal is sent to the spinal cord.

Phase 2 is the amortization phase, and this is when there is a pause between the eccentric and concentric phases. In this phase, the nerves synapse within the spinal cord, sending a signal to the stretched muscle.

Phase 3 is the concentric phase, where the shortening occurs in the muscle fibers of the agonist’s muscle. Here, elastic energy is released from the SEC and a nerve stimulates the stretched muscle.

When to Use Plyometric Exercise

Plyometric Training and Sport Performance

The plyometric components need to mimic the sport of choice for the client.

Producing more muscular force at faster speeds will always increase sports performance. 

Plyometric Training and Work Performance

This increase in performance may apply to jobs also. When looking at jobs that require physical exertion of some kind, like police officers, firefighters, or maybe military training, this is, of course, most beneficial.

Plyometric Exercise and Injury Prevention

It is always important with plyometric exercise to know how to decrease the risk of injury since it is greater with plyometrics. 

Research shows that the chance of injury always decreases following plyometric training programs. 

Clients develop the ability to control their joints within the kinetic chain when performing an SSC and focusing on biomechanics and the correct technique.

The focus of training should be put on proper landing and jumping techniques. 

Joint stability is improved greatly with this training and, thus, the ability to control the body. This decreases the risk of injury in joints, especially in the knee. It can also reduce falls that could fracture bones.

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The eccentric control portion of plyometric training is also a big part of the training.

Safety Considerations

Age and Maturity

Plyometric training puts a lot of stress on the body, so the client’s health mustn’t be compromised in any way.

Current research points to safety and may benefit from plyometric training in youth.

Youth bodies are very moldable and adept at learning motor skills, so they will benefit from the aspects of plyometric training. We see improvements in bone mass and decreases in sports injuries.

Adolescents will develop bone strength, balance, and coordination.

The other population to worry about, and typically more so, is the aging population. Older adults have decreasing bone strength and even degeneration within their joints, so it may be most beneficial to avoid any high intensity plyometric training they might do.

So, since high intensity plyometrics are out for older adults, we look at using low intensity plyometrics to ensure safety and eventually lead to moderate intensities. 

It isn’t just important for all ages to be physically mature, psychologically, and mentally. 

Posture, Flexibility, and Stability

Many drills require clients to move in nontraditional directions. This requires proper support for the client. 

The client must be able to hold the half squat position correctly, as it is involved in most moves. Once it is held properly and then progressed to a double leg squat, low intensity plyometrics can be done. 

To progress further, the single leg squat should be perfected next. Like with double leg drills, you must hold on to one leg for 30 seconds because the drills require similar strength.

Strength

Strength levels should be considered when introducing plyometrics.

For plyometrics with the lower body, we need to have a one rep max on the squat at 1.5 times the person’s weight.

For plyometrics with the upper body, clients over 220 pounds should bench their 1RM equal to their weight, and those under 220 pounds should have a 1RM 1.5 times their weight.

5 Clap pushups are an alternative way to measure upper body readiness.

These guidelines are a good rule of thumb and something to shoot for, but they are always necessary for low and moderate plyometric activities.

Speed

Speed of movement is a more specific requirement and is there due to the need for quick movements.

Clients typically should be able to do 5 reps of 60% of their body weight in 5 seconds for the lower body plyo training.

For upper body plyo training, they should typically be able to do 5 bench presses with 60% of their weight in 5 seconds.

Landing Position

A landing technique is needed for the maximum effectiveness of the exercise and, most importantly, the minimized risk of injury.

The proper form should be taught for all of the exercises.

Medical History

We should review the forms of exercise done, joint structures, posture, body type, and any old orthopedic injuries before the start of plyometrics.

Physical Characteristics

Client size matters a lot with plyometrics. 

Clients over 220 pounds are at a much higher risk. High volume and high intensity plyometrics should thus be avoided.

Equipment and Facilities

Landing Surface

These need to have proper shock absorbing features but also not be soft enough to increase transitions between eccentric and concentric. 

Harder surfaces can be something that clients will progress to for greater rates of energy return.

Training Area

Space requirements always depend on the drill, but the least required is typically 33 yards straightaway and up to 109 for the running and bounding drills.

The optimal height is 9.8 – 13.2 feet.

Equipment

The boxes and depth jump need sturdy surfaces and are not slippery. 

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Boxes are 6 – 42 inches tall and 18 by 24 inches of landing space. 

Plastic cones are flexible.

Stairways, bleachers, and stadium steps are checked to meet safety requirements like the surface with the boxes and sturdiness.

Medicine balls are easy to grip, durable, and have different weights.

Proper Footwear

Footwear provides good ankle support, lateral stability, and wide, nonslip soles.

Supervision

Clients must be closely looked at when doing plyometrics. The importance is on the improper form, as injury risks are higher. 

Plyometric Program Design

Needs Analysis

These factors help with client analysis.

Age – Is the client predisposed to injury?

Training experience and current training level – Have they trained with resistance? If they have, what types of exercises? What about a plyometric program? When?

Injury History – Is the client injured? Have they had any that will affect the ability of the client?

