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Tag Archives: plyometrics

De Villarreal et al have a really interesting study in the December issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looking at the impact of different exercise protocols on the vertical jump. The authors studied college physical education students using one of five protocols: heavy full-squats, power half squats (i.e. to parallel), weighted counter-movement jumps (CMJ), plyometrics, and a combination of all. Subjects were tested on their vertical jump height and their performance on CMJs with 17kg, 27kg, and 37kg of added resistance.

All training took place 3 times per week for seven weeks:
• Heavy squat group: Gradually increased the resistance over seven weeks while decreasing the volume.
• Power half squat group: Gradually increased the resistance over seven weeks while decreasing the volume. The initial resistance was selected as the resistance that maximized power output, after the first week the resistance was increased each week and leveled out at weeks six and seven.
• Weighted CMJ group: Resistance was selected based upon what maximized power output. Initially the group exercised with 30% less than the amount that maximizes power output, over seven weeks this was increased.
• Plyometric group: sets of five rebound jumps.
• Combined group: Basically combined all the above workouts.

In terms of results:
• All groups increased the heights of their vertical jumps, the heights of their loaded CMJ height at each resistance, and the rate of force development during the loaded CMJs. There were no statistically significant differences between any of the groups.
• There were statistically significant increases in power output during loaded CMJs for the combined group and the weighted CMJ group only. However, all groups increased their power outputs by 3-13% at each resistance after seven weeks of training. So while this may not be statistically significant, it is an increase.

The results are interesting because essentially all the training programs worked. To me the most interesting result in the vertical jump height, the weighted CMJ testing condition isn’t really something that’s going to be duplicated on the field. The authors don’t give us the vertical jump values, only a graph so it is difficult to tease out the improvements in vertical jump. This suggests that heavy squats, squats done explosively, weighted vertical jumps, and plyos all improve vertical jump. The results are also interesting because the group with the greatest volume (the combined group) made the same gains as the other groups.

Now, there are some limitations. First, the subjects were college students. It’s very possible that strength trained athletes would have had different results. Second, the study may not have been long enough to tease out differences between the training programs. Third, all the squats and weighted CMJs are being done in a Smith machine which may impact both adaptations and transferability of the results. Finally, by using weights greater than that which maximized power output (the power squat group) or by using weights less than that which maximized power output (weighted CMJ group) both of these groups may not have made the gains that they could have as a result of the training.

De Villarreal, E.S.S., Izquierdo, M., and Gonzalez-Badillo, J.J. (2011). Enhancing jump performance after combined vs. maximal power, heavy-resistance, and plyometric training alone. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(12), 3274-3281.

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Plyometrics are a popular mode of exercise in the strength and conditioning of athletes. As I have posted elsewhere (see http://wp.me/pZf7K-2x ), different plyometric exercises have different power outputs, ground reaction forces, and rate of force developments. This means that especially with advanced athletes, plyometric exercises have to be selected with this in mind so that they match up with the physical qualities that an athlete is attempting to train.

In the October issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Cappa and Behm compared jumping over hurdles (one-leg and two-leg) with counter-movement jumps (CMJ). The idea behind the study was to investigate and quantify the differences between the various jumps.

The authors studied thirteen male rugby and soccer players over two testing sessions. In the first session, the subjects performed maximal CMJs on a force platform. In the second session, the subjects jumped forward over a series of four hurdles set 50cm apart. A force platform was set up after the second hurdle. Subjects did two-legged jumps and single-legged jumps. For the two-legged jumps, the hurdle height was set at 100%, 120%, 140%, and 160% of maximum CMJ height in a random order. For the single-leg jumps, it was set to 70%, 80%, and 90% of CMJ height in a random order.

The results show differences between two-legged, single-legged, and CMJs:
• Two-legged jumps at between 100% and 140% of CMJ height had a ground contact time of around 185ms. The two-legged jump at 160% had a noticeably longer ground contact time at 210 ms.
• One-legged jumps at all heights had a ground contact time longer than the two-legged jumps, at around 260ms for all heights.
• In terms of force production, the CMJ resulted in around 2100 newtons. Two two-legged hurdle jumps resulted in between 4000 and 4300 newtons, independent of the height (i.e. there was no pattern of increasing or decreasing force production with increasing heights). The single-legged jumps had a force production of around 2400 newtons.
• Rate of force production for the CMJ was around 4600 newtons/second. It decreased as height increased on the two-legged jumps, ranging from 41,000 N/s to 32,000 N/s. For the single-leg jumps the rate of force production was around 14,000 N/s.

It needs to be kept in mind that a specific population was studied and this could effect the results. However, the trends are important when selecting exercises for a strength and conditioning program:
• The shorter two-legged hurdle jumps had a short ground contact time, less than 200 m/s. The one-legged jumps had a longer ground contact time (around 260ms). So, when training for activities with a short ground-contact time (like sprinting), two-legged jumps may be the way to go.
• The two-legged hurdle jumps had a significantly greater force production and rate of force production that the one-legged or the CMJs. Again, this needs to be factored in when selecting exercises.
• The rate for force production was almost 300% greater when comparing two-legged jumps to one-legged and almost 900% greater than the CMJ. This brings into question the value of the CMJ as a conditioning exercise when rate of force development is important.

Cappa, D.F. and Behm, D.G. (2011). Training specificity of hurdle vs. countermovement jump training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(10): 2715-2720.

