Coaches use drills to reinforce the movement concepts they teach, so it’s important to understand why a drill is used. Coach Parno breaks down the concepts behind the hurdle wall drills, wickets, and toe drags and explains why and how he uses them in is track and field program.
After the huge success and popularity of the first “Jumps Roundtable” series of articles, SimpliFaster asked Coach Nick Newman to trade his usual answers for questions. Nick interviewed eight accomplished jumps coaches for the second edition of this excellent six-part series.
We will publish one question from the “Jumps Roundtable Edition #2” per day over the next six days. Our second series installment is on plyometric training and teaching. Please enjoy, and please share.
Bob Myers: Bob Myers is currently retired, but served as Associate Head Coach at Arizona and was a college dean and athletic director over the past 40 years. He has an M.S. in Kinesiology, specializing in Biomechanics, and a doctorate in education with his dissertation on “A Comparison of Elite Jumps Education Programs of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom Leading to a Level III Jumps Education Program in the United States.” Bob was inducted into five Halls of Fame as an athlete, coach, and athletic director. He has published 31 articles in professional journals around the world and has lectured at over 50 locations throughout the world.
In his 13 years coaching at Arizona, Bob coached four national record holders, five collegiate record holders, and 27 All-Americans in the high jump, triple jump, long jump, javelin, and heptathlon. He is perhaps best known for coaching the University of Arizona women high jumpers to a 1-2-3 finish in the 1985 NCAA Outdoor Championship, where all three jumped over 6’3” (1.91m for second and third, and 1.93m for first) even though two were heptathletes. He also coached Jan Wohlschlag, who was ranked No. 2 in the world in 1989, won four USATF National Championships, and was the World Grand Prix Champion.
Todd Lane: Todd Lane entered his 10th season as a member of LSU’s coaching staff in 2017. The Tigers and Lady Tigers have flourished in eight seasons under Lane’s direction—he has coached 11 NCAA scorers to 35 scoring All-America honors in four different jumping events since joining the LSU coaching staff right before the 2008 season. His student-athletes have also captured six SEC championships and 36 All-SEC honors over the last eight seasons.
Nelio Moura: Nelio Alfano Moura has been a member of national coaching staffs in Brazil since 1990, participating in five Olympic Games, five Pan-American Games, and 17 World Championships (Indoor and Outdoor). Nelio has developed, in partnership with his wife, Tania Fernandes de Paula Moura, more than 60 athletes who qualified to national teams, and he coordinates a talent development program successfully maintained by the São Paulo state government. He is Horizontal Jumps Coach at Esporte Clube Pinheiros, and has a master’s degree in Human Performance from UNIMEP – Piracicaba. At least one of Nelio’s athletes has qualified to each iteration of the Olympic Games since 1988, and he guided two of them to gold medals in Beijing 2008.
Dusty Jonas: Former high jump Olympian, Dusty Jonas, was named a full-time assistant coach on the Nebraska track and field staff on July 12, 2017, after eight years as a volunteer assistant for the Huskers men’s and women’s high jump. Since joining the Huskers program as a volunteer coach in 2010, Dusty has coached nine Big Ten high jump champions and 10 first-team All-Americans. Twelve Huskers have cracked all-time Top 10 high jump charts in his eight seasons. In the 2015 indoor season, Dusty helped then-sprints coach Billy Maxwell coach the Huskers men’s sprints, hurdles, and relays, and that group went on to combine for 46 of the team’s title-winning 127 points at the Big Ten Indoor Championships.
Neil Cornelius: After a torn ankle ligament at 19, Neil started coaching in his free time at the age of 20. One year later, he coached his first National Junior champion in the triple jump (Boipelo Motlhatlhego, 16.07m). By 2011, he had his first 8m jumper (Mpho Maphutha, the youngest South African and the first South African high school athlete to jump over 8m at the age of 18 years). By 2013, Neil has his first national colors by representing South Africa as a team coach for the African Junior Champs. There, his athletes received three medals (long jump: Gold; triple jump: Gold (15.98 CR) and Silver). In 2016, Neil coached Luvo Manyonga to an Olympic Long Jump silver medal (8.37m) and in 2017 to a World Championship Gold (8.48m) and an African/Commonwealth Record (8.65m).
