The fine line that exists between “how to” and “how not to” can often be very thin. The related minutiae and the attention to detail required are often what stratify levels of success (or lack thereof). It is no surprise that there is great value to be found in being able to effectively communicate best practices.
However, our innate desire to explain efficiency often comes at the expense of being able to explain why something else is inefficient. At times, explaining why something may be ineffective can prove to be just as important. Being able to teach something shows true mastery of a subject, so articulating the potential roadblocks that limit growth can most certainly provide further insight or even portray the subject from an altogether new angle that would have been otherwise overlooked. Everyone learns differently, so timely doses that elaborate on inefficient practices can be just what the doctor ordered.
With that said, as a supplemental follow-up to my previous article on building a better bounce, I will now highlight seven common mistakes related to ‘teasing out the twitch’ in an effort to provide even greater insight to the stretch-shortening cycle that just might be limiting you or your athlete’s performance.
1. Misidentifying Jumps With Plyometrics
Far too often, I see simple jump training incorrectly characterized as plyometrics. Plyometric exercises are extremely specific sets of tasks targeted at enhancing the ability of a muscle to transition from stretching (yielding) to contracting (overcoming) as rapidly as possible. To truly develop this highly sensitive quality and enhance the speed of the stretch-shortening cycle, time is of the essence! The entirety of yielding to overcoming should occur within approximately 0.2 seconds, preferably even faster.
This is where simple, singular jumps (such as vertical and broad jumps), and even jumps in a series, get mislabeled. Jumps take far too long to develop and are more a reflection of hip-dominant torque as opposed to lightning-fast elastic twitch.
Being able to jump higher and further can often be manufactured merely by squatting and deadlifting more in the weight room, as specifically developing high degrees of max force (85%+) and rate of force (55-75%) can go a long way. Plyometrics however, reside at the fastest end of the force velocity curve and require flat-out speed (<10% load). To facilitate the speed and force required, exercises such as pogo jumps, drop jumps, depth jumps, and sprints (max velocity) with maximal intent and full recovery are necessary.
These high-force, high-impact exercises are stressful tasks, so managing acute vs. chronic loading becomes critical for long-term sustainability in relationship to health and continued growth in performance. As a simple guideline to enhancing twitch, remember that jumps require lots of bending of the hips and knees as well as time “dwelling” on the ground, so instead favor exercises that develop fast, forceful ground contacts with good athletic positions.
2. All Intensive, All the Time
Maximal outputs such as sprints, depth jumps, and heavy lifts (85%+) are extraordinarily powerful tools. As with all tools though, they are only useful if used appropriately. These potent stressors can be fantastic performance enhancers as well as lethal poisons. Respecting this truth and thoughtfully intervening at the correct time will serve as the foundation for managing acute vs. chronic loading.
Too frequently, though, there is a rush to demonstrate at the expense of appropriate development. Exclusively chasing intensive efforts may yield quick results (overreaching), but it is not best practice for sustainability for either health or performance.
Whether on the field or in the weight room, all intensive efforts must be supported by a strong, well-structured base. An extensive foundation of GPP, mobility, and soft tissue prep to ready the body for increasingly higher levels of stress may not be sexy, but it is necessary.
Specifically referring to bounce, not practicing due diligence to gradually condition tendons with the requisite eccentric and isometric contractions, as well as low-impact plyos, will eventually limit performance, if not lead to injury. Our priority as professionals in the performance field is to make sure our athletes are healthy and capable of performing their craft. Ill-advised, high-impact plyometrics often can do more harm than good, so taking a conservative approach and choosing to go extensive is often best practice.Ill-advised, high-impact plyometrics often can do more harm than good, so taking a conservative approach and choosing to go extensive is often best practice, says @houndsspeed. Click To Tweet
3. Irresponsible Use of Constraints
The more I coach, the less I find it necessary to use props such as boxes and hurdles at all. Well-executed plyometrics only require two things: speed and force being delivered into the ground. To optimize these two attributes, athletes need nothing more than themselves and some serious intent.
Barriers by nature are restrictive and inhibit (to varying degrees) completely organic ground contacts. This can be good at times to shake things up and provide the subtlety necessary to stimulate further progress; but constraints are too often made too extreme, causing athletes to lose the plot altogether and lead to bad ground contacts and bad landing mechanics.
Excessive knee tucking and poor force production for the sake of landing on or clearing higher obstacles is not the intended function of these constraints. However, given the glut of ‘parlor tricks’ glorified on social media, it is easy to see how somebody might confuse this as the end goal. As it relates to intensive bounce, uninhibited, well-executed pogos, depth jumps, and sprints should always remain the primary course, with the addition of constraints being occasionally offered as nothing more than a tasty side.
4. Too Linear, Too Much
For multidirectional athletes who need to decelerate and change direction regularly, not including lateral and rotational efforts into their speed and power development does them a tremendous disservice. A broad base of quality multiplanar ground contacts should comprise most of a multidirectional athlete’s bounce development—and too frequently it is neglected altogether.
This typically coincides with an overly intensive approach to speed and power as well. Being comfortable with striking the ground under a variety of conditions and at all angles is the foundation for good agility development. A healthy diet of isometric and eccentric soft tissue prep in conjunction with extensive multiplanar ground contacts with only timely, measured portion sizes of intensive effort is best for preparing an athlete for the field while being mindful to not overdo it.
