Plyometrics and jumps are perhaps the greatest complements to sprint training. They might not be the main course exactly, but they are side dishes that get nearly as much love, and deservedly so. In addition to some plyometrics and jumps being excellent testing items, they are also revelatory. When an athlete displays improved proficiency and power on such things, it is something to behold.
There are certainly plenty of ways to progress plyometrics, but simply doing a plyometric does not mean that you’ve checked that box and it is on to the next one. Just because an athlete can do it, doesn’t mean they are doing it right or that they should be doing it.
Remember, plyometrics and jumps are skills and not just performance metrics. Having an athlete perform an exercise and offering them no solutions for technique feels a bit empty. Of course, athletes may figure it on their own through the increasingly fuzzy term of “self-organization.” It does certainly seem easier for this to occur when an athlete already has some understanding of how to move.Plyometrics and jumps are skills and not just performance metrics. Having an athlete perform an exercise and offering them no solutions for technique feels a bit empty, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
Cues are often especially helpful during jumps and plyometric exercises. While each athlete may need some subtle tweaks in the specific phrase delivered, I have found that the cues in this article are usually the best starting points with my athletes.
1. “Float Over.”
This cue is geared toward single- and multi-jump hurdle hops. It goes without saying that when programming hurdle hops and similar things like box jumps, you should take care to choose heights that put athletes in position to execute the jump and not hyper-focus on clearance.
To be honest, I have found it easy to teach repeat horizontal jumps that feature higher parabolic curves and trajectories through the use of repeat horizontal tuck jumps. The imaginary hurdle cue allows the athletes to control the height and resultant downward velocity. For the sake of this article, however, I digress.
The cue of “float over” rather than “jump over” combined with an appropriate hurdle or box always creates a cleaner look and prepares the athletes to be able to handle multiple hops later. This cue seems to work for a couple of reasons.
- It shifts the focus to rhythm and not just massive power. I like to see the heels cycle up to the hamstrings before returning to the frontside. If there is excessive kick out over the side or other compensation, then the hurdle is too high for that athlete.
- It tells the athlete to relax in the air. Rather than remaining tensed in the air, they “shut off” and are able to keep their pelvis stabilized and prepare for a more usable ground contact near the middle of the two barriers. This keeps the spacing and clearance from interrupting general flow as they direct themselves forward.
Video 1. By “floating over,” the athletes stay relaxed and are able to set themselves up for multiple jumps. This allows them to better reposition their arms to sync with ground contact and flight.
2. “Aim for the Back Row of Your Spikes.”
Kids often land too much on the toes due to plantarflexing too early. This inhibits their ability to transmit their force effectively during plyometrics and sprints. When this is not optimized, it throws off the pelvis position and posture further up the chain as well.
This cue was stolen shamelessly from Kenta Bell.
This doesn’t mean I have them wear their spikes during plyometrics. Instead, I have the kids imagine that they are wearing their spikes and think about where the spike plate ends.
I find this cue provides the best bounce during sprinting and during true plyometrics. Recently, I have utilized an array of extensive plyometrics that allow the athletes who I coach to feel and experiment with this cue. I know the term “extensive plyometrics” may make some coaches bristle, but it’s hard to “build the best bounce” without spending some time on learning.
Box jumps, drop jumps, and hurdle hops are not suitable extensive options outside of a CrossFit box.
This cue works well paired with extremely remedial hops and drops. It seems to place the foot and ankle into a more natural position that isn’t overly dorsiflexed and locked. This is why I like it better than just “pull your toes up.”
Aiming here on the foot also allows the athlete to maintain posture over that point, with the foot under the hips. By the time we are ready for true pogos or drop jumps, the athletes have had plenty of repetitions to understand how to get the best foot contact.
Video 2. These jumps may not create athletic freaks, but they do allow for extra time on learning which athletes can bring with them to more reactive and demanding plyometrics. Correct foot strike can keep athletes healthy and ready for the long term.
3. “Arms Down.”
This is a great cue for some horizontal jumps such as bounds, gallops, and prances. I constantly vary these movements in frequency and distance and use them to bleed or blend into runs and other drills.
I have found that cueing athletes to move their arms downward allows them to control the frequency and stride length of the movement. The arm almost serves as a throttle of sorts. If the arm moves quickly, then the foot contact is also quick. If the arm action is big and open, then the height of the jump is bigger. I am able to cue their arm action for the drill or task, and athletes are able to quickly gain skill through this variability.I have found that cueing athletes to move their arms downward allows them to control the frequency and stride length of the movement, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
Once they realize this, a lot of the drills or movements are essentially self-corrective. This allows me to watch and keep cues simple to reinforce arm action, foot contacts, or posture across the practice session.