Since Neil first started coaching, his training group has amassed 88 medals (16 medals at various international championships and 72 medals at national championships). He’s currently the head Long Jump/Triple Jump coach for the Tuks Athletic Club (University of Pretoria), as well as the head jumps coach for the Tuks HPC and the Tuks Sport High School.
Kyle Hierholzer: Kyle Hierholzer has most recently worked as the 2017 Lead Jumps/Multis coach and education manager for ALTIS in Phoenix, AZ. During the 2015 and 2016 seasons, he was the co-coach of Jumps/Multis with Dan Pfaff. Over the course of Kyle’s tenure, the group produced podium finishers at the U.S. Indoor Championships, World Indoor Championships, World Outdoor Championships, and Olympic Games, and also a Diamond League Champion. Before joining ALTIS in fall 2014, Kyle worked eight years at Kansas State University. Kyle primarily assisted head coach Cliff Rovelto in the sprints, jumps, and combined events. He also served as the primary coach for the K-State pole vaulters.
Stacey Taurima: Coach Taurima has been the Head of Athletics of the University of Queensland for almost five years, where he has coached senior and collegiate athletes to finals in World Youth, World U20 Championships, Commonwealth Games, and World University Games. He has coached national medalists in both senior men’s and women’s sprints events, and in 2017 coached Liam Adcock and Shemaiah James to Silver and Bronze in the Open Australian Championships, along with Taylor Burns and Daniel Mowen to Gold in the 4x400m. Stacey has coached 16 national champions and 19 international athletes in a five-year period and many professional sporting teams utilize him for his expertise in speed-based programs.
Alex Jebb: Alex Jebb is the Combined Events and Jumps coach for John Hopkins University. In his first two years of coaching there, his athletes have earned six All-American honors, five Academic All-American honors, 15 school records, four championship meet records, and two NCAA Division 3 All-Time Top 10 marks. Alex was honored as the USTFCCCA NCAA Division III Mideast Region Men’s Assistant Coach of the Year for the 2017 indoor season. He graduated from John Hopkins with a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering and Applied Mathematics, and from Duke University with a master’s degree in Engineering Management. He is an engineer by day and coach later in the day.
Nick Newman: Plyometric training can take on many forms and serve several purposes. Options include high shock depth jumps, alternate bounding, remedial low-intensity hopping activities, and many other variations. Describe your use of plyometric training and your progressions throughout the season. Do you link them with event-specific work? Do you incorporate them into weight room complexes or use plyometrics in other ways?
Bob Myers: Plyometrics are linked with event-specific technical work in that overall training load must be watched so as not to overstress the athlete. This is where complementary and compatible training is important to line up training that works well together and does not lead to overstress injuries.
The plyometric program must always fit together with your overall training plan. Plyometrics is just one component of a larger picture. Plyometric training is linked with event-specific work, and many times event-specific work counts as some of the plyometric volumes and vice versa. The use of plyometrics as complexes with weight training in the weight room should be accomplished as training exercise dyads in the late off-season and pre-season phases of training.
- Plyometrics training should always go from “general” to “specific” as you proceed through the yearly training cycle.
- Progress from low volume to high volume and then low intensity to high intensity. Don’t ever have high volume and high intensity during the same cycle of training.
- Peak volume of plyometrics come after peak volume of weights in the yearly cycle.
- Peak intensity occurs right before an athlete’s physiological peak.
- The volume and intensity of plyometrics should match the training background of the athlete.
- The technique is such that the athlete begins to have a muscular contraction before landing.
A sample inventory of general preparation (off-season) in-place jumps (10+ reps per set):
- Ankle jumps
- Back tuck jumps
- Front tuck jumps
- Rocket jumps
- Lateral jumps
- Bunny hops
- Single leg tucks
- Hurdle hops
- Box drills
A sample inventory of specific preparation (pre-season) meso-power jumps (six to 10 reps per set):
- Hops for height
- Bounds for height or distance
- Speed hops
- Speed bounds
- Straight leg bounds
A sample inventory of competition preparation and competition (in-season) short-end jumps (one to six reps per set). Note that these should be very event- or sport-specific!
