Plyometrics – Part I
All good buildings are built on strong foundations. The same is true of training.
Plyometric training is the essential element of base 1 ‘Power Training’. This 6-8 week period during winter/spring should be thought of as laying the ‘foundations’ for the coming season.
Base training is not what athletes commonly believe: “lots of long slow distance.” It should be geared towards increasing core strength and power. With increased power the next phases of the years training can be performed more efficiently.
The most important 3 sessions of the weekly programme when developing power will be composed of weights, circuits and plyometric running (which for convenience I have simply labelled as Plyometrics.)
There is no one magical formula and set way of doing plyometric training.
It is however, important to, always be fully rested before doing plyometrics, this is why it is not possible to perform any anaerobic speed training or long distance training in the power training phase.
One final pointer: Do all exercises correctly, do not rush or take short cuts. Do not add on reps.
Remember: Quality not quantity
Development of Power: Overview
Improvement in the sport of triathlon is achieved by optimizing various abilities. The most important areas of conditioning are Endurance, Speed and Strength. Endurance is developed through longer runs and bike rides. Speed and strength should be developed via plyometric training.
Running speed is a factor of stride length and stride frequency (cadence). By developing greater strength, runners are able to increase stride length and so run faster. Increased strength helps generate greater force more quickly. Improvements in power are achieved by overloading the muscles. By making the muscles cope with a greater resistance or load than they are used to.
In a “flat” race it takes a short time to accelerate up to race speed. Once acceleration is complete energy demands drop as momentum is being maintained. As soon as a hill is encountered energy demands climb steeply. This is because travelling uphill is like constantly accelerating. Suddenly the athlete must lift their body’s weight against gravity rather than moving it across the pull of gravity. This is why hill reps are an important element of the power phase of training.
Hill Repetitions are the easiest way to develop strength. Depending on the goal of the session and the demands of your future races you can vary the grade of the hill, the length of the hill, your recovery, and your pace.
Long Hill Reps of beyond two minutes are a great way to get into oxygen debt. The legs and lungs start burning. (This is part of pre-race season training). Steep hills can really improve strength in a short time. Make sure gradients are not too steep to maintain pace. Keep repetitions short enough, so that you do not slow down during the repetition.
Terminology Circuit training: is a mixture of cardio-vascular and resistance exercises which are great to improve your sports performance. Circuit training is a very flexible format which can be done pretty much anywhere. Indoors if it rains, outdoors in good weather! By the beach if you are on holiday.
Circuits come under the banner of Cross Training. It is the use of training methods from another sport or sports to help the training for your own. Many sports have similar characteristics, so using the conditioning or even skill practice from one will overlap into another, it may also help in reducing the risk of injury.
Core Stability: I expect that at some point we have all been told to sit up straight or not to slouch. This is good advice and is pretty much what core stability is all about. The aim is to keep good posture whatever you are doing and to do this requires a mixture of muscular work and controlled breathing. A good example of an exercise that requires good core stability is a press up. A proper press up is done with the body straight (not bum in the air and not slumping to the ground!). This correct position requires the muscles supporting the spine to be in action as well as breathing control, this is where you get the core stability.
Plyometrics: Speed and strength are integral components of fitness found in varying degrees in virtually all athletic movements. Simply put, the combination of speed and strength is power. For many years coaches and athletes have sought to improve power in order to enhance performance. Throughout this century and no doubt long before, jumping, bounding and hopping exercises have been used in various ways to enhance athletic performance. In recent years this distinct method of training for power has been termed plyometrics. Whatever the origins of the word, the term is used to describe the method of training which seeks to enhance the explosive reaction of an individual through powerful muscular contractions as a result of rapid eccentric contractions.
If you want to swim, bike or run faster, plyometric training can help. This type of training is high impact and high load, and popular belief would have it that you need to have a certain amount of strength before you start. The truth is that anybody can do it. Hopping for example we have all done and that is a low level plyometric exercise which is very useful for us triathletes.
Muscle Mechanism involved in plyometric training
The maximum force that a muscle can develop is attained during a rapid eccentric contraction. However, it should be realised that muscles seldom perform one type of contraction in isolation during athletic movements. When a concentric contraction occurs (muscle shortens) immediately following an eccentric contraction (muscle lengthens) then the force generated can be dramatically increased. If a muscle is stretched, much of the energy required to stretch it is lost as heat, but some of this energy can be stored by the elastic components of the muscle. This stored energy is available to the muscle only during a subsequent contraction. It is important to realise that this energy boost is lost if the eccentric contraction is not followed immediately by a concentric effort. To express this greater force the muscle must contract within the shortest time possible. This whole process is frequently called the stretch shortening cycle and is the underlying mechanism of plyometric training.
Choose the method to fit the sport
The golden rule of any conditioning programme is specificity. This means that the movement you perform in training should match, as closely as possible, the movements encountered during competition. If you were a rugby player practising for the line-out or a volleyball player interested in increasing vertical jump height, then drop jumping or box jumping may be the right exercise. However we are triathletes so I listed some of the keys exercise for us below.
Swim: push ups, tricept dips
Bike: leg curls, leg extensions, leg press, body squats, burpees
Running: calf raisers, squat thrusts, burpees, hill hopping, hill bounds, sprints
Core: all execises in circuit training