Plyometric Training For Sprinters
Second to sprinting, the most sport specific training input is plyometric training. Though the term plyometrics is technically limited to describing exercises like depth drops and depth jumps, over time it has taken on a more broad meaning. For our purposes, we can lump most or all jumping exercises into the overarching category of plyometrics.
Plyometric training fits well into a sprint training program, and will help with your overall performance when planned appropriately. Beyond developing power and elasticity, plyometric training will help translate your strength training into more explosive and sprint specific force outputs and movement competencies.
In this article, we will go over the following:
- Categories of Plyometric Training Activities
- Use, Effects & Examples Of Various Plyometrics
- Progression Of Plyometric Training Over Time
Categories of Plyometric Training For Sprinters
For the sake of simplicity, plyometric training can be broken down into the following categories:
- Hops – Low amplitude, done in-place or moving through space.
- Jumps – Single effort, maximal intensity jumps performed from the ground to a box or the ground.
- Depth Jumps – High intensity jumps performed from an elevated surface, resulting in a high impact ground contact.
- Bounds – Repeated explosive jumps with a highly elastic movement component, generally performed using one leg or alternating legs.
- ATHLETE.X Jumps – Specialized jumps that target sprint specific movement patterns & stances with a plyometric or jumping component.
Plyometric Training For Sprinters – A Closer Look
Hops are used to teach jumping and landing mechanics, and are especially useful for athletes new to training as well as for experienced athletes who are coming back from the off-season or some other training break.
Effects of Hops
Depending on the variation used, hopping exercises can teach you double & single leg landing mechanics, develop elasticity in the ankle, and develop active joint stiffness in the ankle, knee, and hip joint. Hops are very effective for preparing the foot for more intense activities, such as depth jumps, bounding, and sprinting.
Athletes can use hops at any time of the year, and how they are used will depend on the level of the athlete. Athletes new to training can use them as a primary category of training for a given day, whereas more experienced athletes will use them for warm ups or as a secondary part of the workout, such as a culminating activity.
Examples Of Hops
- Hops In-Place (Single or Double Leg)
- Hops Forward/Backward/Sideways (SL or DL)
- Stiff Leg Hops for Height
Jumps can be used with moderately experienced and advanced athletes throughout most of the year. Less experienced athletes should start with vertically oriented jumps landing on soft plyo boxes, whereas more experienced athletes can experiment with horizontally oriented jumps. Horizontal jumps exhibit a very intense impact upon landing, and this impact can be risky when it comes to injuries of the ankle, knee, or adductors.
Effects Of Jumps
Jumps help teach maximal intensity power production, and can be performed from either a double or single leg stance. Jumps teach athletes to generate as much explosive power as possible, but with less risk of injury when compared to a depth jump or a bounding exercise. Over time, you can use jumps as a way to teach athletes how to produce power, such as teaching the difference between lower and higher rates of force development.
Overall, you can consider jumps to be the best balance of exercises which develop power but have a lower risk of injury when performed in a sane manner. It is suggested that you use a soft plyo box as your landing surface, whether you are doing a vertical or horizontally oriented jump. This will reduce the risk of injury by minimizing the impact of the landing.
Examples of Jumps
- Box Jumps
- Horizontal Box Jumps
- Single Leg Box Jumps
- Walking Single Leg Box Jumps
- Concentric Box Jumps
- Straight Leg Box Jumps
- Weighted Box Jumps
- Vertical Jumps
- Broad Jumps
- Split Leg Jumps
- Hex Bar Jumps
Depth jumps are performed from an elevated surface, such as a box or bench, to increase the amount of load the body must undergo upon landing. Depth jumps can be performed as a depth drop or altitude landing, where you step off of a box and aim to stick the landing without amortization or yielding in the joints of the leg. Depth jumps include both the drop aspect and a jump aspect, with the athlete dropping off of an elevated surface, hitting the ground, and subsequently jumping up onto a box or horizontally for distance.
Effects of Depth Jumps
Depth jumps & drops are used by advanced athletes to overload tendons and muscles in order to increase the amount of force & tension which can be absorbed and expelled by the body. This overload stimulates the golgi tendon organs and muscle spindles, which are sensory organs in the tendons and muscles. Over time, and with a well planned training progression, these types of exercises can re-educate the body to absorb and produce more force than it could before.
Sensory organs like golgi tendon organs act as an overprotective mother or governor on a vehicle, shutting off muscles and tendons when under load as a way to avoid injury. Fortunately, the threshold at which these defense mechanisms kick in can be increased, allowing for more tension to be stored in tendons, stretch to be applied to muscles, and ultimately more force to be absorbed and produced in stretch shortening cycle movements.
For athletes who struggle with getting off of the ground quickly, depth jumps from lower heights can teach the body to spend less time on the ground. For athletes who are powerful on two feet but cannot transfer this to sprinting, single leg depth jumps can be useful for developing competence with single leg power production and stability under load.
Examples of Depth Jumps
- Depth Jump With Short Ground Contact
- Depth Jump For Height
- Depth Jump For Distance
- Single Leg Depth Jump With Short Ground Contact
- Single Leg Depth Jump For Height
- Single Leg Depth Jump For Distance
- Depth Jumps + Sprint or Bound
Bounds are repeated effort jumps that exhibit a highly elastic component, are usually performed single leg or alternating leg ground contacts, and are oriented horizontally. Bounds are useful for intermediate and advanced athletes, and are arguably the most sport specific variation of plyometric training for sprinters, jumpers, distance runners and many field sport athletes.
