What is Plyometrics?
Plyometrics is an exercise regimen designed to make movements faster and more powerful at the same time. This method aims for the conversion of strength to speed in the shortest amount of time possible. It has many uses in sports training, which includes improving the height of the vertical jump.
The jumping process involves squatting and then suddenly straightening your legs in an explosive movement so that you are forced up into the air. Now, imagine that your calf muscles are replaced by an elastic material such as a rubber band.
The calf muscles undergo a stretch process if you bend your legs, much like stretching a rubber band. When you load the elastic material (your muscles) with energy, this phase in the jump is referred to as the eccentric contraction.
A subsequent phase of the jump is shortening the elastic material or your calf muscles which is just the process of releasing the energy by straightening your legs. This is referred to as the concentric contraction.
There is a resting phase between the eccentric and concentric contractions where your feet are forced into the ground. This very brief moment is called the amortization phase, just before the stored energy during the eccentric contraction is released explosively through the rapid concentric contraction.
To achieve the release of maximum force, you need the squat and the straightening of your legs to happen rapidly in sequence for your jump to be more powerful.
In other words, you need to go from eccentric to concentric contractions rapidly since the longer you stay in the resting phase or amortization phase, the more energy dissipates for the concentric contraction, which means less strength is available to be converted to speed, which directly affects the height of the jump.
The objective of plyometric exercises, when used in training how to jump higher, is to have the concentric contraction very quickly follow the eccentric contraction. The key is to reduce the resting moment as much as possible to maximize energy transfer from your body to the ground.
Plyometrics is a training exercise method that aims to improve an athlete’s power and speed by working out the necessary muscles and improving the nervous system response in using those muscles.
Such training exercises are usually performed to improve hitting power (boxing), quicken running speed (sprinter), stretch throwing distance, and increase vertical jump (basketball/volleyball player).
Definition: Plyometric movements, in which a muscle is loaded and then contracted in rapid sequence, use the strength, elasticity, and innervation of muscle and surrounding tissues to jump higher, run faster, throw farther, or hit harder, depending on the desired training goal. (Source: Wikipedia)
How does plyometrics work?
Plyometrics work through plyometric movements to exercise muscles and train nerve cells to stimulate and generate powerful plyometric contractions at very, very short periods of time.
These contractions are the heart and soul of plyometrics. It starts with a swift “muscle lengthening movement,” followed by a concise rest period, then that quick and explosive muscle contraction that does all the magic.
Plyometric exercises utilize these explosive muscle movements to develop the muscle power needed for the athlete’s training goal. Here’s a geekier explanation of what are plyometrics training programs really and how they work.
Plyometric exercises have a higher amount of injury risk because they involve forceful and quick movements in training. This is why people in good physical condition should only do this and are already built to withstand the muscular and skeletal stresses caused by plyometric movements. This type of jump training is one of those sports training programs where it is advisable to have a personal trainer supervise you.
What you need to reduce the risk of injury: good physical condition and strength, good flexibility, and proprioception.
It is recommended that to be able to start plyometrics training. Minimum strength should be at the level where you can do squat exercises at 5 repetitions with weights at 60% of your body weight. Good core strength is also a big MUST.
Flexibility and proprioception are important to prevent injury and improve balance, agility, and form, which are essential requirements for optimum plyometrics training. (Source: the Chu, D. (1998). Jumping into plyometrics (2nd ed.). Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics)
Tailor-fit plyometrics training to minimize risk
The best way to reduce the risk of injuries to very minimal levels would be to get a personal jump trainer to help you learn how to jump higher correctly.
This way, you will have someone to assess your needs before you start your training and create a customized regimen that will ensure you have all the things you need before starting with the high-intensity training that plyometrics is known for.