- Depth jumps
- Speed hops
- Curve hops – for high jumpers
- Standing long jumps
- Standing triple jumps
Volumetric Considerations (for high level athletes):
In-Place Jumps (low intensity with high volume): 250-500 contacts per session with 10 or more reps per set.
Longer Jumps (low intensity with high volume): Recorded in horizontal distance with a recommended volume of 40-100 meters per rep and 600-2,000 meters per session. These are mainly for runners and horizontal jumpers, like long and triple jumpers, where horizontal jumping ability is more important than vertical.
Meso-Power Jumps (higher intensity than in-place jumps): 150-350 contacts per session with six to 10 contacts per set. These are mainly for vertical jumpers, such as in basketball, volleyball, high jump, etc.
Meso-Endurance Jumps (the same volume and intensity as meso-power jumps): Measured in horizontal distance (meters or yards), not the number of contacts. Recommended 20-40 meters per rep, with a recommended volume of 400-1200m per session.
Short-End Jumps (high intensity and low volume): Recommended one to five contacts per set with 100-300 contacts per session for highly trained athletes.
Todd Lane: I’ll start simply in three areas:
- With low-level, almost remedial, jumps, in place of jumps done in circuit fashion. Cueing foot contacts, absorbing the landing (to me this is often a neglected quality in plyometric training). This type of work also allows for the building of work capacity and conceptual teaching.
- The other area is with short bounds. One to three takeoffs, which pairs well with acceleration work (another area we train from Day 1). Standing long, standing triple jump, double leg hops, combo single leg hops. Allows coordination and, again, foot contacts.
- Very remedial hops—we call them baby bounds. Both horizontal and vertical displacement are very low, but we can teach foot contacts, absorbing again, swing segments of arms, and hips. Much of what we cue here carries over to all jumps, but especially the triple jump.
From there, the bounding will continue to increase in intensity, with more displacement and velocity added to it. We will add in things like hurdle hops, varying the spacing and/or height.
Once we get into the competitive season, the plyometric work drops significantly and we remediate back to some of the early season work such as jump circuits, short jumps, and remedial hopping, just to stay in touch with those qualities. The intensity of competition is more than enough, and I’ve found that trying to maintain high-intensity plyometric work with competition is an injury situation waiting to happen. I’d rather we undertrain in this area than try to squeeze more out of it and end up injured.Trying to maintain high-intensity plyometric work with competition is an injury waiting to happen. Click To Tweet
The ballistic lifts we do in the weight room during the competitive season—such as weighted jump squats and lunge jumps type of exercises—are also enough to feed the elastic strength.
People don’t think enough about the interplay between the weight room and plyometric work. Looking at the overall program throughout the year, one has to give for the other to be successful, and vice versa. What I mean is, within microcycles and/or mesocycles, the intensity and volume in one area means the other area needs adjustment.
I like complexes, such as a squat followed by a hurdle hop. I think it allows for motor units and proprioceptors to be challenged in different ways, it stimulates further adaptation, and it can really light a nervous system up in a positive way. Having said that, I’ve seen where complex training, if done for too long of a period, can just fry and flatten athletes.
Nelio Moura: Plyometric training is in the center of my program. It is probably the most specific way to develop strength, that is, by its turn, the key to high performance. I use some kind of plyometric training from the beginner’s first week of training until the week of the fundamental competition for experienced athletes. The final goal is that plyometric exercises develop throughout the athlete’s career, until they reach their mature, specific, and high-intensity form during the special preparation and pre-competitive periods of experienced athletes.
Some plyometric exercises that I use with experienced athletes are so similar to the target ability that it is difficult to say that the session is not a technical one. Almost all my weight training programs are organized into complex pairs (one lifting exercise followed by a plyometric one), taking advantage of the PAP phenomenon.
Dusty Jonas: I will attack this question from the perspective of the high jump and, more specifically, to the demands of the plant leg, and speak from the general to specific demands of the event.
