History of Plyometrics
Plyometric training has made its way into mainstream fitness with many different formats, such as Boot Camps and Cross Fit just to name a few. The recent explosion (no pun intended) has its roots in the 1920s. Developed in the Eastern Bloc part of Europe by Russian scientist Yuri Vergoshansky. He developed, what was then termed “Jump Training” to increase the explosiveness, core strength and elasticity of muscle for Russian track and field athletes.
It was in 1975 that an American Track and Field coach Fred Wilt (after studying Vergoshansky) decided to apply this training to his athletes, but he changed the name from Jump Training to Plyometrics, which has its derivative from the Latin words ‘Pilo’ means more and ‘Metric’ means to measure. So plyometrics can be broken down to developing and measuring explosiveness.
Good Advice from an old source
What I found interesting is the progressive format Yuri Vergoshansky used before his athletes could start plyometric training. It was stringent. Athletes needed four years of strength training, the ability to squat 1.5 times their body weight, and also had to be eighteen years of age to partake. Even back then, Vergoshansky knew that the demands of this training could be extremely stressful on the musculoskeletal and neuromuscular system. Proper strength and technique are imperative to perform plyometrics correctly.
With this in mind, I think with popular classes such as boot camps and CrossFit, etc., the basics are missing for most of the population participating in the plyometric portion of these structured classes. They usually lack the strength and the proper technique to get the proper results or to stay injury free.
How to prepare for Plyometrics
Most plyometric moves derive from non-plyometric moves. These exercises are squats, push ups, lunges, deadlifts, and other staples of the strength world. One approach before you delve into the plyometric moves is to develop your major strength moves with proper joint alignment. Familiarize yourself with the eccentric part of the move (going down with gravity) and concentric part (pushing up against gravity).
Once you have mastered the movement, add weight and repetitions to the regiment. After you’ve conquered this, add some specificity to the squat preparing to do a squat jump. Start in a squat position with your arms placed to the posterior part of your body. Start the upward push from the feet by rolling through the ankles and onto the balls of the feet as you press up, while also drifting the arm toward the anterior part of the body to counter balance the forward force and extending the knees. Now, reverse the process and roll down through the ankle lowering the body back into its squat position and move the arms toward the posterior part of the body.
Repeat this ten or twelve times, feeling the movement through the feet and how the body softens through the knees and the hips as you compress into the floor. This is a great way to work through the mechanics of the feet when jumping, develop balance, and the mechanics of absorbing the gravitational forces that are pulling you back down.
If time is a factor and you really enjoy the group setting of Boot Camp classes, no worries. Have the instructor show you the nonimpact moves of the plyometric moves. When this is done practice a class or two perfecting form and then inject the plyometric component. Happy Jumping!
Opt for softer plyometric moves
A great way to prepare, or even implement, a softer way to absorb the impact of the landing is to participate in a Reformer Jump Board class. If you have never tried this, it’s worth a try.
Participants are supine (on their back) on a movable carriage and feet against a padded upright platform (Jump Board). The carriage is spring loaded to a particular intensity. The individual pushes off and rolls away from the Jump Board. When the energy created from the push dissipates, the springs draw the carriage back to the Jump Board, at which time you absorb the energy by softening the knees and rolling through the balls of the feet to the heels.
The padding on the jump board consumes a lot of the impact, making it a much softer landing. The result is the same, as you will still be stretching the muscles as you compress into the jump board and contracting the muscles when propelling away, but the impact to the joints is reduced.
The TRX straps are another option to reduce joint impact while still getting the physiological benefits of plyometric training. Using the squat position as an example, hold on to both straps and walk away from the fulcrum, so they have no slack in them. Perform the downward portion of the squat, keeping the straps taught, then jump upward while staying connected to the strap so as you compress back to the floor, you are controlling the impact through the strap. It is highly effective training and again reduces the impact to the joints.