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Issue: 15.

02 March 2005

Big Jumps
Increasing explosive power is a goal of most volleyball players. A
progressive plyometrics program will help them reach it.
By Tim McClellan
Tim McClellan, MS, CSCS, is the Performance Enhancement Director at
Makeplays.com. He has coached volleyball players for over 20 years,
ranging from professionals to youth club competitors.
Ask any volleyball player what her primary objective is for her off-season
training efforts, and the answer is always the same. Ask any club, high
school, or college coach what his or her training goals are for their team,
and you'll hear an echo. They will all say, "Increase vertical jump."
The key to increasing vertical jumping ability is to incorporate plyometrics
into a training program. Most coaches today understand the value of
plyometrics, but few understand how to safely and effectively make it a
part of their offseason training programs.
HISTORY & DEFINITIONS It is often said that plyometrics were invented
in the 1970s by Soviet Bloc and Eastern European coaches. This is
actually not true. The term "plyometrics" may not have been popularized
until that time, but there are much earlier accounts of Japanese judo
athletes hopping up steps, track athletes performing hurdle hops, and
boxers jumping rope. The effectiveness of such training has been known
for at least 100 years.
But there are still many misconceptions about what plyometrics are and
how they work. Simply stated, an exercise is deemed plyometric if the
muscle groups utilized contract rapidly in a shortening fashion, after
previously lengthening. The classic volleyball example is a middle blocker
touching down after blocking a ball and immediately having to jump again
to block another. The plyometric effect is present when the muscles of the
thighs, glutes, calves, and core lengthen upon floor contact (eccentric
contraction) and are then asked to immediately shorten (concentric
contraction) in the propulsion of the next jump.
The goal of training with plyometrics is to increase the rate of this
stretching and shortening, as well as the power behind it, so that the stored
elastic energy more rapidly transfers to the next explosive movement. In
the above example, it means the volleyball player will spend as little time
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as possible on the floor between jumps, while elevating as high as possible


during both jumps. This rapid transfer of elastic energy into the shortening
phase is believed by many to be the most productive training stimulus for
improving explosive muscle contraction and increasing vertical jump
capability.
Understanding plyometrics also requires knowing the difference between
strength and power. Power is defined as the amount of force an athlete
can apply over a distance in the amount of time it takes to do so. It differs
from strength in that the strength equation does not take into account the
time component.
For example, if Kaylin squats 200 pounds x 3 feet over the course of 6
seconds, her power ratio is 200x3/6 = 600/6 = 100 foot pounds/second. If
her twin sister Ashley squats 150 pounds x 3 feet over the course of 3
seconds her power ratio is 150x3/3 = 150 foot pounds/second. Ashley isn't
as strong as Kaylin, but she demonstrates more power.
Since the leg extension movement required in jumping takes between 0.2
and 0.3 seconds, and maximal strength development takes usually
between 0.5 and 0.7 seconds, it makes sense for athletes to incorporate
exercises aimed at increasing power. Increasing strength is important for
increasing power, but speed of movement is a critical second step. And
speed of movement is a big component of plyometrics.
ARE THEY SAFE? With this sound scientific reasoning for enhanced
power development, and knowledge that most elite-level volleyball players,
basketball players, and jumping field-events athletes use this type of
training, it would seem that there should be instant incorporation of
plyometrics into all volleyball training programs. However, plyometrics
have been criticized for having a greater risk of injury than other methods
due to increased forces of landing and immediate rebounding.
In reality, these fears won't materialize if a progressive program is
implemented. Consider these facts:
Volleyball is a plyometric sport, as are football, basketball, hockey, tennis,
and most other sports. Competitors are required to decelerate and
accelerate in a different direction, be it a libero exploding laterally to dig a
ball, and then getting back to original position, or a middle blocker having
to jump quickly to make consecutive blocks. Sending an athlete into a
plyometric sport unprepared to make plyometric movements is like sending
someone to a piano recital after having them practice extensively on the
tuba.
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Many of the reported injuries resulting from plyometrics occur in


