Should Sprinting and Jumping Athletes Use Plyometrics?

By Keats Snideman, CSCS, LMT

What Are Plyometrics?

Probably one of the most commonly used (and abused) methods of performance-enhancement for sprinters and indeed all running and jumping athletes is “plyometrics.” Plyometrics can be defined as movements that involve fast eccentric muscle actions followed by dynamic and explosive concentric actions (aka, the stretch-shortening cycle). The best example of a plyometric drill that comes to mind is the classic “depth jump” exercise where an athlete drops off a box or step of some pre-determined height. Upon hitting the floor the athlete concentrates on explosively jumping into the air as high as possible.

The purpose of this method is to “shock” the body and nervous system to produce higher levels of muscle tension and force than would normally be possible without the preceding drop. In fact, the “father” and creator of modern day plyometrics, Yuri Verkoshansky of Russia, originally named the plyometric method the “shock” method. To understand how such a system of exercises could be beneficial or detrimental to sprinting, jumping, and indeed all athletes, let’s take a closer look at basic muscle function during movement.

Reversible Muscle Action (i.e. The Stretch-Shortening-Cycle)

Through scientific observation, it has been discovered that if a muscle is stretched immediately before a shortening (concentric) muscle action, force and power output will be increased and energy expenditure will be less. To demonstrate this phenomenon, assuming you are sitting while reading this article, try to stand up. Do it now. Could you feel your body rock back to stretch the thigh muscles a little before you stood up? This is perfectly natural and is called “pre-stretch.” Many sporting actions and resistance training exercises actually involve some level of pre-stretch which enhance the subsequent performance. In the case of sprinters, have you ever noticed the different rituals they use when getting in the blocks. Often, you’ll see the sprinters stretching and kicking their legs behind the blocks before setting their feet in them. This is pre-stretch at work. Now getting back to our little sit-to-stand movement again, I want you to try standing without any pre-stretch (rocking back) whatsoever. In other words, lean forward a little from the hips and then stay still for a few seconds before trying to rise. Much harder if not impossible isn’t it? This simple test and observation is an easy example of how natural it is for human movements to utilize eccentric/lengthening muscle actions prior to concentric/shortening actions.

Even human gait (walking) utilizes this stretch-shortening-cycle to make it more efficient in terms of energy expenditure. In fact, if you walk at a comfortable walking speed (you’re preferred speed), you should be able to walk practically forever. However, if walking speed is increased or decreased from this preferred cadence, efficiency is lost and perceived effort may increase. Let’s apply this pre-stretch stuff now to running, sprinting and jumping. In sprinting in particular, there is a greater stretch of the plantar flexor muscles (gastroc-soleus, etc…) if the foot and ankle are pulled up (i.e. into “dorsiflexion”) prior to foot strike (heel strike in walking and running). If performed correctly, this pre-stretch is followed by and explosive isometric muscle action and then the propulsive concentric action which moves the body forward and upward off the ground.

This is also what happens during a vertical jump except that the arms and shoulders might be used more or less aggressively depending on the situation. This entire process is due to stored elastic energy in the muscles and tendons (think of a spring) and neurological reflexes (primarily the myotatic stretch reflex). When combined with a volitional effort to explode, improved performance (i.e. fasting sprinting times, higher vertical jumps, etc…) can be realized.

Classification Of Plyometric Exercises

Plyometrics can be broken down into various types for simplicity. First off, you have “Impact” and “Non-Impact” forms of plyometrics. With impact plyos you have direct contact with a surface (i.e the ground or playing surface) or an object (such as a medicine ball or sporting implement). In contrast, non-impact plyos involve a quick stretch (recoil) of one or several body parts and joints which then culminate in an explosive concentric muscle action. Examples of non-impact plyometric actions include various kicks and punches in martial arts and boxing. Also, you can think of a baseball pitch as a very dynamic and explosive non-impact plyometric movement. Ever seen a slow-motion or still picture of a pitcher’s arm in the cocked back position (extreme external rotation)? Now that’s some pre-stretch!

Next, plyometrics can be classified according to their intensity level. Similar to strength training exercises, you can have high-intensity plyos like depth jumps and plyometric push-ups and low-intensity variations such as skips, hops, jumping rope and jumps onto boxes for example. The intensity of plyos should really be thought of as a continuum rather than belonging to distinct categories. For instance, one athlete may find jumping rope extremely difficult and challenging whereas another athlete may find the same activity trivial, merely a warm-up. In general, it really depends on the fitness level of the athlete when it comes to choosing specific plyometric exercises. This will be discussed later in the article.

Next, you have preparatory and supplementary plyometrics which help prepare the body to hand the stress and force of fast eccentric muscle actions. This would include the lower intensity plyos discussed above such as skipping, hops, agility ladder drills, rope jumping, jumps onto boxes (but not off) and most forms of free-weight strength training. All these help to prepare the body to handle and produce more force while developing and strengthening the connective tissues.

As an interesting side note, some sport scientists such as the late Dr. Mel Siff, state that in order for an exercise to be classified as truly plyometric, the time interval between the eccentric-isometric (force absorption) phase and the subsequent concentric (force creation) phase must be short, as little as 0.15 seconds in lower extremity plyometric activities. Any longer than this and the movement is considered regular “jump” training, but not plyometrics. But this isn’t set in stone as other research has shown that some benefit still occurs in upper body muscle groups for up to four seconds after an eccentric muscle action (Wilson, et. al).

To recap, the basic premise and theory of plyometrics (and all training in general) to remember is as follows: if you can train the muscles, tendons, and nervous system to produce more force/tension in a shorter period of time during the takeoff from the ground, you can improve performance. This is primarily what the goal is with specific plyometric training. Sounds good right?

