Plyometric Training for Track and Field
Many track and field athletes use plyometric training; it is commonly associated with jumping activities for all athletes. Plyometric exercises are specialized training that takes advantage of the stretch reflex and neuromuscular system to produce powerful muscle contractions. Plyometrics are used to improve speed, power, rhythm, event specific strength, and endurance in all types of athletes. Plyometric training can help track and field athletes be more explosive, stay healthier, and build the necessary event-specific qualities to succeed.
The stretch-shortening cycle is a natural response to rapid muscle lengthening prior to a muscle contraction that results in the nervous system's more powerful and faster response. Stretch-shortening cycle training, commonly called plyometric training, is associated with jumping exercises but includes other activities, such as sprinting, throwing, and resistance training routines that take advantage of the stretch reflex mechanism.
Plyometrics is one of the most important training elements for all types of power development that will improve the reactivity of the neuromuscular system. Plyometric training is considered a type of reactive strength, also known as elastic strength. The characteristics of plyometric exercises are "reflex-induced" and take advantage of the stored energy in the muscles and tendons (Ritzdorf, 2003).
Plyometrics work because the exercises improve the rate of contraction by overloading the neuromuscular system; this is achieved by pre-stretching or shortening the muscle fibers followed by a rapid dynamic post-stretch contraction. Knudson (2012) describes why additional force from the stretch-shortening cycle is beneficial in the contraction phase: "Movements that require a muscle group to shorten considerably will not be able to create maximal forces" (p. 85). The stretch-shortening cycle generates additional force during the concentric phase of the muscle contraction.
According to Bompa (2000), "Plyometrics develop the nervous system so that it will react with maximal speed to the lengthening of muscle; in turn, it will develop the ability to shorten (contract) rapidly with maximal force" (p. 26).
The plyometric progression for track and field athletes should be similar to the training design progression in specific event areas. Plyometric training progressions must be well planned with limitations for specific athletes.
Ground contact time is the key variable: the quicker the reaction, the less ground contact time, the more effective the training exercise. Bodyweight and strength to bodyweight ratio are two factors that need to be considered when designing plyometric training. Athletes with bodyweight over 100 kilos should not depth jump from heights over 60 centimeters and only perform low-intensity single-leg movements.
Plyometric Training Design
Plyometric exercises are periodized similarly to other strength movements with variations in intensity, volume, and frequency. Training will progress from low intensity and medium volume to high intensity and low volume over several weeks. Plyometric training can begin with simple sprint drills and build up into more dynamic sprint drills, followed by jumping movements. Always use logical progressions and safe equipment when performing plyometric exercises.
Plyometrics Training Concepts
- Training can develop reflexive activities to create more force
- Objective is to produce high forces in a short time
- Muscles must be preactivated for reflex stretch
- Minimize landing (eccentric) deceleration
- Maximize takeoff (concentric) acceleration
- Maximize force output and minimize time to create large force output
- The velocity of the stretch is more important than the amount of stretch
- Low-impact sprint-related exercises to explosive sprint-related exercises
- In place jumps to moving jumps
- Double-leg jumps to single-leg jumps
- Jumps with a pause to continuous jumps
- No obstacles to obstacles (low to higher)
- Low amplitude jumps to high amplitude jumps
- Jumps without external resistance to jumps with external resistance
Intensity Factors for Plyometrics
- Stretch-shortening cycle speed (initial rate of force production)
- Time-dependent (how fast)
- Performance measurement (how far)
- Eccentric load (drop height/obstacle height)
- Complexity of movement (one movement or multiple movements)
- External resistance
Horizontal and Vertical Plyometrics
Plyometric exercises can have horizontal and/or vertical components. Horizontal movements improve acceleration training, long jumping, triple jumping, discus throwing, shot putting and javelin throwing. Vertical movements improve maximal velocity training, high jumping and pole vaulting. Complex exercises can combine both horizontal and vertical movements. Coaches can create exercises based on specific movement patterns of an athlete’s technique to improve the effectiveness of the stretch shortening cycle.
Exercises include vertical and horizontal movements that can be measured based on speed, distance, eccentric load and complexity. Coaches can develop programs based on technical patterns and individual needs to optimize the effectiveness of plyometric training.
Jumping and Throwing Combinations
Medicine ball throws are often paired with other movements such as jumps or sprints. The combination movements are considered complex movements because they incorporate multiple skills. The complex movement sequences improve coordination and optimizes the summation of forces during movement that results in a higher accumulation of force output.
Plyometric Training Tips
- Use minimal contact times between jumps
- Use obstacles that are safe to land on or jump over
- Use proper rest periods between sets
- Use lower intensity exercises if ground contact time is diminished
Plyometric Training for Track and Field Athletes
Sprinters can execute a series of jumps before a short sprint can develop the explosive drive needed to start the race; this exercise helps convert horizontal velocity into the sprinting motion.
- 3 double leg jumps forward followed by a 10-meter sprint
Distance runners love to run; however, more balance in training can lead to healthy athletes. Doing a series of moderate intensity double leg jumps with the feet together moving down the track from one lane line to the other (ski jumps) as part of a dynamic warm up can improve explosive power for the finishing kick distance runners need.
- 2x30m double leg ski jumps (side to side across the running lane)
Throwers use plyometrics to improve the power needed to throw far; for example, a shot putter can drop down from a box and perform a throw.
- 2x5 box drop from 18" into the power position and throw
All jumpers use plyometric training to increase jumping ability. Triple jumpers use a series of single bounding drills to develop specific strength and endurance.
- 3x5 single leg alternate bounds onto 6" boxes