Jump to New Heights (Part 3)

4. Plyometric training is the fouth of ten factors to your best jumping ability, leg power, and general awesomeness.

The word plyometric is a derivative of the greek words plyo, meaning "fun," and metric, meaning "wow that was cool." Not really, but when you think of plyometric training, you should think of movements that require quick acceleration like jumps, hops, bounds, and throws. 

Distance jogging won't help you to break ankles like this:

The primary target of plyometric training is the brain. The art of loading the muscles and making a quick transition to explosive acceleration requires timing and coordination of multiple body segments.

The best thing about plyometric training is that it takes whatever strength and range of motion that you bring to the table and turns it into pure functional delight. The worst thing about plyometric training is that you will probably strain something.

 You can will get hurt doing plyometric exercise. I'm not talking about season ending concussions or ACL tears, but the typical strains and sprains that come with pushing to new capacity.
If you're not in tune with your initial fitness level and general athletic ability...
If you're not mechanically sound (i.e. tight ankles, weak hips, etc., see corrective exercise detail to come)...
If you're strong and heavy (not necessarily fat)...
If you're careless about gradually increasing the "dosage" of impact to your joints...
If you're unaware of a few important tricks of the trade...
You can be smart about this. You do not simply have to accept misery. But pushing your limits is, well, pushing your limits. Greater risk and reward is not for everyone.
[***I've found that there truly is magic in acknowledging this at the outset. Injuries seem to be minor and few when the individual chooses his or her own risk/reward of any training activity.]
But let me tell you that nothing else will help you approach superhuman ability. If the idea of effortlessly leaping a full size picnic table doesn't excite you, then maybe the whole pushing thing is for someone else. 

If you're still on board after that disclaimer, wondering what a solid plyometric jumping program looks like, you don't want to hear that the best program for you probably depends on a number factors such as the five "ifs" listed above. But you should be glad to hear that wherever you stand, you do not need a lot of equipment to get moving. 

You do not need jump gizmos, parachutes and tubing, shutes and ladders, or special shoes. Even the use of simple weighted vests is questionable. Whenever you can honestly say that gravity isn't much of a factor for you is about the time you need to start using all the fancy jumping paraphernalia. 

Here is a general template of exercises that will cover your basis. 

Lateral jumping off two legs. 
Vertical jumping off two legs. 
Lateral jumping off one leg.
Forward jumping off one leg. 

That's it. 

Start easy. Pour yourself into becoming rock solid in these basic movements. 

Specific progressions and the details of exercise technique are beyond the scope of this writing, but here are some examples.

Horizontal jumping off two legs:

Lateral hops over cones (or "cone" equivalent)
Consecutive lateral hops over a series of cones
Lateral box jump one side or alternate sides (progressively increase height)

Vertical jumping off two legs:

Jump and reach for max height (such as basketball backboard) with and without hop step into it.
Tuck jumps, clearing heights (personal favorite)
Depth jumps (hop down from between 1 and 3 feet and explode back up)

Lateral jumping off one leg:

"Ice skater" hops
lateral box jump (low box)
"Defensive slide" drill with false start
Single leg lateral hops uphill

Forward jumping off one leg:

Split jumps
Box jumps forward and back (low box)
Single leg forward hops uphill
Single leg leap for distance and height

Here's a nice/killer combo: a good example of lateral jump off two legs followed by some single leg forward leaping. Most individuals will have to build up to this. And the big finish is well, I'm not going to say I'm against it. Okay here you go.

A few other key points on plyometric training:

-Make sure to keep a general count of sets, reps, or total contacts between your feet and the ground. Your poor bones and joints will appreciate any effort to keep an objective tally of impact, distance, and height. Or they will rebel.

-Your sets should not be endurance cardio drudgery. Properly performed plyos are brutal even when the work interval is relatively short. Generally keep the reps under ten. Go hard, rest, and repeat.

-Some coaches and trainers will tell you, in a strictly confident coachy tone, that your primary objective in plyometric exercise is to be quick off the ground, to minimize the contact time between jumps. While there is a time for working on foot agility, jumping as high as possible and being quick off the ground are two different things. (Go ahead and try to beat your highest jump while also minimizing ground contact time).  

In most cases, your focus should be on controlling your body segments to land and load your next leap in a biomechanically favorable position. Then focus on creating a strong forceful push through the ground, launching higher, higher, and higher still than before. 

-Depth jumps are an effective and intense gravity overload. It is quite difficult to properly control such impact and transition to an explosive leap or bound. Doing depth jumps before you've mastered good form in other less intense activities is an invitation to injury.

v. grassy hill
-Repeated single leg hops are a super effective way to gain the core and leg strength pertinent to so many athletic activities. But they have been proven to be rough on knees. I've torn a major ligament in my foot while doing max effort single leg forward hops across a basketball court. 

The trick is to do them on a graded surface. You could pay a couple thousand dollars for a cumbersome jumping device that allows you do to hard single leg work without the injury potential. Or you could find a grassy hill, which allows for all the benefits while drastically dampening the impact.

[Look for part 4 in the series, coming soon.]

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