In the grand scheme of the training year as a whole, any method of plyometric or multi-jump training needs to contribute to the overall mission as it pertains to the event. The high jump takeoff is no different than any other jumping event in that, at plant, there is a collision with the ground and a subsequent change of direction or deflection off of the ground. The difference is where the force is being applied and directed. There are massive lateral forces upon takeoff that affect the ankle and knee joints, and an athlete must be able to accept this collision and have the ability to amortize quickly with as little bend in the leg as possible. These demands must be addressed when incorporating plyometric training into a high jump training plan.
Generally speaking, plyometrics are a fantastic tool to teach pretension and correct postural positions when done at a low intensity and amplitude. During GPP, I like to do a lot of teaching about body position leading into ground contact, and how the foot/ankle should contact the ground and apply force quickly and efficiently. Dan Pfaff has referred to some of this as “rudiment work,” while Boo Schexnayder refers to it as “foot prep or multi-jump circuits.” When doing these drills, I like to teach full foot contacts because I believe that full foot contacts can teach force application over a greater area in the right direction. Full foot contacts can also help develop the elastic qualities of the Achilles tendon, as well as help people who are overly “toe-y” to stay off of the toe when the foot contacts the ground.
I like to keep this kind of work in all year long and incorporate it into warmups, cooldowns, and recovery days. These exercises include double leg hops and single leg hops, as well as right and left leg combos, and are done in all planes of motion.
As the training calendar and athletes progress, we decrease the volume and increase the intensity, as well as incorporate more specific work. Athletes that are more neutrally driven can be absolutely wrecked by what some would consider a light plyometric day in regards to contact numbers. Others can do massive volumes of multi-jump/plyometric training and recover relatively quickly. It is important to identify these differences in athletes when prescribing exercises and doses.
Specific work can be single or double legged in nature. When evaluating double leg box drop jumps, single leg box drop and hold, or double leg hurdle hops, the height of the box or hurdle is determined by the maximum angle of allowable deflection in the knee that I am looking at. I usually limit the maximum deflection angle to 20-25 degrees at the knee joint, as it is more specific to the event and can reduce the chance of injury to the patellar tendon and to the ACL in women.
As the competitive season progresses, much of the plyometric volume will decrease, traditionally speaking. Since max velocity sprinting is plyometric in nature, this is also accounted for, along with the volume of max effort jumps being taken during technical sessions.
A very general example of the season progression is as follows:
Early Season: Rudiment work, jumps circuits, split jumps, lunge exchange jumps, skipping for height and distance, etc. (Total volume per session: 125-175 contacts; Intensity: low.)
Mid-Season: Alternate leg bounding from stand or short run in, double leg hurdle hop variations, depth jumps (double and single leg variations), bounding complexes, event-specific technical work, etc. (Total volume per session: 50-100 contacts; Intensity: moderate to high.)
Late Season: Bounding variations, hurdle hop variations, event-specific technical work (Total volume per session: 45-75 contacts; Intensity: high.)
Neil Cornelius: Plyometrics are essential for any sprinter and jumper, but I like to keep everything I do event-specific. In the off-season, I use a variety of plyos in the gym and on the track, while in-season I keep the plyos just on the track. (I tend to mix it up to keep my athletes away from boredom. The same exercises can be done in different ways.)
I do mid/high intensity in the off-season with mid/high reps, while I keep the reps low in-season but the intensity at its highest. Keeping the plyometrics event-specific does more than just strengthen the right muscles the right away; if done correctly, it can be invaluable in teaching the athlete the right technique. Normal bounding on the run-up towards the pit is my favorite, and it makes teaching the right technique, form, and control so much easier when it comes to in-season preparation.
Kyle Hierholzer: I’m an advocate for a middle ground of thought on coaching, and keeping things as based on common sense as possible. In my opinion and experience, jumpers like to jump! Programs that disregard or de-emphasize plyometric training may be removing an element of training that can, at minimum, be very enjoyable to this population of athletes. Without getting into an overly lengthy discussion of plyometric classifications, periodization, and individual event needs, I’ve outlined some guidelines below to safeguard athlete health and training quality.
In general, throughout a training program we utilize the following general structure when classifying plyometric activities.
