Plyometrics were invented in the eastern parts of the world in the 1920s though they weren’t widely recognized until the 1960s. These exercises were originally referred to as “jump training”. When eastern countries began to have success in Olympic track and field sports during the Cold War era, the world took notice of their jump training methods. Yet these exercise techniques were only utilized by track and field athletes until the 1970s, when plyometrics tipped over into other sports that required cat like agility and quick acceleration. Athletic success is about speed, power and agility and this is exactly what plyometrics provides.
Russian’s leader in plyometric training was a scientist named Yuri Verkoshansky. His jump training exercises required Russian track and field athletes to repetitively jump in an attempt to boost the explosiveness, speed and agility of their leg and core muscles. Eastern bloc countries demanded that their athletes meet certain criteria before engaging in jump training as it severely stressed the muscoloskeletal system and the neuromuscular system. Before jump training could begin, an athlete had to have 4 years of weight training experience, be able to squat 1.5 times his body weight and be 18 years old so that growth plates had fused.
The eastern Olympians who made use of plyometrics were so dominant in their fields due to the unique style of jump training. This early form of plyometrics didn’t just require jumping straight up into the air. It also demanded that athletes jump in different directions, often from one sturdy box to another. Dr. Verkoshansky also had his athletes perform elaborate skipping routines. Jump training involved different styles of jumps, foot speed drills, training equipment, stretching, and weight training exercises that when combined properly, resulted in speed development. Jump trained eastern Olympians were able to set records in a slew of events and the rest of the world quickly took notice of their plyometric training.
These unorthodox training methods seemed a bit childish but they worked with sparkling results. Dr. Verkoshansky wrote about his Jump Training techniques and published its quantified results in 1964. Yet observers didn’t need to read a paper full of scientific jargon and statistics to understand that the training worked. The Soviet Bloc countries had amazing success in track and field events throughout the decade and Dr. Verkoshansky’s training was partially responsible.
The word “plyometrics” has roots in the Greek work “pleythyein” which means to increase or augment. Though eastern countries used plyometric techniques in the 60s, the term plyometrics was first used in 1975 by an American track and field coach named Fred Wilt after he performed an extensive study of Dr. Verkoshansky’s training methods. Fred derived the word from the latin words “pilo” and “metrics”. Pilo means more and metrics means to measure. Fred chose these two root words because plyometrics functions to better an athlete’s quickness and power. Simply put, the goal of plyometrics is to make athletic movements become more explosive. Even though its roots are in track and field, athletes in every type of sport can benefit from the training.
The Tipping Point
The former head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Tom Landry, was one of the first high profile sports figures to employ plyometric training techniques. He used plyometrics to improve his football players’ hip muscles and cores. The hip’s muscles allow the leg to lift. In order to build stronger legs that propel athletes to fast speeds, the hip muscles must be developed and reinforced. The body’s core provides strength for not only the stomach and chest but also the obliques and lower back muscles. Training of the core results in more speed, strength and improved stamina. Both the hips and the core are critical to a football player’s success and the sport requires explosive speed and a solid midsection to absorb the blows of opponents who attempt to block and tackle. Landry’s Cowboys teams were so successful that his use of plyometric training trickled down to the collegiate, high school, middle school and even the Pop Warner football levels.
How Plyometrics Work
Plyometric training has three phases. The first is known as the eccentric phase. This involves rapid movements to build muscle strength. The second is called the amortization phase. It is a very short period of inactivity where the body is allowed to rest and rejuvenate. The third phase is known as the concentric phase. This phase consists of an explosive movement of the muscles. These three phases are repeated over and over, as quickly as possible to boost muscle power that results in increased speed and agility.
Plyometrics strengthens muscle fibers that convert strength into speed. These are typically called “fast twitch” fibers. Plyometric exercises will not only strengthen the fast twitch fibers but actually increase their quantities inside of muscles. Muscles contract quicker when fast twitch fibers are stronger. These exercises also boost speed and power by empowering the nervous system. When muscles contract, the brain communicates to the muscles by way of the neuromuscular system. If this communication occurs more quickly, muscles will be able to move much faster. The result is more speed and power.
Ideally, the athlete utilizing plyometrics training will gradually decrease the time he spends between the first phase (eccentric movements) and the third phase of concentric movements. If he is properly coached through his training, he’ll require less and less down time between his rapid exercises. The result is a quicker and stronger athlete.
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