Why Plyometrics are good for you
This video discusses the questions
- why plyometrics are good for you
- what are the adaptations you can expect from plyometric training
- What are the benefits of plyometric training for strength athletes, for power athletes and for speed athletes
What are the benefits of plyometric training on the nervous system?
We discussed the benefits of plyometric training on the nervous system before in the articles
- A Short Guide to Plyometric Training
- The 101 of Power Training for Beginners
- The Importance Weight Training has on Power
In a nutshell, when we speak about activation of motor units we speak about
- the recruitment of motor units, how many motor units can be activated
- the firing frequency, how fast motor units can be activated or how fast the signal travels from the brain to the muscle
- the synchronization of motor units, how synchronized motor units can be activated
Plyometric training improves mainly the firing frequency, it optimizes the neural pathway so that the signal from the nerve to the muscle fiber travels faster.
What are the benefits plyometric training on the muscular system?
Plyometric training doesn’t only have an effect on the nervous system, it also works on the muscular system.
On a muscular level, plyometric training leads to higher muscle stiffness and muscle tension during activity. Not to be mixed-up with stiffer muscles as a synonym for a lack of flexibility! Stiffness in the context of plyometrics refers to how much tension the muscle can produce.
If you imagine a rubber band being stretched and released, the more it gets stretched the harder it recoils if it’s released. Similarly, if the muscle gets stretched and recoils. The recoil is what we see in sporting actions, whether it is running, jumping, throwing, hitting, etc all these sporting actions have a phase where the muscle/muscle chain gets stretched and recoils on the ‘release’.
So, back to the example of the rubber band. The second step is to imagine a stronger and thicker rubber band. Due to its’ higher tension, this rubber band can recoil with much more force than the previous rubber band. The same is true for the muscle or muscle chain, the more tension the muscle or muscle-chain can produce, the stronger the recoil.
This is the adaptation of plyometric training on the muscle and muscular system.
In addition to that, plyometrics also work on the muscle-tendon complex. The muscle-tendon complex refers to the unit of muscle and tendon, where the muscle goes over into the tendon and the tendon is attached to the bone (link to muscle tendon unit/architecture)
The adaptations following plyometric training is, that the tendon and muscle tendon gets stronger, so in a way, we could call plyometrics also a ‘tendon training’.
It has been shown, the higher the impact, the muscles don’t work with eccentric-concentric contractions, the muscle work isometrically and the tendon gets stretched and recoils.
What are the benefits of plyometric training for the speed and power athlete?
Plyometric training improves the firing frequency so that the signal from the nerve to the muscle fiber travels faster. This is especially important in sports that require speed and power, as the muscle fibers can be activated faster.
Plyometric training increases muscle stiffness and strengthens the muscle-tendon complex, therefore in sporting activities such as running, jumping, throwing and hitting, the muscle is able to store more elastic energy, which leads to stronger and more powerful muscle contractions. Which means, you can run faster, jump higher, throw harder or faster and hit harder.
What are the benefits of plyometric training for the strength athlete?
Plyometric training is not always part of the overall training routine of strength athletes, but Plyometrics can offer unique benefits that work synergistically with traditional strength training.
Traditional strength training, especially maximum strength training with higher intensities improve the recruitment of motor units, which means more motor units can be activated (up to 95% of the total motor units). Improved firing frequency as a result of plyometric training can then activate these motor units faster.
Increased muscle stiffness and a stronger muscle-tendon complex, can be especially important in sports with high eccentric forces and where the absorption of impact is crucial. Therefore plyometrics can be beneficial for Olympic Weightlifters as well. Have a look at the video of Mohammed Ihab under the Plyometric Training article section in the article recommendation week #30 2016 which shows examples how some weightlifters can include plyometrics into their training routine.
How to make the benefits of plyometric training work for you?
The sad news is, that if you want to reap the benefits of plyometric training, it takes time. The higher the intensity in the plyometric training, the more you will see the benefits that are outlined here. In order to perform high-intensity plyometrics, there are two things you need to consider
- you need to have the technical mastery to perform high-intensity plyometric exercises
- you need to be physically prepared to do those high-intensity plyometric exercises
If we look at the example of a drop jump as a plyometric exercise, the intensity increases the higher you drop off.
What we generally see, if we increase the height of the drop, contact times go up (longer contact times on the ground), which is not what you want to see in this plyometric exercise. You want to increase the height of the drop and maintain short contact times, consequently, the technical mastery is important.
Secondly, if you drop from higher heights, you need to be prepared physically in order to absorb the higher impact. Especially the muscle tendon complex needs to be prepared for that higher impact.
So, how can we solve these issues?
Practice technical mastery with plyometric exercises of low to medium intensity and progress slowly.
Have dedicated sessions at the beginning of a cycle or season, where you deliberately prepare for higher stretch-loads and impact. We do that all the time with our athletes at the beginning of the season, where we work exclusively on the absorption of impact and stretch-load before we progress to higher intensity plyometric exercises.
Concluding the benefits of plyometric training
Plyometric training optimizes the neural pathway from the nerve to the muscle fiber, which is commonly known as firing frequency and means the signal from the brain to the muscle travels faster, which leads to faster and more powerful contractions.
Plyometric training strengthens the muscle-tendon complex and increases muscle stiffness, which means the muscle can store more elastic energy and can use this stored elastic energy for stronger and more powerful contractions.
Ultimately, plyometric training will over time allow you to run faster, jump higher, throw harder and/ or faster and hit harder.
In order to benefit maximally from plyometric training, you need to have the technical mastery to perform the plyometric exercises, as well as you need to be physically prepared to perform these plyometric exercises.
More information on Plyometric Training
For more information read the article or visit the plyometric training video library