The physical demands of an athlete differ greatly from a ‘normal gym guy’ looking to build huge muscles. Explosiveness – a combination of muscle power and strength – is what an athlete needs to work on rather than ‘slow-rep’ bodybuilding exercises like bench press or bicep curls.
This is where plyometric exercises come in handy. Plyometric exercises are moves associated with a power component – so, if you were to do a ‘clap press-up’ that would be a plyometric move as opposed to a traditional press-up. Likewise, jump squats are plyometric compared to normal squats.
Plyometric exercises use pre-stretching and loading of a muscle (or group of muscle) during the eccentric phase before going into an explosive contraction or concentric phase. This is done so that a greater contractile force can be generated during the concentric phase. So, in the instance of a vertical jump, you will want to bend your knees and go down before exploding upwards. The idea is to utilise the inbuilt ‘stretch-reflex’ system present in skeletal muscles and generate greater contractile force during the jump (concentric phase).
Some strength and conditioning gurus refer to this method of training as ‘shocking the muscles into getting strong’. Plyometric exercises imitating the pattern of movement for your sport will enhance performance many folds.
Here’s a list of plyometric exercises that you can have a go at:
Clap press-ups and other variations of press-ups, box jumps or plyometric pull ups are some examples of calisthenic plyometric exercises. The idea is to add a power component to bodyweight movements, thereby increasing explosiveness. Muscle-up is another awesome whole body plyometric move that can help in improving sports performance.
• Box jumps – using a plyo box of suitable height, jump on to the box with both feet, keep jumping off and on till you carry out the desired number of repetitions.
• Long jumps – loading the lower body by squatting down a bit and using arm swings, explode forwards to complete a series of long jumps – increase the intensity by increasing the distance, the number of jumps or the speed at which you jump.
• Vertical jumps – complete a series of vertical jumps reaching a pre-decided target hung up from the ceiling or marked on the wall.
• Stair jumps – using the principle of pre-loading, jump with both feet and try to cover as many stairs as possible.
• Hurdle jumps – jump over a series of hurdles; intensity can be increased by increasing the height or increasing the number of hurdles.
• Platform – using a couple of plyo boxes, step off the lower one, land on the ground with both feet and then quickly bounce off to land on the higher box; both feet should go together.
• Vertical – step off a plyo box and after landing on the ground, jump vertically as high as you can.
• Staircase – place a plyo box facing a staircase; jumping off the plyo box, land with both feet in between the box and stairs and then quickly bounce off to reach the farthest stair that you can.
• Long – step off a plyo box on to the ground; explode off the ground, jump forwards and try to cover as much ground as possible.
These are used to increase stride length as well as stride frequency. 20 yard dashes with rests in between are great at improving sprint performance.
‘Sled-pull sprints’ or ‘parachute sprints’ can be used to strengthen the muscles involved in sprinting.
Olympic lifting exercises like the snatch and clean and jerk and their parts are brilliant examples to improve explosiveness. Some other exercises that can be also included in power training are:
- Wood-choppers on a cable station
- Pull-push on a cable station
- Battling ropes
- Tyre flips
To conclude, exercises with an explosive component thrown in are more likely to benefit athletes than the most often recommended ‘bodybuilding’ exercises in gyms and fitness centres. Also, designing a strength and conditioning programme, keeping in mind the patterns of movement associated with the athlete’s sport will prove to be more beneficial than a generalized one.