Plyometrics And Anaerobic-Dominant Sports

When you look at Track & Field (sprints, hurdles, jumps and throws) and most sports that rely heavily on anaerobic energy processes (i.e. Baseball, Volleyball, Basketball, Tennis, Football, etc…), you realize that there is already a relatively high amount of sprinting and jumping occurring anyway. It’s hard to deny that plyometric muscle action is a vitally important part of performance in these activities, but care must be taken when prescribing and performing specific plyometric movements to avoid overloading vulnerable and overworked areas such as the Achilles tendons, knees, and the lower back. If the plyometric exercises are being applied to the upper body (i.e. plyometric push-ups, medicine ball rebounds, etc…) problems can develop in the wrist, elbow, and shoulder areas. Usually, most of the injuries that occur are due to over-zealous use of and the misapplication of plyometric exercises and related drills. As with any training method, if problems arise, it usually the application of and not the method itself that is to blame. If plyometrics are to be used safely, a carefully planned integration must take place. Next, we will look at a rational plyometric progression process.

A Rational Progression of Plyometrics

The first step after making the decision to include specific plyometric exercises in an athlete’s program is to consider the nature of the sport and the current stress/strain being applied to the body from the sport itself. As mentioned above, sports such as Basketball. Volleyball and jumps/sprints from Track & Field already contain a high volume of plyometric muscle actions. For many of these participants, especially younger and novice-level ones, time might be better spent by focusing on getting stronger (improving maximal strength) through a progressive resistance training program and just playing the sport itself. True impact plyometrics (as discussed earlier) don’t need to be explored until the athlete is sufficiently strong and has developed a good foundation of connective tissue, joint, bone, muscle, and tendon integrity. This does not mean that preparatory and supplementary plyometrics should not be performed because they can help to prepare the body for more demanding plyometric exercises in the future.

A great place to start is to ensure adequate levels of basic strength are in order. Variations of the following strength and power lifts are a great place to start:

1. Squatting (especially front and back squats because they basically simulate the natural jumping movement pattern)

2. Deadlifts (including RDL’s, snatch-grip, clean-grip, sumo and conventional style)

3. Olympic lift variations (For a GREAT resource, see Complete Olympic Lifting)

4. Pressing (both bench press and military press variations)

5. Rows/Chins (for postural support, upper back and elbow flexor development)

6. Supplementary/Assistance Strength Movements (such as single leg exercises, reverse and regular back hypers, GHR, planks, Swiss-ball exercises, medicine ball abdominal movements, woochops, etc…)

The key with athletes is to keep it simple in the weight room and realize that we’re trying to create athletes, not bodybuilders. Keep the primary lifts in the strength and power building rep range (1-5 reps, maybe as high as 8) and leave the higher reps for the supplementary/assistance lifts (10-15 reps is quite common for these exercises).

Depending on the specific athlete’s fitness levels and training history, some preparatory and introductory plyos can be started usually from day one. In addition to basic skipping and sprinting drills, some great beginning drills include the following:

1. Two Foot Hops/Jumps In Place- these are very mild and done insets of 20-25 repetitions. Maximal height on these is NOT the goal here. Simply strive for a comfortable frequency that permits a fluid and rhythmic series of small jumps in place.

2. Jumping Rope- done at a faster pace, jumping rope is a fantastic preparatory drill that teaches an athlete a lot about timing, rhythm and helps to develop basic coordination. As with all plyometrics, the key is to keep the ground contact brief between jumps. Start with as little as 15-30 seconds and build up to 60 seconds worth of jumping. Any more than a minute of continuous jumping is not ideal since it takes the athlete further away from the anaerobic energy systems they are trying to improve (ATP-CP & Anaerobic Glycolysis). If you want to make it harder, simply make the jumps more complicated by adding in side-to-side, front-to-back, high knees (running man), Ali-shuffles, double jumps (2 revolutions per jump) and rope crossing. The variations are almost endless!

3. Agility Ladder Drills- similar to jump roping, the variations are endless. Simply focus on short ground-contact times and fluidity of movement. Keeping the eyes up and not on the ground adds to the difficulty. After a period of adaptation to the above mentioned drills, higher intensity drills can start to be introduced:

4. Jumps onto Boxes- just as the name says, perform individual jumps onto boxes while sticking the landing with ideal body mechanics. This means a nice “athletic” position with knees lined up in the direction of the toes (no excessive inward or outward bowing of the knees)! As the athlete improves, jump height increases. Sets of 5 reps or so should be performed for only a few sets. Ensure the athlete steps off (not jumps off) the box in preparation for each successive rep.

5. Depth (Altitude or Drop) Jumps- in this variation, the athlete simply steps off the box and then “sticks” the landing in the ideal athletic position as mentioned above. It’s important to strive for a quiet landing as this ensures that the force is being dissipated properly upon foot contact with the floor. As famous Strength Coach Michael Boyle likes to say, “if it doesn’t look right, it isn’t.” Always start with a low box and only progress when form is near perfect.

6. Depth Jumps- not all athletes need to progress to this level of training but if they are to be done, they must be done right. The set-up is very similar to the Depth Drops as discussed earlier; the only difference here is that the athlete will explosively rebound off the floor upon hitting it, as if the surface was red hot. Since depth jumps are very ballistic movements, there must be some planning in advance (in the athlete’s mind), a process known in motor control as a “feed-forward” type of control. All ballistic actions utilize this feed-forward type of planning because there is not enough time to use “feedback” as with slower more predictable type of movements and activities. This is what differentiates true plyometric movements from the more commonly performed “pseudoplyometric” movements. The reps and sets on depth jumps are similar to depth drops but include greater rest periods (3 to 5 minutes for maximum height depth jumps).
Remember, these movements are HIGHLY stimulating to the nervous system! And since the nervous system take longer to recover than the cellular/metabolic system, you must take this into account if you are to maximize the potential benefits, and minimize the risks.

Conclusion

There is so much more that could be said regarding plyometrics and athletes, but hopefully I’ve hit the major points that need to be taken into account when designing athletic enhancement programs. I truly believe that many sprinting and jumping athlete can get phenomenal results without EVER doing any super high-intensity plyos. Getting stronger and more explosive in the gym can go a long way to improving game speed as long as some speed work is continued at least most of the year. If true plyos are to be used, than at least do a little homework to ensure a safe and proper progression for your athletes so performance can be maximized with less risk of injury.