Effects of Bounds
Bounds develop the ability to repeatedly propel the body forward, utilizing elastic tissues to store energy while in the air. Bounds help teach athletes to lengthen and shorten their limbs with fluidity, as well as the ability to project their body in a blended horizontal and vertical force vector.
For sprinters who struggle with patience and tend to rush their stride frequency, bounds can teach them to spend a slightly greater amount of time on the ground as one way to increase propulsive impulses.
For athletes who lack elasticity and struggle with opening up at the knee or hip joint, bounds can teach them to move with power through larger ranges of motion. This effect is most prominent when paired with or preceded by eccentric strength work on the hip flexors, adductors, and hamstrings.
For athletes who struggle with finding the proper angle of projection for their given specialty, bounds can be used to target more vertical or more horizontal propulsion.
Examples of Bounds
- Double Leg Bounds (repeated broad jumps)
- Alternate Leg Bounds
- Single Leg Cycle Bounds
- Compound Bounds (Left-Left-Right-Right)
- Straight Leg/Semi-Straight Leg Bounds
- Sled Resisted Bounds
- Skips for Height
- Skips for Distance
ATHLETE.X Jumps are plyometric exercises that I have come up with for specific use with sprinters or other athletes who run & sprint in their sport. While I may not be the first person to ever try them, these are jumps that I came upon through experimentation rather than research.
These are designed to target sprint specific movement patterns and stances with a plyometric component. These exercises range from slightly to very complex, and can be used for developing both acceleration and maximal velocity specific force production capabilities.
Effects of ATHLETE.X Jumps
Depending on the specific exercise, ATHLETE.X Jumps can be used to add elastic components to normal jumps, to develop leg strike power, to develop the flexion-extension reflex, to develop elasticity in the leg switch, or to increase coordinative demand on certain exercises.
These are going to be most useful for athletes who already have some base of power output, coordination, and competence in sprinting. Some of the exercises, such as the Strike Jump or A-Box Strike Jump can be used by less experienced athletes, whereas something like the Split Leg A-Cycle is going to be challenging for many, even with experience.
Examples of ATHLETE.X Jumps
- Strike Jumps
- A-Box Strike Jumps
- A-Switch Strike Jumps
- Split Leg Drop To Box
- SL Attack Depth Jump
- Split Leg Cycle Jump
- Split Leg A-Cycle
Progression Of Plyometric Training For Sprinters
As with all training, the progression of plyometric training for sprinters is what can make or break the efficacy of a given training input. Taking an athlete with zero experience and throwing them into a single leg depth jump is likely to end in catastrophic failure. Similarly, never progressing past the basics will leave advanced athletes with unrealized improvements that they could have benefitted from.
Plyometric Training Progression Guidelines
- Simple to Complex Movements
- Low Impact to Higher Impact
- Lower Intensity to Higher Intensity
- Cushioned Surfaces & Footwear To Less Cushion
- Hops to Jumps
- Jumps to Depth Jumps
- Hops to Bounds
- Jumps to Bounds
- Jumps to ATHLETE.X Jumps
Progression Of Hops
- In-Place Hops to Moving Hops
- Low Amplitude Hops to Hops for Height
- Vertical to Horizontal
Progression Of Jumps
- Double Leg Box Jump to Single Leg Box Jump
- Concentric Box Jump to Countermovement Box Jump
- Lower Box Jump to Higher Box Jump
- Vertical to Horizontal
Progression Of Depth Jumps
- Depth Drops (Altitude Landings) to Depth Jumps
- Low Drop to High Drop
- Low Drop & Low Jump to Moderate Drop & Moderate Jump
- Double Leg to Single Leg
- Vertical to Horizontal
- More Padded Footwear/Surface to Less Padded Footwear/Surface
Progression Of Bounds
- Bounds for Movement Competency to Bounds for Distance or Speed
- Alternate Leg to LLRR to Single Leg Cycle Bounds
- Shorter Distance to Longer Distance
- Softer Surface to Harder Surface
- Running Shoes to Spikes (Not all athletes can progress to spikes)
Progression Of ATHLETE.X Jumps
- Strike Jumps to A-Box Strike Jumps
- A-Box Strike Jumps to A-Switch Strike Jumps
- Split Leg Jumps to Split Leg Drop to Box Jump
- Split Leg Drop to Box Jump to Split Leg Cycle Jump
- Split Leg Cycle Jump to Split Leg A-Cycle
Conclusion – Plyometric Training for Sprinters
In conclusion, it would be wise for all coaches and athletes to implement some form of jump or plyometric training into their program.
Younger athletes can benefit from something as simple as a double leg hop in-place, while more advanced athletes can gain a lot from bounds and depth jumps.
By focusing on a simple progression from more simple and lower impact exercises to more complex and higher impact exercises, athletes can find the exercises which are appropriate for their needs and level of development. Over time, the exercises used can become more intense or complex. The intelligent progression of training is what will allow athletes to see continuous improvement, instead of quickly peaking and subsequently stagnating.
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