Lessons on bounding from John Pryor

Bounding is a core component of track and field training and one of the most powerful forms of plyometrics. As with any powerful tool it is a double edged sword. Used effectively it can be one of the best tools to develop reactive strength. Used poorly it can hinder mechanics or lead to injury. In our latest video lesson, coach John Pryor looks in detail at bounding and discusses how he uses bounds effectively for his athletes. Below are four key lessons that I took away from him.

Lesson 1: the benefits of bounding

Training is about tradeoffs. As Frans Bosch has noted, overload and specificity are in conflict. By necessity, the more you overload something the less specific it becomes. It’s a tradeoff. The key to developing a good program is evaluating both sides of the equation. Think only about specificity and you’ll miss out. Focus only on overload and you’ll have troubles as well. You need to find the fine balance between both.

Many critics of bounding only look at the ways in which bounding is not specific to sprinting: it has longer ground contact times, longer stride lengths, higher forces, etc. But if you look at the other side the equation, bounding is specific to sprinting in many ways that John Pryor points out in his webinar, especially in comparison to other plyometric alternatives:

“For me the big thing is that double leg jumps the pelvis is dead and complex coordination is gone. Bounding offers some advantages there . . . plus pretension of the ankle. All the preconditions for speed and agility are all in bounding, but not in a standard box jump.”

When you use bounding, be sure to consider both the advantages and disadvantages if you want to get the most out of them.

Lesson 2: you don’t have to go all out

When it comes to lifting and sprinting, we recognize the value of different training intensities in training. However when it comes to bounding we normally just go all out. As Pryor says: “Not ever bounding session has to be maximal. Spend time developing the skill before you bring out the stop watch and tape measure.” It’s a simple but effective lesson to remember.

Lesson 3: understand the risk factors

Sprinting produces high ground reaction forces, multiple times an athlete’s body weight. But bounding amps this up to a new level. The triple jump, which includes a bound for example, is many multiples higher than sprinting. If you’re chasing overload then, bounding is great. But with higher loads comes higher risk as well. With all that force, if things go wrong there is less margin for error.

How does Pryor handle that? He focuses on three things: bad landings, bad volumes, bad surfaces. Make sure athletes have good mechanics, reasonable volumes, and sensible surfaces. Softer surfaces, for example, might increase ground reaction time further, but can be a necessity for larger athletes.

Lesson 4: find your variation

There are dozens of bounding variations. You can use bounds with different contact times, amplitude, speed, change of direction, etc. We share examples of many in our video lesson. Which one do you use? Answering that question requires you to know the context of the athlete and the variations.

“I did many athletes a disservice by always prescribing bounding that was just reinforcing what they are already good or bad at . . . The difference between a distance bound and a speed bound is that the foot will land more in front of the body with more heel strike and longer contact times. If you have an athlete that already overstrides, why would you want to do that?