Lower Body Plyometrics 101 – by Adam Bishop CSCS

A huge number of sports and activities require leg and hip strength for athletes to be successful. Collision sports such as rugby and American football involve explosive extension of the hip for running, jumping and changes of direction while static sports such as weightlifting and powerlifting are heavily dependant on leg and hip strength. Indeed any sport that involves running of any kind, especially sprinting and sports that involve rapid changes of direction, such as racket sports, rely on similar lower body strength.

Plyometrics training has been used to successfully increase athletes vertical jump heights, a test that requires a lot of leg and hip power production. As I’ve stated in previous articles, it is impossible to jump “non-explosively”. When performing plyometrics, an athlete uses gravity to store energy with the muscle structure of the body, which is then immediately followed by an equal and opposite reaction, using the elastic properties of the muscles to produce a kinetic energy system (1). Plyometric drills develop explosiveness, the ability to use strength as quickly and as forcefully as possible (2).

Ok that’s great but how do we apply it to sporting situations? Well firstly let’s take a look at a rugby union player preparing to perform a front on tackle on an attacker. Hip and knee flexion occurs as they sink into a low body position followed by rapid hip and knee extension as they drive up and into the midsection of the opposing player. The more force the tackler is able the produce, the greater the chance of them “winning the collision” and driving the opposing player backwards. The rate of force development (RFD) of the movement can be improved with similar the jumping movements of a plyometric program.

Next let’s take a look at a sprinter, or indeed any athlete where their sport requires them to run at maximum velocity. In order to run as fast as possible the sprinter needs to reduce ground contact time while also applying a large amount of force through the ankle joint in order to best provide forward propulsion. This is the basis that plyometric training techniques are based on; applying the greatest amount of force in the shortest period of time.

PLYOMETRIC EXERCISES

 Lower body plyometric exercises are based around jumping, hopping or skipping movements where an eccentric muscle action is rapidly followed by a concentric one. Different exercises have differing levels of intensity and therefore much thought must be taken when deciding which exercises to include in an athlete’s training program as well as the frequency and rest periods of the sessions.

To give a little bit of guidance for selecting the correct plyometric exercises for your training I have split a small number of techniques into low, medium and high intensity. All the exercises below are to be performed in series (each rep performed straight after each other no rest).

Low Intensity

  • 2 footed ankle hop
  • Squat jump
  • Double leg vertical jump

Medium Intensity

  • Box Jumps
  • Split squat jump
  • Barrier hops

High Intensity

  • Depth Jump
  • Single leg vertical jump
  • Pike Jump

All of the exercises above are aiming to utilise the stretch shortening cycle which combines mechanical and neurophyiological mechanisms to increase the amount of forced produced.

Jumping exercises involve a rapid eccentric muscle action which stimulates a stretch reflex and results in the storage of elastic energy within the series elastic component. This is followed by a rapid concentric muscle action which utilises this stored energy allowing for a greater force to be produced.

IMPLEMENTING PLYOMETRICS INTO A TRAINING PROGRAM

 Plyometrics should not be thought of as just warm up exercises, they are a session in their own right and the intensity dictates the frequency. The higher the intensity is, the lower the frequency should be to allow for optimum recovery.

As a general rule, sessions should be separated by 42-72 hours, this means athletes can perform between 2-4 sessions a week depending on training age and experience. In regards to rest periods between sets, a work to rest ratio of 1:5 – 1:10 should be used to optimise performance. Another consideration that should be taken when implementing a plyometric program is that of the athlete themselves. A heavier athlete should avoid single leg and high intensity exercises to begin with to avoid excessive stress being placed on the joints.

Studies have shown that combining a simple 2 day a week plyometric program with a 2 day a week squat program produces the greatest gains in hip and leg strength in regards to jumping ability(3). Adams et al found that vertical jump scores increased 3 times greater in athletes who partook in a 6 week squat and plyometric regime over those who performed a squat or plyometric only regime of similar volume.

FINAL THOUGHTS

 Ok so I know many of you will be thinking “well that’s great but I am a static athlete who doesn’t need to jump”. Think again.

Jumping movements produces the holy grail of strength training, triple extension of the hip, knee and ankle which is used in a huge number of sports.

An example of this is shown in the following video of a hero of mine Werner Gunthor the shot putt legend with a PB of 22.75m. Take a look at what this 2m tall (6ft 6) 130kg man could do when it came to jumping:

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Now tell me that plyometrics don’t make you powerful…

References

(1)     Verhoshansky, Y. 1968. Are depth jumps useful? Sov. Sports Rev. 3:75-76

(2)     Yessis, M and Hatfield, F. 1986. Plyometric training, achieving explosive power in sports. Canoga Park, CA: Fitness Systems.

(3)     Adams, K. O’shea, J.P. O’Shea, K.L. and Climstein, M. 1992. The effects of 6 weeks of squat, plyometric and squat-plyometric training on power production. Applied sports science research. 6:1 pp 36-41.