populations that are very different from competitive sport-specific athletes.
For example, one article that calls plyometrics dangerous is talking about
participants in aerobics classes. Comparing hard-training athletes to the
bulk of participants in an aerobics class is simply inaccurate. Many
aerobics participants aren't used to plyometric activity or lack a sufficient
strength base to safely perform plyometrics. Most volleyball players have
extensive, though possibly informal, histories with plyometric exercise and
many have access to adequate strength programs, giving those athletes a
leg up when it comes to avoiding injury.
The National Strength and Conditioning Association has issued a position
paper with regards to plyometric exercises, which touts its benefits over its
risks. The paper says, "Carefully applied plyometric exercise programs are
no more harmful than other forms of sports training and competition, and
may be necessary for safe adaptation to the rigors of explosive sports."
PROPER USE So what constitutes a "carefully applied" and "safe"
plyometrics program? The first step is to understand that plyometrics tax
the athletes' muscles, connective tissue, and nervous system, and thus
should be implemented with care. Consider these important guidelines
from the NSCA position statement:
. A thorough set of warm-up exercises should be performed before
beginning a plyometric training session.
. Footwear and landing surfaces used in plyometric drills must have
good shock absorbing qualities.
. Only athletes who have already achieved high levels of strength
training through standard resistance training should engage in
plyometric drills.
. Less demanding drills should be mastered prior to attempting more
complex and intense drills.

In terms of the strength needed before starting a plyometrics program,


there is no hard-and-fast rule. It has been mentioned in previous literature
that a player should be able to squat twice his or her weight before
beginning plyometric training, but this lacks substantiation and is not
accepted by most diligent performance enhancement coaches. The
National Football League, for example, is full of 350-pound linemen who
cannot squat 700 pounds, yet they routinely train with plyometrics.

Rather than risk injury by making athletes "max-out" on squats, I feel it is


more important to observe strength levels exhibited during play. If the
athlete shows sufficient and functional strength movements while fulfilling
sport requirements, he or she is ready for a plyometric program.
For example, one of our current clients is a 6' 3", 16-year-old female who
cannot squat twice her bodyweight. Few players her age, height, and
weight would be ready for medium or advanced-level plyometrics, but this
athlete actually started functional strength training when she turned 13,
then started on very low levels of plyos as she developed her strength. Her
years of strength work prepared her for the demands of higher-level
plyometrics at a younger age. She now possesses the strength, physique,
and movement skills of a college-age player, and actually has already
made an oral commitment to accept a volleyball scholarship at a
prestigious university.
To implement a progressive plyometrics program, start with lower level
exercises and progress slowly into medium and more advanced stages.
Vern Gambetta, who has coached national and world-class athletes for
three decades, has devised a rating scale that is educational and effective
(see "Rating Scale"). Gambetta says the key is to understand the stress
of different types of drills and to only progress to higher stress exercises
when the athlete is ready. (The chart also points out recovery times
needed.)
WHEN TO PROGRESS How do you actually know when the athlete is
ready to progress to the next level? Coaches, above all, must be great
observers. If the player is struggling to complete the plyometric movement,
then the exercise is inappropriate for that individual. If the athlete has
mastered the exercise repeatedly, she is ready to move to the level.
For example, double-leg hops down an agility ladder can be successfully
used by groups of females as young as 13 on their first day of training. My
past experience has shown they can handle this very low-level plyometric
activity using appropriate mechanics at almost no risk of injury. Most at this
age can then progress to performing the same exercise over six-inch
hurdles, while some can do the same over 12-inch hurdles. However, if an
athlete exhibits a lack of ability to maintain proper biomechanics, then the
exercise opens the athlete up to a greater risk of injury. At that point the
athlete should return to a lower level of exercise.
Some examples that might indicate that the athlete is not ready for the next
level include the following:

0. If the athlete shows extensive bending at the waist or her torso flops
forward or from side-to side, more core work may be needed.
. If the athlete exhibits prolonged contact with the floor, she may not
have the overall body strength and power necessary to proceed.
0. If the athlete's knees are collapsing towards each other, this can
mean lack of quadriceps strength. This can occur on landing
during the eccentric contraction or on push-off of the concentric
phase. If the level of exercise is not decreased, these
movements can lead to joint pain, tendonitis, excessive
heaviness of the legs, and a decreased demonstrated ability to
explode. Ideally, the knees should be aligned over the middle toe
of each foot.

