Plyometrics Goofy Hopping

Back in the days of the Berlin Wall, East German athletes supposedly gained some of their potent athleticism from a funky method of training known as plyometrics. Since that dreaded wall has crumbled, this dynamic method of strength training has gained considerable popularity. So what in the name of Uta Pippig is plyometrics? Basically, it's exercises that emphasize bounding and explosive movements. In theory, doing exercises that emphasize a particular movement, say jumping on and off a platform as quickly as possible, will elicit great gains when you ask your body to perform the less exaggerated version. According to advocates of plyometrics, this type of training helps build explosive power, jumping ability, and quickness.

While Dr. Wayne Westcott has found that SuperSlow can be an effective means of making strength gains, participants in the training program reported that they found the method particularly tedious. While having a riotous good time isn't necessarily the goal of a weight-lifting program, odds are you have a chance of sticking with it if it's enjoyable.

Flex Facts

While Dr. Wayne Westcott has found that SuperSlow can be an effective means of making strength gains, participants in the training program reported that they found the method particularly tedious. While having a riotous good time isn't necessarily the goal of a weight-lifting program, odds are you have a chance of sticking with it if it's enjoyable.

Plyometrics is a method of strength training that involves bounding and jumping exercises. Both the safety and effectiveness of plyometrics are questionable, and we caution against the use of most plyometric exercises.

Bar Talk

Plyometrics is a method of strength training that involves bounding and jumping exercises. Both the safety and effectiveness of plyometrics are questionable, and we caution against the use of most plyometric exercises.

Let's take a look at what's behind this hop, skip, and jump craze. Plyometrics attempts to take advantage of the elasticity of the muscle by pre-

stretching it before contraction. In other words, plyometrics uses your body's natural defense mechanisms to help produce a more forceful muscle action.

Let us explain. We told you about muscle spindles, the sensors in your muscles that respond to excessive stretching in an attempt to protect the muscles. As you may recall, when you stretch too far or too fast, muscle spindles try to contract the muscle before it gets injured or overstretched. Plyometric exercises intentionally and forcefully prestretch the muscle. This means the muscle spindles are excited, and that helps lead to a more forceful contraction.

Here's an example of how it works. Assuming you're sitting right now, stand up and jump as high as you can. If you're like the rest of us, you probably bent down into a coiled position just before you jumped. That's prestretching the muscle. You do the same kind of thing before swinging a baseball bat or kicking a soccer ball.

Common plyometrics exercises include throwing a medicine ball (a soft, weighted ball), as well as a variety of difficult drills in which you jump, hop, or bound—often off of or over boxes. Sounds good, and it is if you can ward off injuries. However, we have some serious concerns about the effectiveness and more importantly, the safety of plyometrics for both beginners and elite athletes.

When doing the plyometric exercises, there is significant stress on the musculoskeletal system, especially when using added weight such as a bar or a weighted vest, or when jumping from a platform. Even if the risk of injury is acceptable—and we don't think it is—there is little evidence that plyometrics are worth the risk.

Back in Chapter 3, "What Goes Where and Why," we touched on two elements that are key to an effective strength-training program: range of motion and muscle tension. When executing a plyometric movement, you often do not work the muscle through a full range of motion (ROM). Even if you do, while there is tremendous tension on the muscle at the beginning of the movement, the momentum produced by the fast speed of the movement decreases muscle tension throughout most of the ROM.

Having said that, many fitness experts swear by plyometrics. And the number of world-class athletes who use these techniques is too large to mention. Even our trusty writing companion Joe uses various plyometric exercises in his strength-training routine. The important thing to keep in mind if you're going to try some of these exercises is to make sure your technique is impeccable, and always do a thorough warm-up. Hopping around like a kangaroo on speed when you're cold is a certain way to court injury.

The following are advantages of plyometric training:

> Minimal equipment requirements

> Some simpler exercises may benefit agility

The following are disadvantages of plyometric training:

> High potential for injury to connective tissue (tendons and ligaments)

> Risk of hip, knee, and ankle strains and sprains >- Danger of stress fractures

Earlier we mentioned that plyometrics have gained considerable attention in the past few years. As we said, some experts swear by them; some swear against them. Even though the all-pro wide receiver for your favorite football team says that doing plyometrics has added two inches to his vertical leap, it's safe to assume that he could jump a lot higher than most mere mortals before he started bounding off of boxes. As we've said before, elite athletes sometimes reach elite status despite their training rather than because of it.

Back in 1985, the New York Giants used plyometrics extensively in their training en route to winning the Super Bowl. That year advocates of explosive movements were in their glory, pointing to the Giants as an example of the superiority of plyometrics over conventional strength-training methods. The wrinkle in the equation came the next year when the Washington Redskins won the whole enchilada. You see, Dan Riley, the strength and conditioning coach for the Redskins and one of the most respected men in the business, is an outspoken critic of plyometrics. Under Riley's watchful eye, the Redskins use only slow, controlled movements in the weight room because he sees no reason to jeopardize the safety of his multimillion-dollar players.

Would these same teams have won if they had traded strength coaches? Who knows? The bottom line is that anecdotal evidence supplied by individuals, even great ones, does not mean that you should follow their training plans. For every story of an athlete who excels using plyometrics, there's another who does just as well with safer methods, or worse, one who got hurt using plyometrics.

Certain simple agility drills such as a football player running through tires or even rope-jumping can be classified as low-level plyometric exercises, and we'd be hard-pressed to argue against them as a means of improving skill and dexterity. Still, due to the increased risk of injury as well as the lack of proof that most plyometric exercises are more effective than conventional means of strength training, it seems that they should be used with extreme caution, if at all.

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