Plyometric Considerations for Young Athletes, Part I

TAGS: Jeff King, explosiveness, athletes, young, plyometrics, sports, strength

Plyometrics (jump training) is a great tool for improving an athlete’s speed, power, explosiveness, elasticity, eccentric strength, and other aspects of the neuromuscular system such as rhythm, balance, proprioception, movement coordination, and agility. However, a poorly constructed plyometric program can hinder performance and even lead to injury. Therefore, the points below should be taken into consideration before working with any young athlete.

1. Is what you're doing truly plyometric?

Attention all coaches—the majority of exercises you do with your athletes aren't truly plyometric. According to Dr. Yuri Verkoshansky, an action should take 0.1–0.2 seconds to constitute an effective, true, plyometric exercise. Anything short of this can be labeled as jump training or plyometric preparation work. This type of training is highly effective and needed in order to progress to true plyometrics. However, any strength coach working with young athletes should and needs to be able to differentiate between plyometric and non-plyometric type training.

I understand, coaches. At time, we use the word because it's “catchy” and draws the attention of many parents, which is needed because the parents are the ones investing in your training program. This is all well and good. However, I feel every coach should know the real meaning behind the terms he uses.

2. How strong is your athlete?

Let’s examine the equation for power. Power equals speed X strength. Based on this equation, it's plainly obvious that if you want to get your players more explosive, have them lift heavy and they'll get stronger. Specifically, work on explosive strength. Strength is the foundation of everything. Without it, your athlete can't maximize his explosive potential. What’s one way to improve a young athlete’s vertical jump? Get him strong. A good strength base is also needed to allow your athletes to handle the forces generated during jump training, thus reducing the likelihood of injury.

3. Is your athlete in shape (central nervous system capability)?

Incorporating plyometrics/jump training requires certain demands on the central nervous system (CNS). An athlete with a low work capacity engaging in jump training is a recipe for disaster. The CNS will get "fried" and the athlete will have a very difficult time getting a quality workout. In addition, a long recovery time will be needed. Athletes with a low work capacity should only participate in low-level jump drills that require low CNS demand, thus only needing a shorter recovery period. Only as your athlete progresses and develops a better “metabolic engine” should you (the coach) implement jump exercises requiring more CNS activation (i.e. depth jumps).

4. Does the athlete have stability and good technique?

Stability and technique are the foundation of plyometric/jump training. I have a saying I love to use when teaching jump training/plyometrics—you have to be stable to be able. My athletes have to be able to demonstrate proper landing mechanics from jumping before I progress them to accelerative work. This could mean spending a few weeks or even a month on pure deceleration jump training. Jump training places tension on the ligaments and joints of the lower extremities. Thus, having stability is important to withstand the forces created by jumping. Stability is achieved partly by using proper technique. Athletes need to understand and demonstrate proper trunk control and hip and knee flexion upon landing, especially on jumps with a concentric emphasis. Being technically sound is also vital for efficiently using the stretch shortening cycle. The better position an athlete can put his body in, the more prepared he is to use his elastic abilities and execute multiple jumps.

5. What type of environment are you training in?

The type of environment where you conduct your jump training sessions will dictate the type of program you construct. For our purposes, environment means spacing, flooring, and equipment. An ideal setting for jump training is an area with good spacing, soft flooring such as grass or turf to alleviate tension on the ankle and knee joints, and equipment such as a box or hurdle. These conditions allow you to progress your athlete, group, or team in a safe and efficient manner. If your environment isn't ideal (i.e. hard surface) consider minimizing the volume and intensity of jumps and avoid ones that require deep hip and knee flexion.

Part two of this series will focus on the types of plyometrics a coach can use with his athletes and how the type of sport influences exercise selection.

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