How Heavy??? Building a Foundation for Plyometrics
Updated: Feb 23
Right, so you have pushed your heavy strength, can comfortably squat in the range of 1.5 to 2.5 x bodyweight and are ready to add power on top. Did we not cover that? Well, let’s jump in. Plyometrics (plyo) are not simply an easy-access, no-equipment-required, 10-minutes-is-all-I-can-afford shortcut to strength. Plyo is the cream on the cake, the conversion of strength into dynamic, uber efficient power! With a potential of 8 x body weight (1) (and that’s when you are landing on 2 legs) of force being absorbed by your joints and tissues with every contact, it certainly needs to be programmed with respect. Fortunately, there are some simple guidelines to make sure you can jump into plyo with minimal risk and maximum reward.
Back in the USSR
Russia is the birthplace of plyometric training, coining the term “pliometric” or “shock method” training in the 1950’s to describe forceful eccentric contractions, and have been using them as a means of maximising performance ever since. Russian female endurance athletes are required to squat 2.25 x body weight before plyometrics are added into their program when they begin a graduated progression from low to high impact, building the number of contacts in a session (2). Some key info here is the focus on the eccentric action and not the jump itself. This means that the benefit gained from box jumps is the landing phase (tissue development) and not the neurological benefit of seeing how many of those velcro boxes you can stack on top of each other and still stick the landing, regardless of how many views that insty vid gets. There are many better, safer, and easier ways to boost your neurological gains. To continue with the example of box jumps, these are an excellent introduction to plyo as the impact is minimal (2 x bodyweight), comparable to skipping and running, and allows your tissues some gradual exposure before we leap into the serious multiples of bodyweight.
Quality Movement Patterns
To perform a full depth squat with 2 x bodyweight on your shoulders requires considerable strength combined with ample mobility and sound technique. Due to the very high impact of plyometrics, it is necessary to build a solid foundation of heavy strength with quality movement patterns. Ensuring you have the pre-requisite strength and resilience of your tissues and can land and absorb forces fluently allows you to maximise the plyometric superpower.
The movement technique that you learn through lifting heavy weights is essential to ensure that you only benefit from high impact plyometrics without risking injury. The risk of injury is obviously a very real consideration if the best in the world have strict guidelines on its application.
This is the simple part. Stress + Rest = Growth. To allow your body to best adapt to plyo, program in 6-8 weeks at a time, then enjoy 6-8 weeks of other strength, such as good old heavy strength. This reduces the likelihood of injury while maximising benefits. If you are working towards high impact plyo such as drop jumps and depth jumps, I recommend taking your time between contacts and aiming for 10 seconds of rest between every single rep. Finally, make sure you plan a long rest of 48-72 hours between plyo sessions to allow those tissues to recover (3).
I have no time, no equipment, but I want to do something
I understand that plyo is time efficient and requires minimal equipment, so if you have not yet progressed your strength to squatting > 1.5 times body weight, you will benefit from plyometrics, however your true potential for strength and running economy will unlikely be reached and it is possible that your risk of injury will be increased if you get carried away. If you are determined to do plyo I would strongly encourage you to perform low impact plyometrics (see table below) while you continue to develop your strength to ensure you avoid injury. Anyway, that’s enough of a disclaimer. Let’s get into it.
Due to the high impact nature of plyo, I recommend structuring 6-8 weeks of 1-2 sessions each week, then returning to heavy strength for 6-12 weeks and repeating this pattern. I have a lot of success with one plyo session one week, two the next and then repeating this undulating pattern to allow tissues to adapt. Key considerations are to gradually build the “shock” of each exercise as tolerated without exceeding the apparent magic number of 180 contacts. See below for an excellent example.
The beauty of the above table is the balance between gradually progressing the total contacts from 60 to 180, the impact of each exercise from squat jumps (3.5 x BW) to single leg hurdle hops (~8 x BW), and the number of sessions each week from 2 to 3. Sensible programming is the only way to attack plyometrics to ensure injury-free performance enhancement. For more clear programs and progressions, check out the plyometrics section right here.
By increasing your tissue tolerance, you are protecting against risk of injury. Strength is not likely to change running mechanics but instead serves to raise the the tissue capacity ceiling. This allows you to run at a lower % of your total capacity for longer. Check out the full range of strength training programs for runners right here. Please get in touch with any questions.
1. Donoghue OA, Shimojo H, Takagi H. Impact forces of plyometric exercises performed on land and in water. Sports Health, 2011; 3: 303-309
2. Wathen D. (1993) Literature review: explosive/ plyometric exercises. Strength and Conditioning 15(3), 17-19
3. Davies G, Riemann BL, Manske R. Current concepts of plyometric exercise. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2015;10(6):760–86.
4. Spurrs, R.W., Murphy, A.J., Watsford, M.L. (2003) The effect of plyometric training on distance running performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 89: 1–7.
Originally published at: https://www.scienceinsport.com/au/sports-nutrition/2019/02/19/why-strength-training/