Along with the position of the knees, the position of the feet is also
important during landing. It has been said that all athletes doing
plyometrics should land first on their toes and balls of feet, then make
contact with their heels to help absorb force. This is correct for high-level
jumps and plyometrics such as depth jumps, box jumps, tuck jumps, and
many repeat hops. However, this is not correct for very low-level
plyometrics, such as ankle flips, rope jumping, and agility ladder drills. In
these low-level exercises, the athlete's entire floor contact should be made
with the toes and balls of the feet. There should be no contact between the
floor and the athlete's heels. In addition, there should be as little noise as
possible made by the athlete's feet when landing.
The athlete should also try to keep her head up during all drills. This helps
prepare her for on-court situations, when jumping and viewing the court
need to be done simultaneously.
EXERCISE CHOICES In designing your own program, it's important to
start with low-level plyometrics. Here are some examples:
0. Rope jumping (various patterns)
- 0 -. Speed-agility ladder
. Six-inch hurdle hops (forward hops, side hops, side-to-side hops over
one hurdle, side hop with a vertical block)
. Ankle flips
. Power skips
. Side-to-side hops to create a distance (such as hitting dots on a dot

drill pad).

Here are some mid-level plyometric exercises:


. Rope jumping (double jumps)
. 12-inch hurdle hops (repeat forward hops, forward hops with block,
side-to-side hops with block, hop-scotch)
. Low-level depth jumps
. Dumbbell squat jumps
-1. Low-level single-leg box or hurdle hops
. Resisted/assisted lateral hops (can include vertical block)

High-level plyometric exercises include:


. Depth jumps
. Depth jumps onto or over another object
. Single-leg hurdle hops (both forward and lateral)
. Dumbbell split-squat jumps
-1. Bounding
. Lateral bounding
. Side step-up jumps over a bench
. Resisted/assisted hops or shuffles over hurdles.

As your athletes move into the higher-levels of plyometrics, it's especially


important to be position-specific when developing a regimen. For front row
players, repeat hops are a solid choice (assuming the player is ready for
such training). Repeat hops can be performed as consecutive vertical
movements, lateral movements, or preferably a combination of both.
For the "movement based" positions of setter, libero, or the defensive
specialist in high school play, lateral movements are more appropriate.
One exercise particularly helpful for this group is to attach a
resisted/assisted bungee cord to the athlete via a belt. If it is attached to
the left hip, the athlete would jump to the right against the resistance,
usually over chalk lines or a taped area. Upon touching down they would
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then pop back to starting position with assistance from the stretched cord.
Repeat for the desired number of repetitions (such as a set of 10 reps)
then switch direction.
With any and all of the exercises, the keys to keep in mind are minimizing
contact time with the ground and maintaining appropriate biomechanics.
As the athletes progress, you'll see improvement in the drills, then on the
playing court.
Sidebar: For Beginners: The following plyometric program is for
beginners.
Speed/agility ladder
. Running, 1 foot per box
. Running, 2 feet per box
. Shuffling, right and left
. Double-leg hops, forward
. Double-leg hops, right and left
-1. Hopscotch
. Right-leg hops, forward
. Left-leg hops, forward
. Ali shuffle, right and left

Mobility Movement Sequence


. Knee-to-chest walk
. Leg cradles
. Inch worm
. Spiderman
. Backwards hamstring
. RDL walk
. Quads
. Cross-Over toe touch
. Kicks

. Laterals
. Twisting lunges
. Kick skips
. Six-inch hurdle drills: Shuffling Double-leg hops Shuffle 6 hurdles,
side hop 6 hurdles Side hop 6 hurdles, shuffle 6 hurdles
. 12-Inch Box Depth Jumps: 3 sets of 5 reps, without plyometric jump
(Technically not plyometric, but it is a great drill to strengthen and
teach proper landing biomechanics so that one can progress into
intermediate level plyometrics.)

Strength-training program for legs: General exercises such as step-ups,


lunges, presses, and squats if mechanics dictate
Core Training Program