Recommended Athletes’ Acceleration
Products

CST Should Sprinting and Jumping Athletes Use Plyometrics?
col dvd article Should Sprinting and Jumping Athletes Use Plyometrics?
boonelbp article Should Sprinting and Jumping Athletes Use Plyometrics?

About The Author:

Keats Snideman is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and a licensed massage therapist specializing in Neuromuscular Therapy (NMT). Based out of the Phoenix (AZ) Metro area, Keats specializes in the enhancement of athletic-style fitness and has a proven track record for getting his clients results. He has coached and provided treatment to a variety of clients (athletic and non-athletic alike). Some of the clients Keats has worked with include athletes from the NFL, NBA, MLBA, USA Track & Field as well as athletes from both the collegiate and high school levels. He is currently the recovery and regeneration consultant for World’s Strongest Man Competitor Kevin Nee. For recreation and fun, Keats also competes as a competitive sub-masters sprinter (100 & 200m dashes). He may be reached at keats@coachkeats.com or through his website at:www.coachkeats.com.

share this article Should Sprinting and Jumping Athletes Use Plyometrics?

—————————————————————————–

Get Immediate Access To My Recent 42 Minute ‘Fundamentals of Speed Development’ Seminar Video…Free!

Take a quick moment to join our Newsletter absolutely FREE and immediately begin receiving:

  • 42 minute seminar exposing the top 3 speed myths, the #1 rule of speed training, the secret to using speed drills, and much more…
  • Exclusive access to top resources, clinics, and teleseminars
  • Cutting edge Audio Interviews, Training Articles, Videos, Resources, and much more…all absolutely FREE

Just enter your name and e-mail address below to start getting our newsletter right now…

Primary Email

Privacy Policy! We will Never share your email with anyone for any reason. You’ll receive a no-hassle free removal link in each email.

Vertical Jump Training: how to explode to the next level

By Michael Harper

Why is the vertical jump test seen as such an important test for measuring athletic performance? To answer this question, analysis of what the vertical jump actually measures must first be investigated. The vertical jump test is a measure of anaerobic muscular power or high-speed muscular strength. The test is determined by the speed of the body’s center of gravity at the moment of takeoff.

Looking at the speed of the body at the moment of takeoff or anaerobic power, the same type of power used in many sports, can be thought of as an indicator of athletic performance and/or potential. There are some flaws with the vertical jump as pointed out by the Baechle and Earle in the Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning that the test does not account for bodyweight factors. If an individual were to test on the vertical jump and then re-test at a later point in time, the results may indicate the same results when the individual is actually exerting a higher amount of power output due to a heavier weight (p.390, 2000).

Overall the vertical jump is a sound and easy comparison method for measures of explosiveness. While I do not recommend training athletes for a test, I do recommend training athletes using methods that will affect their overall performance and as a result be shown in a test. Many jump training programs focus on a lot of things and thus become very complicated. I try to remind myself of the K.I.S.S. principle of Keep It Simple Stupid as I often get roped into looking at the simple way of training – the idea of if it doesn’t seem like a great new and innovative training method then it must not work, but look back at history and you will not see ancient athletes who used these complex methods, but just simple training. (not that some of the new complex training methods don’t give us a great advantage)

As a result, I believe that much of the training for explosiveness and especially for vertical jump training can occur by just performing vertical jumps. There are some requirements for this type of training or any other type of training as if an individual does not have a strong enough strength base then no matter what you do they will not have great success. So please do not think I am saying that we should eliminate squats or such from vertical jump training, but I believe the simple act of performing vertical jumps along with normal strength training can have great results.

I agree, it almost sounds too simple – perform vertical jumps to train – so there are actually a few other things too. I recommend performing these vertical jumps with incremental amounts of weights. When strength training we add weight to what we are lifting and often see great results – this is the same concept.

I recommend having athletes perform a program similar to as follows:

Week 1 –
Week 2 –
Week 3 –
2-3 sets –
4 sets –
6 sets –
25# plate in hand 35# plate in hand 45# plate in hand

6 squat jumps

4 squat jumps

3 squat jumps

6 deep squats

4 deep squats

3 deep squats

10# plate in hand
25# plate in hand 35# plate in hand

6 squat jumps

4 squat jumps

3 squat jumps

6 deep squats

4 deep squats

3 deep squats

5# plate in hand 10# plate in hand 25# plate in hand

6 squat jumps

4 squat jumps

3 squat jumps

6 deep squats

4 deep squats

3 deep squats

No weight –
hands straight up
No weight –
hands straight up
No weight –
hands straight up

6 squat jumps

4 squat jumps

3 squat jumps

Using hands Using hands Using hands

6 deep squats

4 deep squats

3 deep squats

6 squat jumps

4 squat jumps

3 squat jumps

One time straight through the above routine is the equivalent to one set.
Between sets is a great time to hit some abdominal work!

This program can be progressed by adding more weight while jumping and/or increasing the number of sets. I do not recommend increasing the reps as part of the program is to ensure that fast twitch muscles are being worked for increased anaerobic power and not aerobic output.

The above mentioned program is simply performing the vertical jump but by adding weight, just as you would for a bench press program. When looking at performance evaluators it is easy to forget simple logic, but hopefully this vertical jump program will increase anaerobic power output not only for the test but in athletic endeavors.


Recommended Athletes’ Acceleration
Products

CST Vertical Jump Training: how to explode to the next level
col dvd article Vertical Jump Training: how to explode to the next level
taftbaseketball2 article Vertical Jump Training: how to explode to the next level

About The Author:

Article written by Michael Harper, SCCC, USAW, Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Tarleton State University . He can be contacted at Harper@tarleton.edu or through his website atwww.Tri4Fitness.Net .

share this article Vertical Jump Training: how to explode to the next level

—————————————————————————–

Get Immediate Access To My Recent 42 Minute ‘Fundamentals of Speed Development’ Seminar Video…Free!