- Low complexity, low intensity
- Low complexity, high intensity
- High complexity, low intensity
- High complexity, high intensity
For clarity and context, when using the term “complexity,” I am talking about how challenging the demands of the movement are for the individual athlete. As an example, an in-place double leg hop would be very low on the complexity scale, while a depth jump from a one-meter box into a triple jump would be very high on the complexity scale.
Regarding the term “intensity,” I am referring to how much effort/force/amplitude/speed of movement, etc., the coach asks the athlete to put into the exercise. For example, in-place double leg hops that are cued to be executed with a low amplitude of movement are on the opposite end of the intensity spectrum from a 25m single leg hop for time and minimum contacts.When prescribing plyometrics, remember the highest complexity/highest intensity task is competition. Click To Tweet
Understand that complexity and intensity are often tied together. A complex movement may require a higher intensity because more effort is required due to the skill demands. On the flip side, there are situations where athletes may have to down-regulate intensity/effort to feel safe performing a complex plyometric while learning the skill.
I keep the following principles in mind when prescribing plyometric activities:
- The highest complexity, highest intensity task is competing in the event.
- The idea of “minimum effective dose” must be followed when prescribing plyos.
- Mindfulness and skill execution must be held to high accountability standards.
- An athlete’s health and well-being must take priority over “doing cool stuff.”
- Gradual progression through categories is a must.
Now that you have a picture of how we categorize plyos, and you have looked at some of the key principles that guide our implementation, I’ll expand on a few further thoughts regarding implementation.
We’ll generally progress from category A to category D throughout a season or career. It’s important to remember that an exercise can move between categories. For example, early in the training season or for athletes of young training age, low amplitude in-place jumps can be perceived by the athlete’s system as high intensity and complex. This may lead to a strong stimulus and adaptation loop. However, as adaptation occurs and the season progresses, that same exercise can shift to low intensity and not be very complex at all.
At that point, the exercise can become more restorative in nature with a low stimulus for change. Eventually, it may become so general in nature that its value to training is very low. Thus, the need for increased complexity or intensity to keep challenging the system. Remember that with increases in complexity and intensity, the coach may need to change the density pattern of the prescription.
When coaching athletes during plyometric activities, I spend a great deal of my time focusing on foot position and firing order. I demand a high level of accountability for the athlete to land with a flat (dorsi-flexed) foot, and to avoid a toe-first (plantar-flexed) landing at all costs. This is connected to the second point, firing order.
Movement should be initiated from proximal to distal, and I prefer that the athlete thinks about movement initiation occurring prior to contacting the ground. Athletes often get anxious to be on the ground and thus fire the closest joint to the ground (the ankle), resulting in a toe-first contact. The firing should “start” from the hip and move down. Coaches have referred to this as “pre-firing,” “anticipation,” etc. Find the cue that works for you, and you will begin to see crisper and more-efficient force loops.
Depth jumps, plyometrics in the weight room, and extensive bounding can all have a place in an athlete’s training design. (Personally, I’m a fan of combinations in the weight room because they allow me to really hit home on points about firing order.) However, these exercises also may never have a place in an athlete’s training design. To me, this is where the real “art” of plyometric prescription comes into play.Coaches try to put athletes in situations that cause their systems to create unique solutions. Click To Tweet
We are trying to put athletes in challenging situations that cause their systems to create unique solutions to problems. What is challenging for one athlete may not be challenging for another athlete. Therefore, attention to detail, trend monitoring, and athlete debriefing are important on a regular basis. It’s important to have a large inventory of plyometrics to draw from, but it’s paramount to match up exercise prescription with athlete need.
Linking plyometrics with event-specific work in the same session does happen on occasion. However, we have generally found that during the competitive season, a plyo session the day before event-specific work seems to prime the pump for the following day. Remember that in the jumping events, event-specific work is a plyometric. Do you need more on the same day? If so, what’s your purpose?
