- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
In designing your own program, it's important to start with low-level plyometrics. Here are some examples:
- Rope jumping (various patterns)
- 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
- 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
- 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 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.
- Running, 1 foot per box
- Running, 2 feet per box
- Shuffling, right and left
- Double-leg hops, forward
- Double-leg hops, right and left
- Right-leg hops, forward
- Left-leg hops, forward
- Ali shuffle, right and left
Mobility Movement Sequence
- Knee-to-chest walk
- Leg cradles
- Inch worm
- Backwards hamstring
- RDL walk
- Cross-Over toe touch
- Twisting lunges
- Kick skips
- Six-inch hurdle drills:
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
Author: 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.
We welcome your feedback on this article. Please e-mail us at: email@example.com