Take a quick moment to join our Newsletter absolutely FREE and immediately begin receiving:

  • 42 minute seminar exposing the top 3 speed myths, the #1 rule of speed training, the secret to using speed drills, and much more…
  • Exclusive access to top resources, clinics, and teleseminars
  • Cutting edge Audio Interviews, Training Articles, Videos, Resources, and much more…all absolutely FREE

Just enter your name and e-mail address below to start getting our newsletter right now…

Primary Email

Privacy Policy! We will Never share your email with anyone for any reason. You’ll receive a no-hassle free removal link in each email.

Chains and Bands for Explosive Power

By Darryn Fiske

The next big thing in weight training today seems to be the use of chains and bands in collegiate and professional strength programs. While the use of these implements in weight training has been going on for quite some time; mostly in the sport of powerlifting, it seemed like it would only be a matter of time until the value of these implements would be seen in many collegiate and professional strength and conditioning programs across the country regardless of sport.

Chains and bands are used in all of our training at St. Bonaventure University. After listening to Louie Simmons, owner of Westside Barbell in Ohio and one of the most sought after speakers on the concept of strength training in the world, his presentation on the concept of using chains and bands to help build explosive power in our athletes’ lifts struck a major chord with us. Since cycling in chains and bands, we can honestly state that none of our athletes have ever hit a real “plateau” in terms of gaining strength, speed, and acceleration. We may do it a little bit different than the monsters at Westside Barbell, but we think our results using chains and bands speak for themselves.

We tend to cycle them in for about a 3 to 4 week rotation and use them on our speed/dynamic days to help our athletes develop speed strength and acceleration, as well as on our maximum effort days to help our athletes develop absolute strength. While we do not train our athletes to be powerlifters, we do use these implements when we get close to testing our athletes in the weight room or to peak our athletes for their respective competitive seasons and the results we have seen using these implements in the squat, bench, and deadlift exercises has been quite dramatic.

On our dynamic or speed days we will do 8-10 sets of 3 repetitions on a core complex exercise; we’ll use the squat exercise for an example. We loop our “loading chain”, which is a ¼ inch chain with a hook around each end of the squat bar. We then hook either a ½ inch or 5/8 inch (5 foot) chain to each loading chain depending on the athlete’s 1 repetition max on the squat exercise. We usually start our athletes off at 60-65% of their 1 rep max in the squat exercise. For example, if an athlete squats 400 pounds then we would put 240 pounds on the bar, plus the weight of the chains (if using 5/8 chains would be approximately 50 pounds of chain or more depending on the number of chains). So when the athlete is at the bottom with thighs parallel to the floor, the weight is 240 pounds. As the athlete continues to come out of the squat from the bottom and as the chains come off the floor the bar weight increases to approximately 290 pounds (or more if more chains are being used) at the top of the exercise. We “coach” our athletes to accelerate out of the bottom and to “move the bar” as fast as possible. We suggest that you experiment on your own, but remember we are trying to build speed and acceleration and your bar speed should always be at a maximum level.

On our maximum effort day, we will have our athletes warm up to a heavy single of approximately 250 pounds in the squat (assuming same 400 lb squat max). Next we will have our athletes add a 5/8 inch chain on each side and do a single. On the next set, we’ll use two sets of chain, then three sets, and so forth until we reach an all-time maximum for that athlete. Again the weight is less at the bottom, about 250 pounds, but as we keep adding chains most of our athletes whose 1 rep max is 400 pounds end up actually training above this weight. The chains not only build acceleration, but a more forceful lock out at the top. We end up getting up (excluding warm-up sets) to about 10 sets for 1 repetition with the chains attached.

With the use of these methods, we have had many athletes reach all time highs in our core exercises. We had a 6’11” center on our basketball team who squatted 600 pounds. Now in the world of powerlifting, 600 pounds is probably what most people would open with, but then again not many powerlifters are 6’11” and have to run the basketball floor for 40 minutes. At 6’11”, that is a long way to squat 600 pounds!

Bands are different animal all together. We don’t really use them on dynamic days because of the added eccentric stressors they place on the athlete. We have found if you overdue the bands, our athletes have complained of extreme soreness, so be careful. Plus depending on the leverage of the athlete, a 6’11” center will have a totally different advantage/disadvantage as opposed to a 5’10” baseball player. Remember, the bands are pulling down on you.

We use bands primarily on our maximum effort days. Again the goal is not necessarily to produce 500 pound bench pressers or 1000 pound squatters, but the benefits we have seen cannot be denied. Using the bench press as an example, we generally do no try to “max out” every week on the bench. We will use a similar type of movement and work up to a maximum. Case in point we will use the board bench press exercise on max effort days instead of the regular bench exercise. We will loop the bands around the bottom of the power rack and the other ends around the sleeve of the bar. Generally we use two 2×6’s with our athletes and build up to four 2×6’s. Using four 2×6’s with bands is very difficult as the tension never really lets up. We have found that an explosive start off the boards is nearly impossible and the lockout is extremely hard. Again experiment on your own, but as a general rule if you bench press more than 300 pounds we use the green bands, if our athletes bench less than 300 we will use the black or purple mini-bands.

As you can see the use of chains and bands can be very useful in aiding the body in training to generate speed, acceleration, and explosive power. While we do not train with these implements exclusively, we do supplement our regular workouts with these exercises for about 3 to 4 weeks and return to our regular training program. We do these cycles throughout the training year as it helps our athletes stay strong for competition throughout the year. We encourage you to read up on the topic if you are interested in using chains and bands, and if you see a need for speed and acceleration in your training program experiment with these implements of strength. We feel you and your athletes will benefit tremendously as ours have in their training.


