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What is plyometric exercise?

Plyometric exercise involves 3 phases and essentially involves rapid storage and release of energy via a rapid stretch & shortening of the muscle and tendon.

  1. Eccentric phase – rapid stretch of the muscle and tendon, where the muscles act to ‘stiffen’ the lengthening tendon and store energy.
  2. Amortization phase – transition phase where the tendon becomes a loaded spring ready to rapidly recoil and produce force. The quicker this phase, the less ground contact time and more energy for power.
  3. Concentric phase – where the stored elastic energy is converted back to kinetic energy and powerful movement.

Examples of lower limb plyometric exercises include box jumps, hopping & skipping, while upper limb plyometrics can involve falling push up catches, medicine ball throws, and clap push ups.

Why is it important?

Plyometric training has been shown to have a number of health & performance benefits, including:

  • Improved bone mineral density
  • Decreased risk of falls in elderly populations
  • Improved tendon capacity & reduced risk of tendon injury
  • Improved running speed & efficiency

How do we progress plyometric training?

One method for progressing plyometric training is the ‘plyometric continuum’ – a term and method produced by Lachlan Wilmot, a renowned Australian Strength and Conditioning coach.

This continuum follows a series of phases progressing from learning to absorb force, to producing force, and finally combining these two qualities in the same exercise.

  1. Eccentric absorption – learning to absorb forces (eg tall to shorts, altitude landings)
  2. Concentric development – learning to produce force (eg squat jump)
  3. Jump integration – combining phases 1 & 2 (single hurdle jump, broad jump)
  4. Continuous jumps – repetitive jumping & landing (continuous hurdle jump, hurdle hop, pogo jumps)
  5. Shock method – highly aggressive jumping & landing (triple hops for distance)

This is important to consider when we think about activities like running. Running, particularly high-speed running, involves repetitive absorption and production of high forces. Therefore, while strength training undoubtedly improves performance and reduces risk of injuries, it makes sense to include some form of plyometric training in your gym/rehabilitation program.

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