Although no equipment is needed to develop these attributes, this is the one scenario in which I do strongly advocate the use of constraints. Very low boxes, small hurdles, and Polish boxes are great for subtly challenging an athlete and stimulating further progress.Very low boxes, small hurdles, and Polish boxes are great for subtly challenging an athlete and stimulating further progress, says @houndsspeed. Click To Tweet
Movements in the frontal and transverse planes inherently require more hip and core stability as well, so they are great at not only generating more realism as it relates to on-field movements, but also fantastic at increasing the bang for your buck, as they facilitate multiple skill sets simultaneously. Specifically, warm-up is always a great opportunity to take ten minutes to integrate multiplanar movements because of the potential for such high return on a relatively low-risk investment.
5. Big Engines With No Brakes
Running more swiftly and producing higher levels of force faster are universal goals for the performance industry. However, being able to absorb and effectively control these forces frequently goes overlooked. For athletes that must change direction frequently, being able to decelerate and hit the brakes under an unlimited number of circumstances is a must.
To effectively prepare an athlete for these demands, conditioning their muscles and tendons with isometric and eccentric strengthening is critical. Overlooking the necessary soft tissue prep for the sake of continually chasing higher max outputs will lead to imbalances that will eventually manifest themselves in degradation of performance or, even worse, injury.
A balanced muscle that can efficiently hold good positions and yield accordingly is more likely to remain a healthy one. Not to mention that often what separates elite athletes from good ones is their ability to relax. Being able to develop the ability to relax more quickly should be a large part of any well-structured plyometric regime.A balanced muscle that can efficiently hold good positions and yield accordingly is more likely to remain a healthy one, says @houndsspeed. Click To Tweet
I am a big fan of concurrently developing speed, power, and strength conditioning year-round, as all our youth soccer athletes compete continuously and the professional off-season grows shorter and shorter. With that said, I do like highlighting certain attributes at various times to accentuate certain qualities.
This can just as easily be done in small meso cycles (2-4 week blocks) with the different types of muscular contractions as well. Times in which isometric, eccentric, and concentric development are emphasized can help to ensure that the balance necessary for both health and performance is maintained.
Similar to the extensive multidirectional ground contacts, the three types of muscular contractions can be embedded within the intensification process of any individual session. In fact, layering in isometrics and eccentrics around quicker, elastic movements is very effective at firing up the nervous system and preparing the athlete for the more intensive efforts to follow.
6. Stretch-Shortening Cycle, NOT Stretch-Shortening Conditioning
Teasing out the twitch is a very delicate endeavor and highly specific to each individual athlete. A unique mixture of soft tissue prep, strength, and extensive and intensive efforts are necessary to achieve the desired results. A high degree of vigilance is necessary with consistent observation to make sure the process is on track. Due to the high degree of sensitivity, the use of intensive plyometrics and sprinting needs to be done responsibly.
These efforts must be timely, in the appropriate dose, and executed with the utmost skill. Maximal intensity is also required and, because of this, the volume must remain low. The extraordinarily high intensity and low volume needed for appropriate development makes these efforts alactic by nature, but too frequently they turn into glycolytic demonstrations or are thrown haphazardly into cardio circuits.
Proper intensive bounce and speed development should never be utilized as means for conditioning! If proper restoration protocols are not being adhered to between sessions and full recoveries not granted within the session, then the athletes are merely doing work for the sake of work and losing the plot altogether.
Experience and lots of useful data using a Freelap Timing System and a Just Jump contact pad has shown that even my most highly-prepared soccer athletes can only maintain quality for 200-250 yards of legitimate speed work, or retain peak power for 8-15 maximal jumps. I suggest collecting data and profiling the energy demands of your athletes to draw your own conclusions on appropriate volumes, but using the numbers provided above should be a good starting point.
7. Losing Sight of the Ultimate Plyometric
In the end, maximal sprinting at max velocity still remains the most potent plyo exercise. The forces created and systemic stress generated cannot be replicated by any max-effort lift or depth jump, and losing sight of this or believing it can be manufactured by alternative means is a fallacy. Chasing numbers in the weight room and overvaluing the vertical jump can help an athlete overcome inertia in the start and may improve the initial few steps of acceleration, but beyond that, nothing will be able to accurately replicate sprinting like sprinting.
In the strength and conditioning community, value should be placed on efforts that give the most return for time invested; and to that end, max speed checks off the most boxes. As well as enhancing speed, sprinting regularly will also improve an athlete’s resilience to injury by conditioning the soft tissues in the most sport-specific way possible. Copenhagen planks and Nordic ham curls are nice—and most certainly necessary to supplement sprinting and maintain health—but undervaluing actual sprinting in favor of other efforts is dangerous.In the strength and conditioning community, value should be placed on efforts that give the most return for time invested, says @houndsspeed. Click To Tweet
More speed also means more fitness. As the athlete becomes faster, life gets easier for them at sub-maximal speeds and energy conservation improves. To avoid this specific pitfall, keep it simple as there is no need to overcomplicate—sprint more frequently!
Sometimes good development is not about searching to find the single right thing, but is rather about avoiding a litany of smaller wrong things. Just remember, twitch is delicate and highly unique to the individual, so when in doubt: it is likely better to do nothing than to try to be overly creative. There is beauty in simplicity!
Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask. More people are reading SimpliFaster than ever, and each week we bring you compelling content from coaches, sport scientists, and physiotherapists who are devoted to building better athletes. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — SF