Recommended Athletes’ Acceleration
Products

col dvd article Chains and Bands for Explosive Power
boonelbp article Chains and Bands for Explosive Power

About the Author:

Darryn Fiske
Head Strength and Conditioning Coach
St. Bonaventure University

share this article Chains and Bands for Explosive Power

—————————————————————————–

Get Immediate Access To My Recent 42 Minute ‘Fundamentals of Speed Development’ Seminar Video…Free!

Take a quick moment to join our Newsletter absolutely FREE and immediately begin receiving:

  • 42 minute seminar exposing the top 3 speed myths, the #1 rule of speed training, the secret to using speed drills, and much more…
  • Exclusive access to top resources, clinics, and teleseminars
  • Cutting edge Audio Interviews, Training Articles, Videos, Resources, and much more…all absolutely FREE

Just enter your name and e-mail address below to start getting our newsletter right now…

Primary Email

Privacy Policy! We will Never share your email with anyone for any reason. You’ll receive a no-hassle free removal link in each email.

Overcoming the Strength Plateau

By Mickey Marotti, MS.MA.,C.S.C.S.

One of the most frequent questions that a strength coach, trainer, or specialist will get is, “My Bench Press is stuck. It won’t go anywhere. What can I do to help it?” or “What can I do differently to promote strength gains at a faster rate?” or “I’m tired of the same old workout, what can I do?” These questions are all common throughout weight rooms and gyms around the country.

Many techniques can be used to alter your workouts and stove-off plateaus. These techniques can be easily manipulated to fit into every workout or philosophy of training. If a strength stalemate has occurred in your workout, or change is evident, assess the entire situation. Outside influences could affect training such as, lack of proper nutrition, lack of rest, lack of or loss of interest, emotional or social distress, injury or sickness. Also, an increase in a job or school workload, increase in participation in running or conditioning workouts, time-off from training, or overtraining could cause these plateaus. All these outside influences could be reasons for the plateau of strength. The following is a suggested agenda that could potentially help reduce the dreaded standstill of strength.

Training Days

Some workout regiments call for three days per week sessions. This protocol is training the entire body all three days. A different type of workout regiment is a split routine having the first day training- upper body, second day-lower body, and the third day-total body. Changing training days or frequency of training is a good practice to compensate for the “staleness.” Force the body to adapt to different stimulus. Thus, changing from a three-day total body workout to a split routine can help psychologically become better prepared to lift. Mentally, one can focus on the specifics of an intense workout.

The same holds true if training is done on a 4-day split routine. Altering the frequency of the workout days can alleviate some of the monotony experienced throughout a training program. Switching from a three day to a four-day program can be very beneficial. Even alternating upper and lower body regiments can diminish the plateau.

Specific Workout

Order of exercise is a very important component of the strength progression. By using the same exercises in the same order can affect the outcome of work production. Some people enjoy doing the same workout over and over. These people may not see great strength results. The body learns to adapt to certain stresses placed upon it, hence, change is a great manipulator and gives the body a whole new wardrobe of stimuli thus to adapt. In typical programs large muscle groups are performed first, then smaller muscle groups. Some programs have the “core” exercises or the power exercises at the beginning of the workout. However, your preference dictates your training regime. One method of change is to utilize smaller muscle group exercises or single joint exercises earlier in the workout, progressing to the larger muscle groups or multi-joint exercises. For example, instead of doing bench press first, perform a chest fly exercise, then proceed to the bench press. Obviously the load will not be as heavy, but put your ego aside, and remember that the end result is what counts. Some programs call for performing the squat exercise first, followed by another multi-joint exercise. Again, whatever your preference, change the order of execution. You will be surprised. Pre-exhaust the muscle with a single joint and then “blast” it with a multi-joint exercise. Try this technique for a few weeks, then go back to your regular routine. You probably will see some improvement in all exercises.

Other programs call for a “push-pull” routine, where one executes a pushing movement immediately followed by a pulling movement, or vice versa. Change to where you perform all the pushing movements of the day in any order, then perform all the pulling movements. Again do not be concerned with the decrease in weight on some exercises, look at the big picture. Once you go back to the original routine, you will have noticed a positive adaptation from the change in order.

Equipment Type

Changing the type of equipment could also be a great manipulation technique. If your routine calls for all free weight exercises, primarily with the use of barbells, try adding some strength training machines like plate loaded apparatus or a selectorized piece. The machines could be a great substitute for any free weight exercise. By changing the strength curve of a particular movement, this could ultimately provide a different stimulus to the muscle. A barbell exercise is limited to the weakest point in the full range of motion. Exercises done properly cannot overcome this point, so the weight or resistance of the bar will be limited; whereas, some isotonic machines have compensated for these changes in the strength curve, so the limitations during the range have been adjusted. The same principle applies if your program consists of machines only. Add some barbell or dumbbell exercises to your routine. Muscles will respond to different stimuli, so maintain variety.

A good non-traditional type exercise is sand bag training. These sand bags can vary in size from 20 lbs. to 200 lbs. They can be manufactured or self made. Sand bag exercises require a great deal of grip strength. Many exercises can be performed using the sand bags, ranging from a simple bicep curl to a military or push press. Most exercises that are performed with a barbell or dumbbell can be performed with a sand bag or bags. For example, two smaller sand bags can be substituted for dumbbell work, such as a shoulder press. This non-traditional tool will give your workout a whole new outlook. Squats, lunges, step-ups, dead lifts are great sand bag exercises. These are performed by “bear hugging” the sand bags then performing each particular movement. A popular exercise among the football population is neck flexion, where you place a 35-75 lb. sand bag on your forehead, while laying on your back and proceed to pump out a set while holding the bag with your hands.

The use of Fat bars or unorthodox bars can provide variation in the workout. Fat or big bars can range from 1 1/4″ to 2 ½ “ in diameter. Substitute a big bar in place of an Olympic barbell. Flat barbell benching is a great exercise to use the big bar. Military and standing biceps curls are other outstanding exercises.

