Adding variation to plyometric training

If you see how plyometric training is put into practice, you often see a small group of exercises being used over and over in the same manner. Hurdle jumps, countermovement jumps, and drop jumps are all staples of plyometric training. They all train similar properties, in similar ways, using the same plane of movement.

Yesterday we hosted our February member hangout on plyometric training and one topic that kept coming up for discussion was the need for better variation in this area of training. When we talk about variation, the only variable often adjusted in plyometrics is amplitude. And even with that variable the adjustments are normally only in one direction: more amplitude. When you think about it, while this generates more power, it just leads to longer contact times which is often the opposite training effect we are looking for.

» Learn more: watch the full video of this month’s member hangout in the HMMR Classroom.

There are many other variables we can utilize in training: volume, plane of movement, surface, external perturbations, and more. Each member in the hangout shared some examples of ways the like to vary training. Chris McCormick talked about its value in training team sport athletes, Vern Gambetta talked about thinking beyond resistance, Rene Sack looked at the topic in the throws, and Colin Leak provided a marathoner’s perspective. Below are a few key points I took away from the conversation on how we can better use variation.

Integrate different planes of movement (or multiple planes)

Most exercises are performed in the sagittal plane, either moving forward or in place. Of course we can also do jumps in other directions, something that Nick Garcia and I looked at in our video lesson on multi-jumps. Earlier this month Warren Young wrote about bounding in detail earlier this month, and bounds can also be easily varied into interesting lateral and lateral speed bounding alternatives, which Dean Benton has written about and introduced me to.

Rather than just switching planes of movement, another interesting idea is to work two planes at once. By taking a stretch cord or a simple band, a coach can help provide resistance in another plane of movement. As Vern put it in his DVD on plyometrics: “This allows the athlete to work in one plane, and stabilize in the other plane while moving.” Take a look at an example below (and members can stream the whole DVD):

Add a little chaos

Plyometrics are often done in a controlled and repetitive environment. With hurdle jumps we line up hurdle after hurdle, but each rep is essentially the same. Sport is never like that. One fun exercise that Bill Knowles has talked about is where teammates push athletes in the air while jumping, or jump into each other in the air. The idea is simple: a little perturbation means each jump and each landing will be different, just like in soccer or other team sports. Chris McCormick has implemented this a lot in his training and seen great transfer to the field of play.

Think about what’s next

As Vern Gambetta mentioned, gymnastics is perhaps the only sport where you stick the landing and do nothing afterwards. In nearly every other sport, the landing of one jump is just the start of another action. He has worked extensively with beach volleyball, which is an extreme example of this: “In beach volleyball just two athletes have to cover the entire court. When you land you are always already getting ready for the next move.” Instead of focusing on training the landing, think about what your athletes are required to do after they land and see how you can help athletes prepare for that in training.

Quality is also a variable

Even if you keep using standard exercises, consider how you can the increase quality of each jump. In the end, plyometrics is about optimizing ground contact time. Jumping over 10 hurdles in a row will inevitably lead to decreasing quality with each jump as focus wanes and muscles fatigue. René Sack described how he adjust one of the most basic variables: volume. He has moved more and more towards sets of just a few reps to ensure each jump is of the highest quality. This helps maximize the training effect. Quality vs. quantity is an age old debate, but it’s no coincidence that quality keeps coming out as the winner.