Physical testing results – What abilities relate to their muscular power production?

Training goals – What does the client want out of this?

Incidence of injury in a client’s job or chosen activity – What is the risk of injury in the client’s activity of choice?

Mode

Lower Body Plyometrics

These are appropriate for any sport, nonathletic activity, or occupation needing muscular power production or quick direction changes.

This training will allow more force production in shorter amounts of time.

Upper Body Plyometrics

Several sports or activities like golf, baseball, softball, and tennis require these.

These are not done as often as lower body plyometrics and are less studied.

Intensity

This is the amount of effort the muscles, connective tissues, and joints do during the performance of exercises. It is controlled by drill type and the covered distance.

Intensity is always kept lower for people that are just starting a program.

Frequency

This number of plyometric sessions done in a week depends on the client’s age, ability, and goals.

Frequency and intensity are proportionally inverse. When frequency goes up, the intensity goes down.

Recovery

Instead of focusing on frequency, many trainers look at the recovery time, as it’s very important with plyometric training due to the increased muscular effort and muscle recruitment.

Volume

This is the total work done within a single workout session and is typically seen as the number of reps or sets done in the session. We also use the term contacts per session. For plyometric bounding, we will express it as distance covered.

Beginners don’t need to exceed 30 minutes in time for their plyometric sessions.

Progression

As with all training programs, progression is important and must follow the principles of progressive overload (the increase in frequency, volume, and intensity).

Warmup

Plyometric sessions need to begin with both general and specific warmups. This is due to the higher skill level required for these movements.

Speed Training Mechanics and Physiology

All sports success depends on the speed of execution for movements. Doing the ability given within the least amount of time is always valuable.

Speed Training Definitions

Speed-strength is the application of maximum force at a high velocity.

Speed-endurance is the ability to keep running speed over extended times.

Sprinting Technique

Posture

The body leans forward about 45 degrees for 13 – 16 yards when accelerating. After the distance, the client will move to a 5 degree lean with max speed being reached.

It is viewed as a controlled fall.

Leg Action

The driving phase and the recovery phase are highlighted here. 

The driving phase sees the lead foot being driven by the extensors and landing on the lateral aspect of the forefoot in front of the client’s center of gravity. The quadriceps contract to prevent excess knee flexion and loss of elastic energy. The glutes and hamstring then contract to pull themselves over the center of mass, and the client then plantar flexes the foot once the hip crosses the foot. Ground contact time is minimal.

The recovery phase starts when the client’s foot leaves the ground. The ankle is dorsiflexed immediately after the great toe is extended. This gets ready for ground contact and optimal pushing. 

Arm Action

Each elbow is at 90 degrees. Movement is front to back from the shoulder and minimally in the frontal plane. This aggressive backward hammering occurs in opposition to the legs to balance the body and give momentum to the legs.

Acceleration

It takes 13 – 16 yards for the person to accelerate properly with the right technique. The first few yards focus on increasing stride length and velocity. The foot strike happens behind the body due to the initial lean.

Speed Training Program Design

Mode

The mode is determined by the characteristics of the speed that the drill is designed to improve.

There are three areas of focus: form, stride length, and stride frequency.

Intensity

This is the physical effort needed during the execution of a drill; the drill type controls it and the distance covered.

Frequency

This is the number of speed training sessions done weekly and depends on the client’s goals.

Recovery

These speed training drills involve max efforts and thus will require adequate recovery to ensure you can give max effort with each rep.

Volume 

This refers to the number of reps and sets done during a session and is typically seen as the distance covered.

Progression

This will follow the principle of progressive overload, just like the other resistance training methods.

Warmup

Since these speed training sessions are included with the plyometric training, they will always have both a general and a specific warm-up to ensure proper readiness for these movements.

Speed Training Safety Considerations

Pretraining Evaluation

To reduce injury risk when doing speed training, clients need to know the proper form and have adequate levels of strength and flexibility.

Physical Characteristics

Before beginning a speed training program, finding and reviewing joint structure, posture, body type, and previous injuries is necessary.

During a speed training program, previous spine, lower extremity, and upper extremity injuries and abnormalities will increase the risk of injury.

Technique and Supervision

Proper movement patterns and sprint technique should be demonstrated and monitored throughout the exercise.

Exercise Surface and Footwear

The landing area needs to have adequate shock absorption for speed training drills, just like with plyometric training. 

Use footwear with good ankle support and wide, nonslip soles.

Combining Plyometrics and Speed Training With Other Forms of Exercise

Resistance, Plyometric, and Speed Training

Combining these three training types requires careful consideration for optimal recovery and performance maximization.

In general, for the lower body, only one of the training types should be done in one day.

It is appropriate to combine lower body resistance training with upper body plyometrics and upper body resistance training with lower body plyometrics. 

Heavy resistance training and plyometrics within the same day are not the best ideas.

Traditional resistance exercises may be combined with plyometrics to enhance muscular power.

Plyometric and Aerobic Exercise

Many sports will need both power and some form of aerobics.

Multiple types of training should be combined to prepare the clients for their sports.

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Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

Tyler Read


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