The misconceptions component of training and sport science can be used as a way to bash others for their lack of knowledge surrounding an area of interest. This will not be the case with this article, as I delve into some common topics that just require a different perspective on practices that mean well, all to be guided in the right direction.
I find that misconceptions are highlighted on social media more and more, whether that’s due to coaches taking snippets of information and integrating them without truly understanding concepts or using quick wins to tap into the algorithms. Ultimately, these will have an impact on coaches with less experience with or education on the topic, and articles such as this one hope to remedy any issues that may occur due to these misconceptions.
The following points will uncover detours coaches sometimes take that may slow training progress down and cause them to miss valuable factors that could impact athletes at large.
Misconception #1: Going Too Far Down the Extensive Rabbit Hole
Our polarizing tendencies—or camp-based culture—of the 21st century often drive industries to switch between both ends of a spectrum. This has been seen with the “specific” physical prep coach versus the “Olympic lifting” physical prep coach; or, specifically as it applies to plyometrics, the “depth jump” crew versus the “highly extensive pogo” crew. The basic breakdown would be choosing the side of either intensive or extensive plyometrics. (Realistically, the best and most obvious option would be the Goldilocks choice of a bit of both, somewhere in the middle, just right!)
I mean neither camp harm: If you believe that plyometrics are only shock-method intensive movements, or the contrary, that most athletes should only really use extensive methods, then that’s fine. I just wrote this article to spark thoughts and reflection through the observations I make.
Recently, the shift has been toward filling our plyometric training inserts with high volumes of extensive work—and I am an advocate of promoting extensive plyos and their benefits for landing skill development and tissue resiliency from higher volumes. Whether this shift is due to the benefits just mentioned or fear of using more intense methods is up for debate. I have spoken to coaches in the past who fear using intense methods due to their inability to teach correct/safe landing mechanics and how this may cause injury.
If this is the case, though, that same fear should be apparent with extensive plyos, as high volumes of incorrect landing patterns can equally lead to issues down the road. So, make sure your technical eye and knowledge of how to teach plyos and dynamic movement are there before subjecting your athletes to them.
Make sure your technical eye and knowledge of how to teach plyos and dynamic movement are there before subjecting your athletes to them, says @mcinneswatson. Click To Tweet
With this all being said, the overuse of extensive methods can have its downfalls, and this is especially apparent when hoping that extensive movements will prepare the musculotendinous systems for intensive landings and takeoffs. I will say the same for band-assisted plyos, where there’s the assumption that the GCT speed will convert when resuming movement under true gravity.
I always question—what does this movement now look like under true loading?
Understanding the thresholds of overload in landings is important. Research shows that the crossover from 3-4x body weight to 5+x body weight has a large impact on how well we can couple this energy and load effectively in the GCTs we observed in extensive variations.
These observations also mean that running an extensive to intensive periodized model might not be best for experienced athletes. (For beginners, extensive variations will be critical to use early on for tissue adaptation, learning landing mechanical skills, and building proprioceptive awareness.) After a basic general prep period, inserts of intensive movements should be introduced early on. Those who have used maximal plyometrics at large recognize that, in similar ways to sprinting and change of direction, there is a complex mix of components that need to work simultaneously for successful locomotion.
With maximal/intensive plyometrics come the following:
- Higher ground reaction forces upon landing
- Larger flight time and fall from the previous takeoff = spike in eccentric loading
- Faster limb velocity into the ground from higher velocity = spike in eccentric loading
*Note—both points above often occur
- Faster GCT = the following points
- Greater rate of modulating load at speed
- Increased joint stiffness and rate at which it occurs
- Faster coupling rate of the eccentric through to the concentric contraction
- Heightened and faster pre-activation of the working muscles prior to landing to facilitate all the above
- Greater rate of modulating load at speed
These are a few of the large number of variables that are greatly impacted when movements become maximal. There are physical qualities that require developing and adapting gradually, but these must be integrated with the skill acquisition components that align with these physical parameters to be driven in a concurrent manner.
The importance of using intensive plyometrics is there no matter what sport you coach. The changes due to sports specificity will obviously differ slightly, and we must differentiate accordingly. But inevitably, if we want transfer of higher outputs in faster time frames, training within those intensity bandwidths is critical in preparation. What is ultimately left aside is the perfect storm of skill-requisite components that are not practiced at or beyond the intensive means of the sport.Inevitably, if we want transfer of higher outputs in faster time frames, training within those intensity bandwidths is critical in preparation, says @mcinneswatson. Click To Tweet
Misconception #2: Staying Too Committed to Plyometric Continuums
Following plyometric continuums and progression steps is similar to going too far down the extensive rabbit hole. As previously mentioned, it’s clear that when you introduce something new and intense, starting with extensive and supporting actions is useful in building capacities to deal with the new stimuli.
Plyometric continuums/progressions are usually synonymous in their sequences, starting with the basics of learning the chronological stages of the kinematic breakdown and how that influences the body physiologically: the athlete learns the landing portion (eccentric phase: how to control forces) and then is taught the takeoff portion (concentric phase: how they exert force to leave the ground). Then, those are brought together for a full sequence (a part-whole learning strategy). The full-sequence stage might start with no landing and instead mimic the absorption of force without the landing (which is deemed sans-plyometric) to then leave the ground from a countermovement.
The final stage is usually the only true plyometric movement sequence, where the athlete is subjected to more ground-based/extensive plyometrics, and the final progression lands you at the “pinnacle” of plyos: depth/drop jumps.