The use of manual resistance is another great alternative to more conventional forms of training. Resistance is provided by the spotter or partner, and the lifter executes any exercise done with the use of a barbell or dumbbell. Manual resistance exercises have a few downfalls. For instance, it takes an experienced spotter to perform the exercises properly and there is no way to quantity or qualify each exercise. Probably the best use of MR is as a post exhaustion activity. Post exhaustion activities should be performed after an exercise has been completed on a machine or by barbell, then the lifter immediately is taken through the manual resistance until muscular fatigue. For example, the lifter executes three sets of 5-8 reps on the bench press, with the last rep on the last set being almost impossible to complete. Immediately the lifter is taken through a MR chest fly exercise to exhaustion. Use of towels, sticks, pipes, chains, etc. can also be instituted, having the lifter hold one of these apparatuses and is taken through the particular range of motion, as in towel upright rowing or chain pulling.

Another lost technique is the body weight exercises. The simple dips, chins, pull-ups, pushups, and the favorite “wall sit” are great choices for providing an extra zap of intensity when trying to fight through the sticking points of training. A great example is performing sets of 8-10 reps of barbell squats where the last set was extremely hard, not having enough strength and power to get one more rep. Then upon racking the weight, the lifter would find the nearest wall, concrete of course, and then sit up against it with a flat back and knees bent at 90 degrees, holding this position for as long as possible. If the lifter was tough enough, a slew of 45 lb. plates could potentially be added to his or her lap for further resistance. The goal is to hold this static position for a given time, or hold until exhaustion or mental anguish whichever comes first.

Grips

Remember all these suggested adjustments need only to be performed for a small amount of time. However, some adjustments may turn into permanent changes for you. Changing of grip placement can also be a good technique when variation is in order. For example, wide grip to close grip hand placement when performing a chin up or pull up exercise. This variation drastically alters the exercise. Also widening or tightening the grip when using any barbell exercise is advised. For example, use a close grip bench rather than a wide grip bench, change to a high bar squat, where the bar sits high up on the traps, rather than a low bar or power position squat. Any pushing movement could be slightly altered by changing the grip position. Ultimately this “new” exercise will provide a new stimulus to the muscle. Positioning of the body during ground-based activities can also be a positive stimulus to the muscles. By narrowing the stance during a squat exercise or by changing the grip placement or body placement while performing a barbell, dumbbell, isotonic machine or manual resistance exercise, alteration of the range of motion will occur. The angle of push or pull, and movement plane will be affected, ultimately completely changing the exercise.

Volume Sets / Reps

Another easy training variable to manipulate for the purpose of avoiding that dreading strength plateau is the volume. This is probably one of the most controversial areas of strength training. Which rep scheme is the best? Common questions fielded are, “I do not want to bulk up so I probably need to lift with high reps, do I not?” or “I want mass, so how heavy should I go?’ or “I want to increase my bench press, so how many or what cycle program is the best for me?” All these questions have been asked daily in a gym or strength facility. Every situation is different. But every rep/set scheme can be beneficial as long as the scheme is designed to be progressive and provide an overload. Be progressive from the standpoint of more added resistance in the training period using the same reps or using the same weight and increasing the rep load. For a program to be successful not only does it need to be progressive in terms of intensity, but also there needs to be an overload on the muscle on a consistent basis.

The other important characteristic is the program needs to be systematic or have some sort of system in place. Some programs call for the per iodization model of training. Some programs call for the basic three sets of 8, 10 reps or period modules, or some calls for the low number of sets done with a high intense effort. All three protocols are effective. This volume ordeal depends on each situation or preference. Some people like to train for a long period of time. Some do not have time. Therefore, some are forced to train to fit their own circumstances.

If a workout plateau has occurred, change the rep scheme. An excellent change in a scheme is the high rep protocol: 20 rep squats or 20 rep leg press are an excellent choice for increase intensity. This blasted set is performed with a weight that can be performed with a 10-rep max load or close too. If an individual can successfully exert 3×10 with 315lbs. just barely performing the 10th rep of the third set, you have your weight for the 20 rep squat days. The next squat workout perform 2-3 warm-up sets working up to 315lbs. Now perform 20 reps with 315 without racking the weight and taking big breaths between reps. The objective of the routine is to squat 315 lbs. 20 times without racking the weight. To your amazement if the mental readiness is high, and the training environment is ripe, and the motivation of the training partner or coach is maximal, an individual will perform 315 x 20 reps. This technique will truly help avoid any plateaus. Use the 20 rep scheme for 4-6 weeks adding 10-20 lbs. to the work set and then change back to the old scheme. Strength gains will have occurred.

5×50 SCHEME

Pick five exercises each involving multi-joint and different muscle groups. Warm-up to a work load that you can successfully perform between 10-15 reps with maximal effort. After the first set take 2:00 rest. For the second set use the same load and attempt to lift it for maximum reps. Keep using this system until 50 reps have been achieved. Use the same system with each of the next four exercises. This protocol will shock the system. You may need to take 2-3 days to recover.

HEAVY 3×5

Use a work load that is heavy enough to maximally exert five reps. Take 2-3 minutes between sets and attempt the same weight for five reps. Continue this procedure until 3×5 has been done. If only four reps were achieved on the 3rd set use the same weight on the next workout until 3×5 is performed. Once you have achieved 3 x 5 then add 2-5% of the weight for the next workout day.

Multiple Work Set Training

Three different set rep schemes are classified under the multiple work set training protocol. This scheme offers challenging goals and intense “work” sets. Under this protocol, “work” sets are determined by those that are performed with intense exertion and promote strength gains. The following table explains the three different rep schemes on how they are executed. These rep schemes are ideal for multi-joint exercises such as bench press, squat, leg press, and dead lifts.