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Shotgun Movements – by Jamie Bolton

It’s 2012. The apocalyptic events predicted by religion and popular media are running riot. The 12 Horsemen, Solar storms, magnetic pole reversals, you name it. It’s happening.What’s worse, a crazed gunman has roamed into the Elite Kinetics Performance Facility and is now holding a shotgun to my temple.

The world may be ending, but worse yet is the EK team held hostage....

“Tell me the secrets. Give me the answers. What movements should I be doing?”

To top it off, it appears he’s got a limited brainspan and can only remember five, yes five, movements in total.

“I want to build a lean, muscular physique, but I won’t use more than five movements.”

I’m usually loathe to pick favourites as everything has its time and its place in a program. Well maybe except bosu-ball dumbbell presses amongst other retarded movements, but you get the picture.

These have no place in any program

But this guy does have a shotgun to my head, so I’m inclined to do what he asks!In the all encompassing field that is strength training, I try to pick movements that are just that. With these 5 movements I am trying to address all the key qualities this guy needs to be developing in order to meet his goals:
1. Strength
2. Power
3. Hypertrophy
4. Conditioning

Finally, we need to address all the key movement patterns and structures in the body, otherwise we are going to end up with some seriously unbalanced development over time. I don’t want our armed friend here to come back and complain!

So this is what I’d prescribe:

1. Complexes

A complex is a series of exercises performed with a barbell back to back without letting go of the bar. I’m slightly cheating here as it is technically more than one exercise, but since it’s continuous, I’m counting them as one! There are many ways of setting these up, but my favorite is the JB Complex.

You can set these up in as many ways you can imagine really. I wrote more here recently on the beauty of complexes if you want to see a bigger list of their benefits.

2. Trap Bar Deadlifts

Possibly the uncrowned king of the lower body exercises.  It gives the benefits of both the squat and conventional deadlift without the drawbacks of both. The squat is a great lower body movement, but since the bar is placed across the upper back, upper body involvement is well, limited. In contrast, the conventional deadlift gets far more upper body involvement, but the weight distribution often leads to temptation for form to weaken and lower backs to round.

From a cost-benefit perspective, we get the best of both worlds using the trap bar deadlift. We get the desirable upper body involvement of the deadlift, but the weight distribution of the squat with the movement firmly through the heels.

3. Power Clean & Press

The Power Clean & Press is a great movement for developing total body explosiveness. It’s impossible to do one slowly. To top it off, it engages and taxes almost every muscle in the body. As a result, this movement will help add slabs of muscle all over your frame. And the increases you’ll see in power and neuro-muscular coordination will make you a faster athlete too. What more could you want?

4. Pull Ups

A full, properly-executed set of pull ups is one of the best movements you’ll see in slapping on precious width and thickness to the back of a body.

The Latissimus Dorsi attach all the way along the spine. In other words, its one HUGE core muscle. And is key in pulling strength, overall trunk stability in pressing, posture and general longevity. Not that the Pull up solely relies on the Lats, the rest of the upper back comes in to play too. Real bang for your buck. Forget the lat pulldowns.

It’s also a 2-for-1 exercise in as much as varying the grip width, and  whether using a pronated or supinated grip, changes the emphasis on varying parts of the back. But thats an article for another day.

Form is crucial, each rep from a dead hang please. No pathetic half reps allowed.

5. Farmers Walks

Great overall body strength & conditioning movement. To reiterate what Ben Coker said here, they’re a great way to build the back, traps, legs, core and grip.

When you include farmers walks in a program, everything else can’t seem to help but go the right way. They’re an awesome, primal movement pattern that needs to be hit. Leave them out at your peril!Programming

Our crazed gunman then returns and demands:

“How do I put all of this together?”

Like this:
A. Complexes 3×8
B. Trap Deads 3-5rm max
C. Power Clean & Press 5×5
D. Pull ups 3x max reps
E. Farmers Walks 4x50m

Complexes are a great way to warm up the entire body for the rest of the session. 3 sets of 8 does nicely here.  With Trap Bar Deadlifts, we want to work up over as many sets as needed to a strong 3-5 rep max. Everytime we get 5 reps, we add weight the next session.

Similarly with the power clean and press, we aim for 5×5, adding weight from set to set until we can’t get 5 reps, plus these should feel light after the heavy deadlift. With Pull ups, we want to cause as much fatigue as possible to maximally stimulate the upper back, so we go to positive failure on each set. Finally, we hit 4 lengths of 50m with the farmers walk to fry what’s left of our shotgun pal.

Try the above for a great total body workout if you are short on time or just want to get back to basics. Perform twice per week and hit some basic conditioning like hill sprints 2 or 3 times per week on top and suddenly you’ve got a pretty decent program.

Wrap Up 

The reality is obviously that we don’t have to limit ourselves like this. But sometimes adding exercises doesn’t necessarily mean added results.As Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible but no simpler.”

It’s always a useful exercise to go through your training and work out what exercises are really adding value to your program, and what is just there for the sake of it. Getting back to the basic, shotgun movements can be a great way to keep your training simpler and more effective. Sometimes less is more.

