I would like to take some time to explain the importance of plyometrics. Some people may wonder why it wouldn’t be easier to just work out the legs with some squats and that would be sufficient. Wouldn’t getting bigger muscles provide enough strength increase to allow me to jump higher. This is true in a sense but definitely not the entire results you are looking for. Using plyometrics increases gains in POWER, not so much in strength. This is where the important part of jumping is seen. Strength will allow you to push hard but it will not ensure that you explode up quickly.
It is actually a proven fact that the more you can lift, the more strength you have, the less power and quickness you possess, assuming no extra cardiovascular work or plyometrics. Let’s say there are 2 football players, both weight 200 pounds. One of them can squat 400, and the other can squat 200. Let’s say the 200 squatter has a 30 inch vertical and the other guy has a 20 inch vertical. Do you know why this is? Because the weaker athlete has less time output with each forceful motion. His training allows him to shorten the amount of time required to reach his maximum force output, leading to more power from each contraction.
Using more power is certainly effective for many athletes out there. That is why plyometrics are so prevalent in sport-specific training by trainers across the world. Power is just as important, it not more, than strength in several sports. Being quick and jumping high are practically the definition of athleticism these days. Every time you see someone with a 40 inch vertical dunk a ball you immediately react with a thought about how athletic that person may be. Someone lifting 300 pounds does not stir up the same thoughts for most people. Strength and quickness are certainly not hand in hand, whereas power is. This is where you improve upon your type II muscle fibers for quickness and explosiveness. These are also known as your fast-twitch muscle fibers. The main goal is to shorten the time between the contraction and the stretch of the muscle.
The importance of plyometrics revolves around the basic concept that a pre-stretched muscle is capable of generating more force. The muscle must be stretched before the concentric movement, and it must occur immediately before the concentric movement. Simply jumping up in the air fulfills these requirements. However, plyometrics can be performed with upper body routines as well, it is not only for lower body things to improve leg speed which will improve running and jumping. One can also perform exercises such as clap push-ups or medicine ball throws off a wall or either straight up in the air. Medicine balls are a great aid to have in order to improve upper body plyometric abilities.
It is proven that someone will jump higher is they first bend their knees slightly, rather than just going up as hard as they can. Also, a person can decrease their total jump if they bend their knees too much. You must load up the muscles quickly and the right amount. The muscle is loaded with an eccentric, lengthening action and immediately it is shortened with a concentric action. The main important factor in this is the stretch reflex. This reflex allows the muscle to act more forcefully and use momentum to your advantage. It is proven that this type of training for 1-3 times a week for about 8-16 weeks in a row can provide great results. Any further training and it will be a lot of stress on the joints in the legs and could result in no further gains.
It is also proven that plyometric training mixed with strength training can result in greater gains in both departments. However, it is recommended not to perform each on the same day to also avoid over-training and getting the most energy out of each workout. Plyometric training will bridge the gap between strength and speed. It will benefit athletes of all ages if done correctly.