TABLE I

Reps
Rep Schemes
15, 10, 5-10 Start at 65% of estimated 1 rep maximum. Use the same weight on all sets. Once 15-10-10 can be completed, increase the resistance 5-15 lbs on all 3 work sets. A rest interval should be approximately 2 minutes. Once you have used this scheme for a few workouts, you may be able to increase the weight on each subsequent set.
12,8,5 Start at 70% of estimated max. Use the same weight on all sets, once 12-8-5 can be completed, increase the resistance 5-15 lbs. on all work sets. Take approximately 2 minutes between sets.
10,7,4-7 Start at 70% of estimated 1 rep max. Use the same weight on all sets, once 10-7-7 can be completed, increase the resistance 5-15 lbs. on all 3 work sets. Take 2 minutes in between each set. Once you have used this scheme for a few workouts, you may be able to increase the weight on each subsequent set.

Remember it is not so much the rep/set scheme that is important as the intensity of the effort. It is a good idea periodically to shock the system with a new protocol. To really change one must be diverse. Going from a 3 set of 8 to a 3×10 scheme really is not enough. Completely change the system for a period. If you’re a low rep multiple set enthusiast, change it to a high rep intense effort scheme. If you believe in the high rep 15-20 or moderate 8-15 rep scheme, change to the low rep 3-7 scheme and give it your best shot. There is no wrong way or only way. Be open-minded in designing a program. The body will adapt to each stimulus. Change the stimulus and promote strength gain.

USE OF/DISUSE OF ADVANCED TECHNIQUES

Negative Training

Negative training involves the emphasis of the eccentric muscle contraction during an exercise. The lowering phase or return to the beginning point of the exercise. Post exhaustion negatives is a great technique to use at the end of a hard “work” set. At the completion of the last groveling rep, perform another rep with assistance, then concentrate on the lowering portion of the exercise. This phase should take 3-5 seconds. Perform 2-3 reps of this type of negatives. The spotter can even apply a little more resistance.

Another aspect of negative training is the negative only. The spotters will assist the lifter with the weight, while then the lifter concentrates on lowering of the bar or machine. The lifter can handle on a regular set. For example, if the lifter could bench press 300, then the lifter could handle approximately 420 with negatives.

Forced Reps

Forced reps are performed when the lifter can no longer properly perform a lift. The spotter then assists with the exercise, helping them with 3-5 additional reps. This technique is great for increasing the intensity of effort. Be sure to make the lifter work extremely hard through both phases of the exercise.

Breakdown Sets or Burn-Outs

A breakdown set is used post fatigue of an exercise when the weight is decreased by 20-30% then an immediate set is performed. This breakdown can be done 2-3 times. For example, if a lifter squats 400lbs. for 10 reps, then the lift could rack the weight decrease it to around 280 lbs. and perform another set.

Although these advanced techniques are beneficial, they need to be used sparingly and changed up on a consistent basis. The techniques can offer an added stress to the body that will help progressive strength training.

You may also be overtraining or overusing this technique. Decreasing the amount of advanced techniques could also be a reason for “strength gain stalemate.”

Speed of Movement

Many lifters have different beliefs when it comes to speed of movement of the exercise. Most perform exercise in a slow controlled, and strict manner with more emphasis put on the negative or lowering phase of the exercise. Another philosophy is the super slow training where more emphasis is put on the concentric or lifting portion of the exercise. Some lift in a ballistic manner, stressing speed of the bar.

Adjusting the speed of movement either a little faster or little slower could be a great change. Be sure to perform all exercises with good form and technique. Slowing the speed of movement can be the thing the doctor ordered. Intensity will be increased when the speed is slowed. By slowing the speed of the bar or lifting tool, you are ultimately asking the muscle to work even harder. More recruitment of muscle fibers would be needed to move a resistance slow, strict and hard.

Length of Workouts

Length of the workout could be a variable that needs to be manipulated. This variable is probably determined by the type of training that one is doing. If power lifting or olympic lifting is the emphasis, then the time spent in the weight room is probably maximal. If a basic strength training program is incorporated, the length of workouts is probably minimal. At points during training periods, it is a good idea to cut back or add to depending upon the type of training.

If a lifter is on the verge of overtraining, then if it is extremely important to cut back. More is not always better. One needs to recuperate during heavy training. Rest is just as important as strength training. Though make sure that the work comes first, rather than later.

Rest and Recovery

As in all types of physical training the success of the plan is usually dictated by effort and consistency, diet and rest. Needed energy to train at a high level is as important as the task at hand. If an individual wants to get maximum strength gains, then the diet needs to be good enough to elicit these results. On the other hand, if the body is not properly rested, it is going to be difficult to sustain a level of intensity. The other point is the recovery and rebuilding. The main two points in recovery are diet and rest. Food helps the healing process from heavy training. Rest is needed to help recover physically as well as mentally. Mental rest is a very important variable. The main factor in the equation is hard, consistent, work first, then rest and recover later. Too many people have this equation mixed up. Rest and recover first, then train.

Rest Between Sets/Exercise

Manipulation of rest time can change the entire makeup of the workout. Changing rest time periods alters the intensity of each exercise. When you increase the amount of rest time between sets, you probably can handle a little more weight; however if you take less rest, then you cannot handle as much weight and the intensity is increased. A good rule of thumb is to take as much rest needed to perform each exercise with maximum effort, without taking away from the intensity of the workout. Rest time between exercises should be enough to get a drink, set the weight, take a deep breath and proceed. Manipulation of the rest time can add variety, without changing the exercises.

SUMMARY

Avoiding the strength plateau is a learned art. As a coach, trainer or lifter there should be signs of a plateau, then adapt change and variety to withstand and overcome it. Try to use as many examples on how to manipulate the training variable as possible. When staleness or plateaus occur, look at your training regime and manipulate one or two variables. Change is a warranted aspect of strength training. After a few weeks of the new workout and changed regime, go back to the old workout. There is a great chance that you are going to see great results and notice a difference in strength. Variety is the part of setting up strength training programs that is enjoyable. Adding a new wrinkle into your workouts is like getting a new toy when you were a kid. It is as fun as that.


Recommended Athletes’ Acceleration
Products

col dvd Overcoming the Strength Plateau
CST Overcoming the Strength Plateau
lower body performance Overcoming the Strength Plateau

share this article Overcoming the Strength Plateau

—————————————————————————–

Get Immediate Access To My Recent 42 Minute ‘Fundamentals of Speed Development’ Seminar Video…Free!

