What Is Plyometric Training?
By Mick Travis
, last updated December 2, 2011
Plyometric training is strength training which is specifically intended to increase the speed and power of muscle movements. This type of muscle training stands in contrast to more traditional forms of strength training, which consist of slower movements designed to increase muscle mass and strength. Plyometric training works to quicken muscle movements by reducing the time elapsed between eccentric (lengthening) and concentric (shortening) muscle movements. There are three basic phases in a plyometric exercise. First is the "eccentric phase," in which a rapid muscle lengthening movement occurs. In the second phase, there is a brief period of rest, which is referred to as the "amortization phase." The third phase is known as the "concentric phase," and it is during this phase that the athlete involved in the plyometric exercise engages in an explosive muscle shortening movement. To have any sort of optimum positive effect, the entire cycle is meant to be performed as quickly as possible.
The concept of plyometric training was devised and advanced by Cold War-era Soviet scientists in an effort to better train Russian track and field athletes. Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky, a Russian researcher who was a pioneer in the field of plyometrics, published the first official study on the benefits of plyometric training in 1964. The use of plyometric training was so successful for Russian track and field athletes that American track and field coaches began utilizing these training methods. It was American track and field coach Fred Wilt who named the borrowed training methods "plyometrics," and use of plyometric training with athletes gradually became common international practice.
So what are the more specific, detailed benefits of plyometric training? Regarding muscular benefits, plyometric training strengthens what are known as "fast-twitch fibers." These muscle fibers are responsible for converting muscle strength to speed, serving as a transitional muscle fiber during the conversion. Not only does plyometric training strengthen fast-twitch muscle fibers, it can actually result in their production, giving you an increased number of them to work with. This quickens and intensifies muscle contractions, providing increased power. Plyometric training also strengthens the tendons, the elasticity of which is necessary to complete explosive muscle movements without injury. Lastly, plyometric training benefits the nervous system (more specifically, the neuromuscular system) by training it to more quickly and efficiently transmit signals from your brain to your muscles, thus increasing the speed and power of muscle movements by fine tuning this mind/body coordination.
Plyometric exercises exist for both the upper and lower body, though it is the lower body which seems to receive the lion's share of attention with this form of training. Lower body plyometric exercises include squat jumps, lateral jumps, tuck jumps, power skipping, alternate leg bounding, box jumps and vertical depth jumps. One example of an upper body plyometric exercises is the plyometric or "clapping" push up. Some additional examples of upper body plyometric exercises, all of which utilize a medicine ball, are the two-handed overhead throw, the side throw, the over back toss, the floor slam, the explosive start throw, the squat throw and the single arm overhead throw.