Plyometric training can be an effective way to improve a client’s power, neuromuscular efficiency and performance, as well as an effective means of achieving weight loss and overall fitness. However, it should be understood that it is not necessarily for every client.
Plyometric exercises consist of quick, powerful movements which take advantage of the elastic energy produced during the stretching (eccentric) phase of what is known, in biomechanical terms, as the stretch/shortening cycle of the muscle. This energy is then released during the shortening (concentric) phase, thus increasing muscle force production.
Plyometric training may be appropriate for clients with performance-based goals, while the general fitness client may never progress to this phase of training. Unfortunately, it happens all too often: trainers place a client into a generalized, cookie-cutter program without taking into consideration their current fitness level, contraindications, or even their preparedness for this type of training.
It is important that clients achieve a sufficient level of overall fitness before participating in plyometric exercise. Starting a 40-year old, previously sedentary, soccer mom off with plyometric training is “insanity”, indeed. Plyometrics may be contraindicated for clients who suffer from conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, or other conditions which affect the muscles, bones or joints. It should also be noted that clients who are significantly over weight may suffer unnecessary injury and joint pain due to inappropriately prescribed plyometric exercise.
A client participating in plyometric training should first have a solid foundation in both body weight and load based resistance training. As an example, a personal trainer should not introduce clients to high-intensity, lower body plyometric drills until they demonstrate an ability to successfully squat one and a half times their body weight or complete five squat repetitions using 60 percent of their body weight within a five second interval. In addition, clients should be instructed to land and properly absorb impact (i.e. land softly on the midfoot with the hips, knees and toes in alignment) before participating in jumping related exercises or activities.
Given the intensity of plyometric exercise sessions and the resulting need for recovery, plyometric training should be performed no more than one to three times per week with a recommended recovery period of 48 to 72 hours between sessions. Keep in mind that as the training intensity increases, the volume of training should decrease. Plyometric drills should also be performed at the beginning of a training session, after a sufficient dynamic warm up and before clients are fatigued, in order to reduce the risk of injury.
One of the plyometric drills I like to utilize with some of my advanced clients is the alternating burpee/long jump drill: Using two agility cones, mark off a predetermined distance (e.g. 40 yards). At the starting point, have the client perform one burpee, immediately followed by one long jump. Continue alternating one burpee and one long jump with no rest in between until the far cone is reached. Rest 30 to 60 seconds and begin again at the starting point. This drill is great for working both the upper and lower body and, as you may have already noticed, there are three variables; distance, number of sets, and rest periods, which can be manipulated to reflect the client’s current fitness level or to facilitate progression.
When appropriately administered, plyometrics can be a safe and effective training modality for many clients. However, it is important to take into consideration the client’s current fitness level and goals, as well as protocols for safe and proper progression before jumping in.
1. Moffatt, M. PT, PhD, FAPTA, Vickery S., American Physical Therapy Association Book of Body Maintenance and Repair, 1999
2. Westcott, W., Resistance Training: Programming and Progressions, ACE Personal Trainer Manual, Fourth Edition, 2010
About the Author
Gary Gochenour is a Master Fitness Trainer with the National Federation of Professional Trainers. His fitness related articles have been published in Men’s Journal and Modern Drummer magazine. He currently works with persons with disabilities and chronic illness in a rehabilitative hospital setting.