Take a quick moment to join our Newsletter absolutely FREE and immediately begin receiving:

  • 42 minute seminar exposing the top 3 speed myths, the #1 rule of speed training, the secret to using speed drills, and much more…
  • Exclusive access to top resources, clinics, and teleseminars
  • Cutting edge Audio Interviews, Training Articles, Videos, Resources, and much more…all absolutely FREE

Just enter your name and e-mail address below to start getting our newsletter right now…

Primary Email

Privacy Policy! We will Never share your email with anyone for any reason. You’ll receive a no-hassle free removal link in each email.

Adapting Training Based on CNS Intensive Training

By Michael Boyle

In March of 2007 I wrote an article for discussing the concept of Central Nervous System Intensive Training.

The purpose of the article was to introduce a concept that might be unfamiliar to many and to discuss how a coach might construct a training program to decrease the stress on the central nervous system. The reality is that we probably overwhelm the central nervous system by continually adding training techniques to further develop the power capabilities of our athletes without thinking about how to manage these techniques in a weekly plan.

The CNS article on t-nation was more of an opinion piece. The purpose of this article is to get into the nuts and bolts of designing a new training program. The reality is that team sports require a consistent pattern of concurrent periodization. All types of training methods are concurrently used to improve speed and power, which is the obvious end goal in team sports. Strength is developed, not for strengths sake but, rather to facilitate the further development of power and speed. Speed work and plyometrics are also done, as is sled training for specific power.

The key is to be able to manage all of the stressors provided. As we have often said, the desire to emulate the training of powerlifters or Olympic lifters is a misplaced one as these athlete need only move weight. They do not need to possess or develop the broad range of qualities necessary for team sports.

The chart below shows a proposed system of organizing and administering the various techniques. Those familiar with my work will see that the information in the chart goes against some of my fundamental beliefs. However, the key to progress is change. You need to be ready to go, as I said in my CNS Intensive DVD “back to the future”.

Weekly Depiction of a Program Designed to Limit CNS Stress

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
Power/ BW Linear Plyo/ Double Lateral
Plyo/
Bound
Linear Plyo/ Single Lateral
Plyo/ Hop
Resisted Speed Heavy Sled- pull+cross None Heavy Sled-push+cross None
Power Snatch None Hang Clean None
Strength Pair 1 VPull w/Front Sqt. HPush w/
Prehab/
Core
VPullw/1 Leg Sqt. HPush w/
Prehab/
Core
Strength Pair 2 HPull w/ SLHE VPush w/ Prehab/
Core
HPull w/ BLHE VPush w/ Prehab/
Core
Bicep/
Tricep
Bicep/
Tricep
Cond. Tempo Slideboard Interval Slideboard

Why back to the future? Because the day two and four workouts go back to old school chest-shoulder–tricep days. I can honestly say I have not done workouts like this since the early eighties when I didn’t know any better. I don’t if it should make me laugh or cry to think that designing these types of workouts would be considered progressive.

The key to the system is to group all of the exercises that would be considered Central Nervous System intensive on the same days. Asd you can see in the chart his means that explosive lifts and squats are done on the same days. In addition linear plyometric work, short sprints and sled work are also done on these same days. This means that days one and three are “big work” days. One school of thought would be to try to spread the work over the week. We are looking at the exact opposite. For the past ten years we have used an Olympic lifting influenced program that had our athletes doing Olympic lifts every day and, lower body work every day. Combine this with four days of plyometric work and four days of conditioning and, you have a formula for overtraining. As I said in the t-nation article the progress of inexperienced lifters may have lulled us to sleep a bit. These changes are designed to benefit the advanced lifter, although the concept will certainly work for a beginner.

Intense conditioning will only be done once per week on day three, which is one of our two CNS intensive days. This means that the intense interval work will never effect he quality of the lower body workouts. The remaining three days will be lower intensity interval conditioning days. Two days will be slideboard work, which can be done at a moderate pace with great knee bend. This will lower the energy system stress but, will increase lower body muscle endurance.

One additional benefit. This winter I used a version of this program with my Combine Prep/ College Football group. They loved it. The “back to the future” idea really appeals to the bodybuilder in all of us. For two days a week we go back to almost Muscle and Fitness style workouts with a chest exercise flowed by a shoulder exercise and finishing with arm and or shoulder work. An intense lower body oriented day is followed up with an upper body day that is enjoyable.
The athletes I train have never had the opportunity to perform this type of training and thoroughly enjoy it.

Keys-

  • Group stressful exercises on the same day to maximize recovery time. This means squats and Olympic lifts are done the same day. It should be noted in the table that Jump Squats or snatches are used on day one. This is intentional. Most strong athletes don’t want to hang clean heavy prior to squatting. This model takes that into consideration. Hang cleans are followed by single leg exercises on day three. Again attention is played to quality. A heavy hang clean workout is followed exercises that will tax the legs but, not the spine, the reverse of day 1.
  • Use one hard conditioning day per week and three lower intensity days.
  • Use day two and four for upper body only days.

Don’t be afraid to change. The truth is no one I know who is training athletes in a drug free environment has figured out how to train an advanced athlete for continued strength gain. An approach based on managing CNS stress nay be the key.

share this article Adapting Training Based on CNS Intensive Training

—————————————————————————–

About The Author:

Michael Boyle is one of the foremost experts in the fields of strength and conditioning, performance enhancement, and general fitness. He currently spends his time lecturing, teaching, training, and writing. For more info, visit his site:www.michaelboyle.biz.

—————————————————————————–

Get Our FREE Complete
Speed Training Newsletter Now

Receive Cutting Edge Speed, Strength, and Conditioning Tips and Strategies from Top Experts!

Just enter your name and e-mail address below to start getting our newsletter right now…

Your Name
Primary Email

Sign up with confidence! We will never share
your information with anyone.