In many sports, such as track, swimming, basketball, and football, there is a need to develop an explosive burst. One of the most common ways to develop this quality is by doing exercises commonly called plyometrics. Plyometrics can simply be defined as those exercises which require rapid movement from the ground to air and back to ground. Plyos, as they are commonly called, are effective because they recruit the same muscles and parts of the nervous system needed in competition for the explosive movements. Plyos are generally grouped in 3 categories: Low Level, Medium Level, and High Level. These categories are used to describe the amount of impact forces the athlete will encounter doing a particular drill.
Low level plyometrics are such things as skipping, rope jumping, double leg hopping, and side to side hopping. In any training program one should always begin a season doing low level plyos. These exercises prepare the nervous system and the various joints for the more difficult exercises that will be done later in the season. One can do an unlimited number of reps in this category and can even use these types of exercises as a means to increase cardiovascular fitness. There is little chance of injury here because the impact forces are minimal.
Medium level plyos are a little more difficult and require the athlete to have established both a fitness and strength level base before undertaking these exercises. Exercises in this group include hurdle hops over low heights, star jumps, rocket jumps, single leg hopping, jumping on or over boxes, and the exercises known as bounding. These types of exercises are typically done in 3-4 sets of 10 reps each, or for distances up to 40 meters. By doing this type of exercise one is able to provide more explosive power in activities such as, the block starts found in track and swimming, turns off the wall in swimming, or the rapid acceleration thru the line in football, as well as the quick leap needed in basketball. Grade school aged children benefit greatly by doing this group of plyos, as it also aids in coordination as well as explosiveness.
High Level plyos are the most physically demanding and provide the greatest opportunity for both injury and improvement. These exercises are typically done in late mid-season after the athlete has established a tremendous strength base. The most common exercise in this group are the depth jumps, where an athlete stands on a very high box drops, down to the ground and rebounds up to another box. Depth jumps are typically done in 1-2 sets of no more than 10 reps each. They should only be done once every 5 days and never within 10 days of a major competition. This type of exercise is appropriate for high school aged athletes and older.
In conclusion Plyos are a great tool to enhance performance. These exercises will also help prevent injury and extend your athletic life. Do them after preparing your body with an adequate strength and fitness base and you will see very good results.
You must, however, also be careful to sequence your workouts so that you are not doing hard workouts day after day. The workouts have to have easy recovery days sequenced into them. Be patient in your training, looking for incremental time drops rather than sudden dramatic improvement. Your career will be prolonged with smart planning and you will see career best times while not tearing down your body!