Believe it or not, plyometrics training has developed a bad reputation. It is hard to determine if its image as a highly efficient and effective form of training is being replaced by the latest Instagram hero demonstrating yet another close call-personal record box jump, or because most trainees simply don’t know how to incorporate it into their training safely. What was born in the track and field stadium, where the world’s fastest and most explosive athletes display their skills, plyometrics training has come under heavy scrutiny for their safety, especially when performed by children in training (Brown, 2001). As the father of a 14-month old (shameless plug for my son, Mateo!), I continually plan for my son’s athletic development, as it will finance my retirement. Despite their gross misuse through countless social media outlets, plyometric exercises should be recognized for their role not only in improving sporting performance but more importantly as a means of injury prevention in children. Let’s go back to a better time where plyometrics training wasn’t that “thing” that had the potential to get people hurt, but used as the “thing” that made our athletes better. In this 2-part article, let’s look at what plyometrics training consists of, who could benefit from its use and how one can they use it safely.
What Exactly is Plyometrics?
Asking people to define what plyometrics training is can prove to be more challenging than getting an answer to who the 35th president of the United States; without the use of Wikipedia. The answer of what plyometrics training consists of will range from bodyweight exercises performed quickly to throwing a ball. To an extent those answers are correct; sort of! Essentially a plyometric exercise is a quick, powerful movement which uses a pre-stretch, or countermovement, that involves the stretch–shortening cycle (SSC) (Brown & Ferrigno, 2015). For those not familiar with the SSC, essentially, it’s one type of muscular contraction immediately followed by another. The sequence of these two types of muscular contractions takes advantage of your muscle’s energy storage capabilities to maximize its performance. In a highly oversimplified example, think of a rubber band, the further you pull it apart, the more “snap” it produces to return to its original shape.
The Science Behind It
Now that we have the formal definition out of the way, what are some exercise that you may have seen that could be classified under this type of training? Let’s refer to my box jump example; an exercise that most people associate with plyometrics training. A box jump includes the descent (eccentric phase), quickly followed by the ascent phase (concentric), and ends with a landing on top of the box. The time between the eccentric and concentric phase is called amortization phase, the transition between the sinking down to jump and to execute the jump. To take full advantage of the SSC, we want to minimize the amount of time spent in the amortization phase (Brown & Ferrigno, 2015).
Benefits of Plyometrics
There is no doubt that there are noted positive health benefits associated with increases in physical activity, including “improved health, increased self-esteem, collaborative teamwork, and enhanced social development” (Weber, Lam, & Valovich McLeod, 2016). Unfortunately, attached to these positive benefits comes the inherent risk of injury. According to the Sporting and Fitness Industry Association (2013), an estimated 25 million children throughout the United States, between the ages of 6 and 17, participated in some form of team sports. In 2003, estimates of the costs for treating injuries related to sports and recreation-related activities were around $11 billion (Weber et al., 2016). Considering how many children participate in team sports, coupled with the jaw-dropping costs of treating injuries related to sports and recreation-related activities, we can begin to recognize the need for some form of injury prevention.
The Proof is in the Pudding
Let’s look at some studies that have shown plyometrics training as an opportunity to keep children safe. In a meta-analysis by Rössler et al. (2014), researchers looked to examine the effectiveness of injury prevention programs in youths and adolescents. These injury prevention programs incorporated exercises aimed at improving flexibility, strength, and balance. The findings of the meta-analysis by Rössler et al., (2014) revealed that injury prevention programs decreased the likelihood of injury by 46%. That’s cutting down the risk of incurring an injury by almost half; who wouldn’t buy into that? But the research doesn’t stop there; as a 2016, meta-analysis by Weber et al. built on the findings of Rössler. In this 2016 meta-analysis, 21 studies were included with a combined total of 27,561 youth and adolescents with a median age of 16.7 years. The findings not only confirmed that injury prevention programs deliver beneficial effects of injury reduction, but those injury prevention programs that contained jumping or plyometric exercises appeared to be especially beneficial to lowering the risk of harm.
At a time where childhood obesity is at an all-time high, keeping the youth and adolescent populations involved in sports and recreation-related activities should be a major focus. As I mentioned before, with increases in physical activity comes the inherent risk of injury. Armed with a better understanding of what plyometrics training consists of and their potential to decreases injury, the next article will give examples of specific exercises you can use, along with an understanding of how to safely incorporate them into your routine.
If there is anything we can take away from this, it’s that his name was John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Until next time!
Learn how to train injury-free by scheduling your strategy session with Eddy weekday mornings Monday-Friday. Sign up HERE.
References: Brown, L. E. (2000). Are Plyometrics Safe for Children? National Strength & Conditioning Association, 23(2), 45-46. Brown, L. E. (2001). Plyometrics or not? National Strength & Conditioning Association, 23(2), 70-72. Brown, L.E., & Ferrigno, V.A. (2015). Training for speed, agility, & quickness. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. Weber, M. L., Lam, K. C., & Valovich McLeod, T. C. (2016). The Effectiveness of Injury Prevention Programs for Youth and Adolescent Athletes. International Journal Of Athletic Therapy & Training, 21(2), 25-31. Rossler R, Donath L, Verhagen E, Junge A, Schweizer T, Faude O. Exercise-based injury prevention in child and adolescent sport: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2014:44(12): 1733-1748. PubMed doi: 10.1007/s40279-014-0234-2