Because I utilize a lot of different gallop spacings and variability in some general movement drills, the athletes I coach have some awareness of how to best use their arms in different situations.
Video 3. In quick gallops, note the speed and small range of motion of the downward arms. Conversely, the left, left, right, right prances necessitate a powerful downward arm stroke to achieve substantial displacement to allow the athlete time and space to switch legs without interruption.
4. “Grab the Ground and Push.”
Skips for distance are worth including here even though they categorically aren’t jumps or plyometrics. I believe skips are tremendously valuable and part of any complete program design.
Regardless of the skip variation, I find that the biggest impediment to an athlete’s skipping prowess is often a foot plant/contact that isn’t correct or active enough.
I like skips for distance as a primer type item on acceleration days either from a static or a light rolling start. Initially, I find my athletes will often focus on pushing up. This seems fine, but it can lack power. The athlete, who is aware they are trying to separate and create horizontal distance, often seems to resort to a rocking motion with their body, trying to compensate for a lack of power.
Although I say, “Grab the ground and push,” this doesn’t mean they are delivering a jarring blow to the ground with their hamstring. The actual grab and push is more of a fast “rocking chair” rolling action seen during a long jump takeoff.
By rolling though the heel and through the foot and finishing with a push, the athlete is able to preserve posture and pelvic position and utilize a more powerful arm action as momentum builds. These things would be more suitable when training and supporting acceleration.
Video 4. Skips for distance are a different breed than loose skips. I try to cue my athletes to project themselves forward maximally with active foot strikes and without disturbing their posture.
5. “Heel, Toe.”
Multi-jumps of the horizontal variety are often tough for athletes to maintain balance and rhythm. Vertical plyometrics are about maximizing reflexes, whereas horizontal jumps feature longer ground contacts to allow athletes to reposition and project to create angles that are a blend of horizontal and vertical.
Often, when kids are initially exposed to this skill, they basically stumble forward off-balance and the coordination erodes. This is what Carl Valle has described as “the sack race” look. This is typically due to an incorrect ground contact, particularly one that is too forefoot. Especially on turf, this strikes me as quite dangerous and an injury risk for these athletes, since landing with any grace is out of the question.
I have used a “bunny hop” and broad jump blend to get the athlete used to rolling through the foot heel-first to toe. This allows a better balancing of their projection by letting the shins and hips drop together as they continue the forward path. The rolling contact adds a touch of brakes to an exercise otherwise involving the gas pedal.
Doing these on the turf has athletes take ownership of setting themselves up for a great landing. The smaller jumps allow for more reps and better timing that could translate to the larger jump.
From there, double broad jumps into the pit with a reduced first effort is the next progression. The emphasis is again on a nice rolling contact and setting themselves up for a larger second jump. The first jump should be reduced enough to redirect forward and get the feel for how the heel-first contact allows an overloaded jump into the pit.
Video 5. An athlete needs to understand how to blend their horizontal projection by pulling themselves into suitable angles for their current level of development. The heel provides just enough of a brake and redirector without causing any jarring contact that completely takes their foot off the gas.
Cues Can Bring Out the Best in Each Athlete
These cues have been tremendously valuable to me as a coach. It has taken some research, experimentation, and lots of slow-motion video review. I am always searching for better cues, and some of that is the natural part of a coach’s evolution.
Of course, the most important thing is that coaches choose exercises that are in the realm of an athlete’s ability. Cues aren’t magic phrases, but it does help if a coach knows what they are asking the athlete to do. Often an athlete who lacks prerequisite general motor skills is focused on attaining distance or height during a jump or plyo with no regard for the skills or positions needed to be successful.Of course, the most important thing is that coaches choose exercises that are in the realm of an athlete’s ability. Cues aren’t magic phrases, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
There are always scaled-back variations that can make things “click” as the athlete feels exactly what they are supposed to be doing. As such, remedial items are a great first encounter when paired with these cues since the first experience with the pairing is easily felt. A base of skill can yield some monster measurements later, after they attain movement literacy.
I do think the transfer from plyometrics to sprinting moves beyond just adding items that allow more gains in power or pop. Certainly, they complement sprinting in this way, but don’t leave out the motor skills, postural reinforcements, and pelvic positioning learned through plyometrics and jumping variations. All of this feeds into the long-term development of an athlete.
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