Plyometrics benefits for the nervous system?
One phrase that stuck with me, when I was a young student and reading Vern Gambetta’s book Athletic Development: The Art & Science of Functional Sports Conditioning is that he states in the book ‘Plyometrics open neural pathways.’
What does that mean?
There are 3 primary mechanisms of muscular activation when you look at the motor unit complex
- Rate of recruitment
- Firing frequency
I have explained the different mechanism of activation in the articles
In a nutshell,
- The rate of recruitment refers to a number of motor units that can be activated and is primarily modulated by the resistance. The higher the external resistance, the more motor units are activated
- Firing frequency refers to how fast the signal travels from the nerve to the muscle fiber to activate the muscle fiber
- Synchronization refers to synchronized effort of activation and co-activation of different muscle groups, the better the synchronization, the higher the activation of agonistic muscle groups and the higher the deactivation of antagonistic muscle groups
When referring to neural pathways, plyometric training can help to improve firing frequency and synchronization by reducing the latent period between the electrical activation of the muscle and the onset of force production.
In simple words, your muscles are activated faster.
This is not only important for sports that are speed and power dominant, but also for sports that are highly force dominant.
I have outlined this point in the article
An often overlooked benefit of plyometric training is, that plyometric training seems to be able to reverse the activation of motor units.
The Henneman’s size principle explains that the activation of motor units occurs in an order from low threshold motor units to high threshold motor units.
This basically means in order to activate the high threshold motor units with the potential for high and fast force outputs, you have to go through the sequence of activating the lower threshold motor units first.
Research indicates that chronic adaptation to plyometric training programs can change the recruitment order so that the size principle is reversed and the high threshold motor units can be activated immediately.
Plyometrics benefits for the muscular system?
Very often I hear the question ‘What muscles do Plyometrics work?’
Whilst the answer to this question highly depends on the plyometric exercise you are performing, obviously lower body plyometrics work different muscle groups than upper body plyometrics.
After all, the question can be specified into ‘What muscle fibers do Plyometrics work?’
Generally speaking, humans have
- slow twitch muscle fibers, with the potential to work for longer durations with lower force capabilities
- fast twitch muscle fibers, with the potential of higher force capabilities, on the flip side, those fast twitch fibersfatigue faster
- intermediatefibers, that have characteristics of slow twitch fibersand fast twitch fibers
I have given a short outline on the different types of muscle fibers in the article
Plyometric training trains the fast twitch fibers, also called type 2X muscle fibers. Usually these muscle fibers aren’t activated very often and following the ‘Use It or Lose It Principle’, which basically states, if you don’t use something, you are going to lose it, most people and athletes have either traded a percentage of their fast twitch muscle fibers for intermediate muscle fibers or aren’t really able to activate those muscle fibers.
Plyometric training can help to teach to activate these muscle fibers, I have seen that over and over again with my athletes, that they got more explosive over time.
Plyometric training can also help to shift the muscle fiber type distribution towards more fast twitch muscle fibers.
Whilst this is quite a bold statement and previous beliefs were that a muscle fiber type change only happens from fast to slow and can’t be reversed, never research indicates, that a shift from slow to fast is possible.
To be clear here, the main mechanisms seems to be that the intermediate fibers have the capability to shift in either direction.
Bryan Mann recently talked on a podcast with Kabuki Strength about Velocity Base Training, how training at high velocities with little fatigue can lead to a shift in fiber type distribution and selective hypertrophy of fast twitch muscle fibers. Check out the podcast
If you want to learn more about Bryan’s work, check out his book on Velocity Based Training DEVELOPING EXPLOSIVE ATHLETES: USE OF VELOCITY BASED TRAINING IN TRAINING ATHLETES
Plyometrics benefits for the metabolic system?
This is where a lot of the confusion starts, if you browse through popular websites when plyometric training is advertised as a primary method for weight loss.
I am not saying, it’s not possible or plyometric training can’t be used in a weight loss protocol, but let’s dissect plyometrics for a second.
Plyometric training in its purest form is meant to be trained at high intensities, short durations and with short intra-serial rest periods and long inter-serial rest periods. For a detailed explanation, check out
This means, that Plyometric Training (again in its purest form) doesn’t set the stimuli that enhance weight loss and is also not meant to be for that. As I have outlined above, the main stimuli are on the neural level.
However, there is a certain form of Plyometric Training, that can be used to enhance weight loss. Joel Jamieson from 8 Weeks Out has coined the term ‘Aerobic Plyometrics’ an approach where you use low-intensity plyometric drills for longer durations and in a circuit training fashion. Joel has had great success with this method with the MMA fighters he trains.
Whilst this approach has led to great results, it’s a variation of traditional plyometric training.
Plyometrics benefits for the technical development?
From a coaching perspective, I have seen very often, actually very very often, that certain basic movement patterns like jumping or any other triple extension activities are sub-optimally developed, to phrase it nicely.
The sequencing of the different parts of the movements is not ideally aligned to ensure an optimal transfer of impulses.
If you are not familiar with the concept of the kinetic chain, in a nutshell, it refers to the sequence of impulses generated from the larger muscle groups transferred to smaller muscle groups. Ideally, the impulses are summated and result in a higher final impulse.
As a practical example, if you think about throwing a ball (like a tennis ball or baseball), the last link in the chain is the wrist, when the ball is released. However, the wrist isn’t able to produce the force needed to generate the high velocities. Therefore, the movement of the throw starts from the leg drive, through the hips and trunk rotation and gets transferred through the shoulder to the forearms and wrist.
What does that have to do with plyometrics?
Very often you see, athletes are able to perform a movement pattern correctly, when they do it slowly, but once they have to do it fast, the whole movement pattern breaks down.
This is where plyometric training can help improve the movement pattern and sequencing by providing the right feedback how a movement can be performed with high velocities.
As a simple example, if you have your athletes throwing a medicine ball for height, they will quickly realise the right movement pattern and sequencing in order to achieve the task.
The technical point is closely connected to the benefits of plyometric training on the neural level, since certain mechanisms of the neurological activation help, such as the synchronization and the reciprocal inhibition, which is closely related to the synchronization of motor units.
Nonetheless, as a practitioner, I believe it is a separate point, closely related to the day-to-day coaching practice.
Concluding Why is Plyometrics effective?
Plyometric training offers many benefits, mainly targeted to improving speed and explosiveness as a result of neural adaptations and improved activation of muscle fibers.
Plyometrics doesn’t only offer benefits for athletes engaging in speed and explosive sports, but also for athletes engaging in strength sport and endurance sports due to improved neural efficiency.
However, due to popular beliefs, plyometric training in itself is not the best method to enhance weight loss, whilst certain variations of plyometrics can support a well-designed weight loss program.
More information on Plyometric Training
A Short Guide to Plyometric Training
4 Unexpected Benefits of Plyometric Training
Why understanding the Mechanics Behind Plyometric Training will make you jump like Michael Jordan
How much can Plyometrics increase your Vertical?
How often should you do Plyometric Training?
How to build a Jump Box for Plyometrics
Why Are Plyometrics Good For You?
How Plyometrics Increase Your Vertical
What are the Benefits of Plyometric Training?
What Is Plyometric Training?
or visit the plyometric training video library