This article is for athletes, coaches and parents that want to learn more about how to improve athletic performance through the use of plyometrics. Everyone knows that speed is a very important component of sports performance, but how is speed developed? Speed is generated by many different factors, one of the most important being: power development. In this article, I will share some of the best plyometric exercises to improve lower body power and explain why these are important to incorporate into your training.
Before I go any further, I want get clear on a few definitions of some key terms. It is widely accepted that strength is the ability to exert force, with force = mass x acceleration. Power refers to “explosive strength” or the ability to move with great speed (1). And plyometric training is a series of explosive bodyweight exercises that foster the development of lower body power and are often suggested to be the link between strength and speed (2).
It is common to think about speed as just being one thing, but in reality there are many different factors that play into developing speed. Many sport coaches try to improve their athlete’s speed by simply pushing them harder on the ice, field or court. You don’t just get faster by trying to run faster during your sprints; in addition to mastering the technical mechanics required for your sport, it is important to capitalize on other athletic movements that will provide the right stimulus to improve your power. This is where jumping comes in. And I am speaking not only from my own experience with training athletes, but also from a ton of research supporting the fact that different jump variations improve speed and overall athletic performance. For example, a study on soccer athletes showed that plyometric protocols are able to give meaningful improvements on power and speed parameters in a specific soccer population (3). There is no doubt about it, if you want to be quick, you need to push yourself. But, there are other methods and techniques that can be implemented into your training which will greatly improve your speed, beyond just trying to move your body faster.
Plyometric exercises make use of the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) of the muscle fibre to enhance physical capacities, such as speed, strength, and power. “The SSC refers to the ‘pre-stretch’ or ‘countermovement’ action that is commonly observed during typical human movements such as jumping. This pre-stretch allows the athlete to produce more force and move quicker…training methods which improve muscular pre-activity, such as plyometric and ballistic training, may be beneficial for improving athletic performance (4).”
There are three main phases in the SSC, including the eccentric phase, amortization, or ‘transition phase’ and the concentric phase. To illustrate this concept, think about jumping over three hurdles in a row; the amortization phase is the time it takes for your feet to hit the ground and then transition into the next hop in the series of hurdles. In essence, the less time your feet spend on the ground in between hops, the more power you will generate on your next jump.
Like any exercise, plyometrics can be regressed or progressed as needed based on the athlete’s chronological age (how old they are), training age (number of years spent training) and their overall confidence level. At RISE, we have standardized movement pattern progressions for each movement so that athletes of all ability levels can train with confidence. As strength is gained over time and movement patterns become grooved, we progress the exercises to continually challenge the body in order to create physical and neurological adaptations.
With all that being said, let’s get into some specific exercises that will help to improve your power and speed. I will share some of the jump variations that we use in our programs which have produced the best results for our athletes:
1) Box Jump
The standard box jump is one of the best places to start when beginning a plyometric program. Box jumps are a great way to develop vertical jumping power. It is clear how this would carry over to sports such as basketball and volleyball that constantly test the athlete’s vertical jumping ability. But, in reality, athletes from all sports can benefit from implementing vertical plyometric exercises in their training because of the far-reaching impact that vertical jumping power has on improving speed, particularly acceleration and change-of-direction. Conditioning programs for athletes can incorporate horizontally and vertically oriented exercises with similar effectiveness on change-of-direction speed (5).
2) Box Jump Progressions
Hands Behind the Head
We can progress the standard box jump in a number of different ways. One of the easiest ways is to take away the momentum that we get from the arm swing. Simply clasp your hands behind the head to remove the arm swing and progress the box jump.
Weighted Box Jumps
From there, we can further progress the box jump by adding resistance to the jump. The same concept still applies as the hands behind the head variation (in terms of removing the momentum that we get from the arm swing), but now we are also working against a load which progresses the jump even further.
3) Depth Jump to Second Box
The depth jump to second box is a high intensity box jump variation. This method should only be used with athletes that have a solid base level of strength and can handle the forces that will be generated from the depth jump (it would not typically be used with athletes under 10 years old). This variation makes use of the SSC mentioned earlier, taking advantage of the momentum that is generated from dropping down off a box and transferring that force into the jump onto a second box.
4) Vertical + Horizontal Jump Sequences
Once the athlete has mastered single jump variations, we can progress them onto jump sequences in which multiple jumps happen consecutively. This sequencing allows us to work vertical power and horizontal power qualities in succession.
The most effective exercise to develop horizontal power is the broad jump, another staple in our Sports Performance program. The broad jump is also convenient to use because it requires absolutely zero equipment to do. In this particular sequence, we will perform a seated box jump (vertical power), then perform a depth jump down from the box to the ground and then finish by immediately performing two explosive broad jumps (horizontal power).
Jump training is one of the best ways to improve lower body power. With increased lower body power, athletes will be able to move with greater acceleration, top end speed and change-of-direction ability. This will ultimately improve their performance, whether they are on the ice, field or court in their respective sport.
I encourage you to find a program that utilizes research based knowledge and its practical application to improve athletic performance and fitness. All of the training methods that we use at RISE Sports Performance are backed by science and have been proven to enhance the performance of our athletes.
Our Sports Performance program is designed to build the fundamentals of functional strength and performance through developmentally appropriate training.
Athletes gain strength, balance, power, speed and confidence that translates into on-ice and on-field performance.
Open to all ages – Athletes are placed in age specific training groups.
Our sessions run year round to build and maintain performance whether you’re in season or off season. Athletes can scale their training schedule (from 1 session per week up to 3 sessions per week) based on their current season.
Are you ready to take your game to the newel level and RISE above your competition? CLICK HERE to contact Evan about a Free Sports Performance Assessment!
“I am stronger and more conditioned from the training. I feel more mobile which is key for hockey players. My favourite thing is how we have a fun environment and it isn’t like a boot camp. I’d recommend you guys to athletes who need to gain strength and confidence in their respective sport.”
— Will Blake, Winkler Flyers
Haff, G, Triplett, T. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. p. 28
Stark, L, Pickett, K, Bird, M, and King, AC. Influence of knee-to-feet jump training on vertical jump and hang clean performance. J Strength Cond Res 30(11): 3084–3089, 2016
Beato, M, Bianchi, M, Coratella, G, Merlini, M, and Drust, B. Effects of plyometric and directional training on speed and jump performance in elite youth soccer players. J Strength Cond Res 32(2): 289–296, 2018
Keller, S, Koob, A, Corak, D, von Schöning, V, and Born, DP. How to improve change-of-direction speed in junior team sport athletes—Horizontal, vertical, maximal, or explosive strength training? J Strength Cond Res XX(X): 000–000, 2018