Common Issues with Detaching the Physical Components from the Skill-Acquisition Components
Learning to run when you can already run seems to be the theme with plyometric continuums/progressions. If we can see past plyometrics being a small group of extensive movements and/or depth jumps and distinguish it as any locomotive movement with a landing and takeoff sequence, then it can be treated in a similar way to sprinting!If you distinguish plyometrics as any locomotive movement with a landing and takeoff sequence, then it can be treated in a similar way to sprinting, says @mcinneswatson. Click To Tweet
Wait, isn’t sprinting a landing and takeoff sequence that has a GCT <0.25 seconds and GRFs that can exceed 5x body weight? Sounds plyometric to me!
And it’s rarely broken down with a series of progressions/continuum to reach the pinnacle of sprinting (which would inevitably be sprinting at maximal speed). Sprinting, like plyometrics, is subjective to the individual when you take away boxes or external load—90% of my maximum is personal to me, the height that I jump in the previous movement produces the following landing and dictates its eccentric GRF. So, when it comes to developing an athlete who’s better with landing and takeoff movements (plyometrics), the movements themselves are the specific stimulus that raises the output and performance parameters for the given athlete.
At large, sprinting maximally—like bounding maximally for distance—is specific to the individual and is also the stimulus that will improve neuromuscular parameters like decreasing GCT and increasing GRF and how their relationship interacts through elastic responses.
We, as coaches who are not technical team or individual sport-specific, need to realize that an athlete experiences hundreds of landing and takeoff sequences during sport through:
We should question whether a complete shift to breaking down movement and starting at square one is the best option when developing these skills. It’s understandable that a high emphasis would be placed on preparing for the unknown sensation of falling during depth/drop jumps; therefore, a higher emphasis can be placed on using more locomotive concepts as mentioned before that are self-regulating in nature. This is especially true for developing young athletes!Sprinting and plyometrics are complex skills, and the moment we break them down into separate distinctive phases, we step away from developing the skills acquisition relationship of them as a whole. Click To Tweet
Sprinting and plyometrics are complex skills, and the moment we break them down into separate distinctive phases, we step away from developing the skills acquisition relationship of them as a whole. These landing and takeoffs are blink-of-an-eye fast, so the carryover and transfer of starting with just eccentric loading, for example, has a diminishing return on investment. More importantly, in dynamic locomotion the distinctive airborne, landing, and takeoff phases have a critical connection in how they interact with one another that is cyclical in nature, with regard to neural sequences. As we improve our ability to deal with increased GRFs through our landing phase, we must understand how that impacts the complete locomotive process.
In most cases of plyometric continuums, the descent of a fall into a stick landing will give the impression that neural sequences will take place prior to landing, which is completely true. The issue with these pre-activation and anticipative skills is that they may be quite different when we stick landings, as opposed to a full landing and takeoff.
From a goal-driven perspective, the anticipation of a landing must be connected to wanting to take off as fast as possible. Our athletes’ focus should be on deflecting off the ground rapidly, to be as locomotively efficient as possible. Stick landings contribute to some opposing pre-activation processes that can produce co-contractions that are detrimental to smooth elastic coil and recoil actions.
Landing Considerations (Eccentric Phase)
The landing (or eccentric) phase of a ground contact, as previously mentioned, is largely influenced by the airborne phase as we prepare for landing. If eccentric strength—or your ability to withstand force—is increased, then the rate at which you modulate that force must change. Very rarely do you see the “eccentric” phases of these continuums executed in similar stiffness ranges, and what’s usually observed are much deeper flexed movements. These deeper ranges of absorption may support some physical development, but more importantly, they aren’t conducive to evolving the skill paradigm.
Takeoff Considerations (Concentric Phase)
In its most basic form, the concentric phase is a recoil action—put simply, to achieve recoil, you require a coiling action. Without the presence of the coiling action (eccentric loading phase), the concentric takeoff portion becomes largely muscle driven. It could be argued “Well, a countermovement does that; it gives us a recoiling effect from the active lengthening of the musculature,” but research equally suggests that landings stimulate a higher involvement of tendon contribution that is critical for greater locomotive transfer in humans.
So, the separation of the concentric takeoff phase will have a diminishing return on transfer to the whole movement process. There are also further considerations for the timing of these sequences:
- Just concentric takeoff: ~0.20-0.25 seconds
- Full CMJ: ~0.34-0.45 seconds
- Full plyometric sequence: ~0.10-0.25 seconds
Clearly, effective joint stiffness and contribution of tendon elasticity carry over to modulate force at speed and result in faster GCT and potentially greater outputs. This all happens more effectively during a full sequence.
What Can Be Put in Place to Develop Plyometric Capacities for Athletes New to the Training Type?
Stop treating plyometrics as an A-Z method of training. We don’t want to progress through movements and land in a place with just a small group of movements and expect them to contribute to long-term athlete development. What happens when we reach this point? The likelihood is a performance ceiling and a much smaller crossover and transfer to the given sport.Stop treating plyometrics as an A-Z training method. I might suggest a spectrum of plyometric movements you can use yearlong that are dosed based on the athlete’s specific needs, says @mcinneswatson. Click To Tweet
I might suggest a spectrum of plyometric movements you can use yearlong that are dosed based on the athlete’s specific needs. The spectrums can run on intensity, amplitude, time frames, and even the specificity of a sport, and you can manipulate each variable to facilitate a required adaptation at a given time throughout the year. There is no A-Z progression, as even elite athletes will require certain movements along the whole spectrum, no matter the intensity or level of extensivity.
As previously mentioned, the learning stages will use less-intense/extensive variations that can then be scaled up in intensity and amplitude as the athlete starts to develop landing and takeoff skills. But it’s critical to start teaching athletes how to land and take off early, no matter how small the movements may be.
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