I’ll close this topic with three notes that have recently been areas of interest to me regarding plyometrics. The first of these is fluid dynamics within the joint system, and the role of plyometrics in training this system. In lay terms, the fluid in the joint systems functions like the hydraulic fluid in a piece of heavy machinery. This fluid system allows the equipment to create more force for lifting loads or pushing objects than it could without the system. The interesting part to me is the role of plyometrics in not only training this system, but also in its restorative capacities. The idea is that plyometrics (especially low complexity, low intensity) help to return the fluid in the joints to a homeostatic state after a heavy impact session, thus preventing fluid imbalances and improper joint function.
The second note regards using plyometrics as a movement screen. Successful coaches have always paid attention to detail and adjusted as needed. Plyometric activities give us a unique window into movement because they are often rather novel activities for many athletes as compared to other movements. This means that it’s more difficult for even the “magician” athletes to hide faulty movement patterns. Look for differences in firing patterns, joint amortization, ground contact time, posture, etc. Try paying special attention to anything moving backwards.
Finally, just a little bit on ground contact time and athlete conversion abilities. Working with Coach Pfaff, we tried to put athletes into one of three different boxes: slow, medium, or fast converters. This describes how much time the athlete needs to spend on the ground to most efficiently apply force and re-organize their body for the most successful outcome. If we coach every athlete to get off the ground as fast as possible, or “hit and go,” we may be doing them a disservice based on their unique skill sets.
Realize that these are spectral boxes, and we can shift athletes some over time. It’s not always wise to use a catchall cue for an entire group of athletes. Use the cues that are best for each person, and know why you are using them.
Stacey Taurima: When introducing plyometric exercises into any training program, I’m looking at improving and enhancing certain capabilities within the athlete’s toolbox.
When implementing plyometric exercises, I’m generally looking at developing reactive strength, elasticity, power development, neural stimulation, and conditioning qualities. It’s important to understand the reasoning or purpose of plyometric inclusion.
When introducing plyometrics into an athlete’s program, I tend to focus more on vertical force applications than horizontal, especially with athletes with limited training years. This allows for athletes to maintain postural integrity while developing elastic and reactive strength qualities in a safe manner. We can progress into the horizontal applications once the athlete has developed the required capabilities.
Our introductory plyometric circuits are similar to the plyometric rudiment schemes developed by Coach Dan Pfaff. These schemes offer coaches better understanding of the athlete’s current capability and give insight into progression time frames. When progressing plyometric activity, we examine the relationship between volume and intensity, and what that looks like in the current training cycle.
The plyometric exercises should complement other aspects of the training program. For example, sprint acceleration is more horizontal force dominant; therefore, the plyometric exercises should complement a similar impulse. This can be carried out prior to acceleration, which leads into potentiation affects.
I believe plyometrics need to be respected, due to the neural demand they require. I tend to utilize them occasionally with some individuals in the squad, and more with others.
Alex Jebb: I believe in using plyometrics throughout the season because it’s some of the most comparable work to event-specific training. Our plyometric training is comprised of a broad annual progression of movements, beginning with low intensity in-place jumps and moving up the spectrum of intensity to possibly assisted-speed alternate leg bounds for my more-experienced athletes.
We start with drop jumps, in which the athlete steps off a box that is about as tall as his or her standing vertical jump, and simply stick the landing, as a precursor to depth jumps. Our bounding progression starts with different jump combinations to load the athlete in a variety of ways, and then moves to endurance bounding from a standing start until we gradually add more speed going into the bounding combinations. This progression finishes with a few high-quality bounds in which the athlete is either bringing maximum speed into each repetition, or bounding onto and off of boxes. (We manipulate the height and spacing.)Be careful that the use of plyometrics doesn’t come at the expense of quality strength work. Click To Tweet
I also believe in using plyometrics within weight room complexes. I think that strength and power exercises and the neural effect of plyometrics feed off of each other in a synergistic fashion. However, I think you have to be careful in ensuring that the use of plyometrics doesn’t come at the expense of quality strength work. Our efforts on the track are so ballistic and high velocity in nature, that I believe the best use of the weight room is as a complementary component to develop strength. So, while I do believe in the value of plyometric complexes in the weight room, I will quickly abandon them if I think they are sacrificing quality strength/power work.
Tomorrow, we’ll feature the next installment of this Jumps Roundtable Edition #2 series: “Tapering and Peaking.”