Building a Bad Ass Fighter – by Ben Coker

I have numerous associates that are involved in fighting sports and resultantly I am frequently asked about training programmes to help develop ‘specific conditioning’ for a fighter for upcoming fights. The physical demands of professional fighting are intense. Muscular strength, power and endurance are all crucial to success. It is clear that training must be aimed to increase all of these. How do we develop all of these at the same time? Well it isn’t as daunting as it first appears as I will explain.
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I don’t want to go into strength training in this article as the area that causes most confusion lies in developing ‘specific conditioning’ for a fight a.k.a. the muscular endurance. A side note: In terms of pure strength training for a fighter I feel success is obtained in just the same way it is for any athlete: include all the main compound movements; Squat, deadlift, row/chin up variation, overhead press, bench press. Do them heavy and do them fast, this means pure strength days and speed days.  ‘Specific conditioning’ is achieved by mimicking a fight by doing the anatomical movements that occur in a fight separated by no or short rest periods to develop the oxidative capacity of the muscles involved as well as developing cardiovascular and pulmonary systems. Cutting to the chase here are the exercises that i consider to give a fighter in training ‘bang for his buck’.
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Tornado ball
This exercise works all of the stabilising muscles of the torso as well as developing power from the hip. This movement mimics that of punching from the hip, developing the power in the legs and hip and then enabling it to be transferred through the torso by strengthening its stability.  (Hulse’s reference to it not being a conditioning exercise is in the context of the exercise alone. Used as one exercise in a circuit it can be used for conditioning whilst developing power).
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Renegade rows
This exercise would benefit a fighter who has mounted an opponent in an attempt to ‘ground and pound’. Through developing sagital, horizontal and frontal stability, this exercise will allow a greater transfer of power through the torso and thus delivery through the arm to the opponent.
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SA T-bar jerk press (1st exercise in video)
The first exercise shown here offers a unique movement that develops power in the arms, shoulders and especially the legs and hips. A great exercise to develop punching power using a straight arm…no ‘windmilling here’.
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Sandbag or Turkish get ups
Get ups are fantastic at strengthening and stabilising your body as you move from supine to standing. Lets face it no fighter wants to be stuck on his back and not have the strength and stability to be able to stand up when there is a external force attempting to pin him down.
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Barbell glute bridges
Glute bridges are a great exercises for developing power in hip extension which is key for developing punching power but more specifically enhancing the ability to throw an opponent of off you if you are supine and they get some wise idea about attempting to pummel your face in. Train this movement heavy and fast and you’ll be amazed at how easily you’ll be able to throw an opponent off of you!
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Burpees
This grandad of exercise still has its place. It develops eccentric strength and concentric power in the chest and triceps as well developing muscular endurance. It strengthens the core musculature of the torso and develops power and muscular endurance in the legs and glutes. If you can bang these out effortlessly even when weighted then you’ll have no problem springing up off the mat repeatedly, crucially getting to your feet quicker…which is where the fight is won.
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Battle ropes
This  fantastic exercise and its variations works the entire upper body strength, endurance and stability.There is a strong focus on your core, arms, grip, anaerobic and aerobic systems whilst remaining non impact. Even the legs and glutes can be worked when performing larger movements. These are also great for developing the rotator cuffs which are crucial for shoulder health when shoulder is exposed to extreme velocities
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Farmers walks
This exercise is overlooked for the many benefits it provides to the whole body in terms of strength, stability and conditioning. I wont delve into the exercise in further detail as it is the focus of an upcoming article. Just trust me when i say they are a must!
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Towel/ rope chins
Grip strength for a fighter is crucial when it comes to grappling! Not only will farmers walks help with that but towel/rope chins are fantastic at giving you an iron claw. For those who think outside the box try Towel T-bar rows too as an alternative.
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Sled Rows
These are great for developing grip, upper back strength and muscular endurance.They also force you to tighten up your complete abdominal and lumbar musculature to provide a stable platform. These are key to strong grappling.
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Bear hug carries
It’s all well and good having strong biceps, pectorals, lats, legs and glutes but they need to put to practice and trained in a functional way. Bear hugging a heavy bag or other large object and carrying it over a distance will have your arms and grip screaming, your back and chest pumping and your lungs burning! For the grapplers and wrestlers out there this is a must.
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Wrap up
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This is no means an extensive list but it gives exercises that I feel are great for developing a formidably conditioned fighter. Stay tuned for upcoming articles that delve more into further conditioning ideas. As an idea on how to create a decent circuit consider the following:
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Towel Chin ups – failure
Farmers walk – 25m
Renegade rows – 8 reps per side
Bear hug carry – 25m
Burpees – 20reps
Barbell glute bridges – 10reps
Tornado ball – 10 secs
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Remember these aren’t meant to be easy. Choose as many exercises as you wish, perform as many reps as you wish, rest as little as you can. Don’t get lazy. Push your limits. Enjoy.
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