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l. Plyometrics, Balance and Coordination Exercises

We can use plyometrics to achieve a whole range of affects. The first and most common would be the application for sport specific training where the need to carry explosive power at speed would be evident. Such movements found in sprinting and high jumping would be prime examples of this. Secondly, and least thought of, would be for the training of the nervous system to recruit more muscle fiber activation to allow for better development and affect from strength training exercises. As stated earlier, as we age we tend to fire less muscle fiber during our movements and of course are actually using a smaller portion of each muscle. Obviously, both of the aforementioned examples are related (as they are both forms of neuromuscular and skeletal muscular development) and therefore each one would lend benefit to the other. Plyometrics will also aid in the development of coordination and general conditioning.

There are basically two types of plyometrics. The standard and most commonly known is a recoil type where the direction of movement is drastically reversed to create a recoil effect. The second would be more of a static movement as performed more often by powerlifters.

As an illustration, let’s look at the two modalities. Stand facing a wall where you can gauge how high you will jump. Now, squat down to your most effective ready position and freeze for a few seconds. Now fire up with all your energy and note of how high you propel yourself. This time, squat down quickly to your ready position and with no hesitation fire yourself back up with all of your strength. If done correctly, you will see that the second time resulted in greater altitude. This was due mainly to the effects of mechanical elastic components and the neurophysical reflex in which the muscle attempts to avoid overstretching. The result is more or less like a slingshot effect.

It’s important to understand the difference between these two methods as some unexpected and unwanted results could result. Imagine a world-class power lifter bench pressing 500 pounds and allowing that much weight to fall quickly in an attempt to slingshot it back up. You get the picture. He will actually lower the weight in a very controlled manner – stopping at the appropriate point and then firing the weight back up to the ready position. Keep in mind, there are variations and combinations of these methods.

As we have stated so far, there are basically two main applications, sport specific and motor (muscle fiber) recruitment. Secondly, there are two different methods of plyometrics, the recoil type (most common type) and the static type. And thirdly, there are three different ways to apply this to our workouts. We can perform exercises of only plyometrics, or we can use a few sets of plyometrics before a weightlifting set to wake up or more thoroughly engage the central nervous system and even combine them with calisthenics and aerobics. I do find that it can be very difficult to maintain the explosive level of plyometrics when you are huffing and puffing, nearly out of breath. It’s my opinion that performing only sets of plyometrics usually tends to be more sport specific. I do however, suggest that you experiment with these concepts to see which best suits your particular goals, genetics and potential.

To recap, we can use the following outline:

A. There are two main applications for plyometrics:

1. Sport specific

2. Motor recruitment (muscle development)

B. There are two different methods:

1. Recoil type (main type)

2. Static type

C. Workout methods:

1. Plyometrics alone (by themselves).

2. As a precursor to each weightlifting set.

3. Combined with aerobics or calisthenics.

Regardless of which applications and which methods you use, you are still going to be doing a variety of these three things:

1. Strengthening your connective tissues – ligaments, tendons and such.

2. Improving your general conditioning (depending on your level of effort) and coordination while developing your fast twitch muscle fibers and converting intermediate fibers to fast twitch.

3. Progressively training your central nervous system (CNS) to fire more nervous impulses to recruit more muscle fibers regardless of your intended outcome (sports specific or muscle development).

Now – a word of warning. Plyometrics can be a very advanced form of training, especially for the mature individual as well as the beginner. Extreme care should be taken to avoid over stressing joints and connective tissues. In particular, it is important to start with a low level of effort and to keep the use of any weights at a minimum.

Plyometric Exercises: One of the most popular exercises is the standing horizontal hop. Take a small box, simply stand beside it and hop sideways over it springing back without stopping. The most important concept here is to use maximum effort and spring or recoil each time back over the box. Several boxes can be placed in a row as you hop forward over each box.

Important! In most weight training movements you will apply the static method we discussed earlier. It is wise to remember how dangerous bouncing a heavy weight in most positions would be. Lower the weight in a controlled manner to the proper position and fire it back up into the ready position.

Jump Squat: Bending at the knees and hips you squat down to the ready position, hold for a few seconds and spring upward with maximum effort. Dumbbells of a predetermined weight can be held in each hand down at your side to create the extra stimulus. Of course, you should be extremely cautious using weights with a recoil effect, should you elect to attempt this. This is a great precursor for a weight training squat or leg extension.

Incline Push-Ups: By placing your feet on the floor and your hands on an elevated surface such as a bench or stairs, you lower yourself quickly to the down position and fire up and backwards. The goal here is to mimic the action of your legs in a vertical jump. You want to generate enough force to be able to straighten your arms and obtain several inches of clearance between your hands in the opposing object (stair, bench etc.). Usually with plyometrics, we attempt to use around 30% of your one rep maximum weight – so jumping without weights on your back or performing an incline push-up tends to approximate the targeted resistance.

Bicep Curl: Caution must be used here to avoid overly compressing the joint at the end of the movement due to excessive momentum. For this purpose, using flex bands to create the needed resistance for the explosive movement is a much safer option. A lightly or unloaded straight bar can be used by slightly bouncing or tossing the bar a few inches out of your hands and lowered it quickly to spring back.

Tricep Extension: The French Curl movement can be imitated as well with the flex bands. Tricep push downs are also effective.

Dumbbell Press: The deltoids can be worked through a dumbbell pressing motion while standing on the flex bands.

When performing plyometrics on their own, a multitude of sets for each muscle group can be performed until fatigued.

Plyometrics performed before a strength training set should be done in this manner: One or two sets of plyometric movements within a couple of minutes of each related strength training set. An example would be inclined push-up plyometrics just before a bench press exercise. Do not perform the plyometrics to fatigue, remember that they are intended to fire up the central nervous system to generate more muscle fiber movement during the bench press exercise. Keep the delay between the plyometric and the weightlifting movement under 3 min. – the central nervous system stays a little more hyped up for only a couple of minutes after the plyometric. This is of course a peak, as over time the CNS will develop a higher nervous impulse output anyway – or so the theory.

Hopefully, this is giving you a multitude of ideas for you to experiment with and develop on your own to spur you toward your own potential. Soon there will be accompanying videos and photographs to illustrate various examples and applications.

Coordination and balancing exercises can be worked in with the plyometrics with one leg hops one legged toe touches and even one legged squats. Calisthenics, which will be covered later in videos of combination exercises – are a great way to develop coordination as you are constantly working with only your own body weight.

Although these verbal descriptions might be somewhat inadequate, the important thing is that you now understand the underlying principles behind plyometrics. With that understanding, you will be able to make a multitude of applications toward your own development and potential.

Again I caution, start off gently and slowly to give your connective tissues time to develop and experiment with different modalities as you apply these simple techniques to your exercise regimen. I’m sure you will see that they can be powerful tools to aid you in your quest for your own human potential.

Tommy Atlas

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