Johnson et al, in the September issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, conducted a literature review on plyometric training for young children. Over the years plyometrics have received a lot of attention. They are an extremely effective way to improve power and explosiveness, but they do so according to specificity. In other words, training a vertical jump doesn’t necessarily improve horizontal jumping.

There are a number of recommendations regarding exercise classifications, progressions, and prerequisite strength levels for plyometrics. Much of this is not founded on research. This is one of the things that complicates the idea of using plyometrics with children – who by definition won’t have the techniques or strength levels. The problem is that children use plyometrics in play (jumping, hopping, skipping, bounding, etc.) – they just don’t view it as systematic exercise.

In their review, the authors focused on studies going back 12 years. Their inclusion criteria are important: the study had to describe the plyometric intervention, the study had to measure performance, the study had to focus on children aged 5-14, and it had to use a randomized control trial or “quasi” experimental design. The inclusion criteria is always important to be familiar with in a literature review because it can bias the results. They focused their review around looking at three areas: the effectiveness of plyometric training for children, the optimum exercise dosage, and the safety of plyometric training for children.

The studies reviewed found that plyometric training was effective. Now, some caution with this. Children are going to improve performance even without a structured exercise program. This is because they are growing between the ages of 5-14 and this growth alone will improve performance on strength and power measures. This is not addressed by the review.

In terms of exercise dosage, there isn’t a study looking at the optimum training frequency, intensity, or number of jumps – so this isn’t something that is being directly studied. The authors, in this review, synthesize the research that was reviewed and make some recommendations for plyometric dosage with children but this has to be interpreted with caution since it isn’t being directly studied. Their recommendations are essentially 2-2.5 months, twice per week, for 50 jumps/session which can basically double or triple over the course of 8-10 weeks.

None of the studies reviewed specifically looked at safety. The studies report that they had no injuries and that they received IRB approval, thus the inference is that this is safe.

This was a great literature review, very needed. When it comes to plyometrics, we know they are effective. But we don’t have a research base for frequency, volume, intensity, progressions, best exercises, or anything like that. This is true for adults and is true for children.

Johnson, B.A., Salzberg, C.L., and Stevenson, D.A. (2011). A systematic review: Plyometric training programs for young children. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(9): 2623-2633.

Argus et al had a study published in the August Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looking at the impact of assisted, resisted, and bodyweight vertical jump training on vertical jump height.

The study involved two parts. In the first part, recreational weight trainers performed jumps on a force plate under resisted, assisted, and bodyweight conditions. Resisted involved performing jumps with elastic bands attached from the subject’s waist to the floor (i.e. resistance on the concentric phase of the jump). Assisted involved elastic bands attached from the subject’s waist to the ceiling (helps the subject during the concentric part of the jump). Bodyweight was a normal jump without any kind of assistance or resistance.

This part of the study found that the assisted jumps had the greatest peak vertical velocity and peak power, followed by free jumps, followed by resisted jumps. Peak force was greatest for resisted, followed by bodyweight, followed by assisted jumps.

The second part of the study involved four weeks of contrast training with rugby players. Twice a week they performed a set of four power cleans followed by six jumps under one of the three conditions. At the end of four weeks, the assisted group increased their jump height by almost 7%; the resisted group by almost 5%, the bodyweight group by almost 1.5%.

This is an interesting study because there are diminishing returns with exercise. As we become stronger it becomes more difficult to increase strength. As we become a more advanced athlete, it becomes more difficult to increase power. This study suggests some simple ways to make plyometrics more effective as athletes advance in fitness.

Argus, C.K., Gill, N.D., Keough, J.W.L., Blazevich, A.J., and Hopkins, W.G. (2011). Kinetic and training comparisons between assisted, resisted, and free countermovement jumps. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(8), 2219-2227.

Brughelli et al had a really interesting study in the April issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looking at running velocity and its relationship with kinetic and kinematic variables.

The authors studied 16 Australian Rules football players. Subjects determined their maximum running velocity on a Woodway nonmotorized treadmill, then ran at 40, 60, 80, and 100% for the study. They were given four seconds to reach the velocity to be examined and maintained it for five seconds. They were given long rest periods between bouts (greater than three minutes).

Results from the study:
As you would expect, vertical and horizontal force increased as velocity increases, contact time decreases, and both stride length and frequency increase. The specific are interesting. From 40% to 100%:
• Vertical force increased by 18%
• Horizontal force increased by 102%
• Contact time decreased by 31%
• Stride length increased by 92%
• Stride frequency increased by 108%

The fact that both stride length and frequency increase as velocity increases underscores the need to train both when seeking to improve sprinting.

The vertical and horizontal force results are interesting. The authors point this out, but the results indicate how important horizontal force is and that maybe vertical force isn’t as important at increased velocities. This is actually an important point for conditioning as most strength training is geared towards increasing vertical force (squats, deadlifts, cleans, snatches). This suggests that if the focus is on sprinting speed, one needs to find a way to improve horizontal force which would be split versions of lifts along with horizontal plyometrics.

The second part of their study was to run correlations between the variables and compare them to maximum running velocity. Only two variables were significant, horizontal force and stride length (r’s of 0.47 and 0.66 respectively). No other variable had an r higher than 0.28. This underscored the importance of horizontal force to maximum velocity.

Brughelli, M., Cronin, J., and A. Chaouachi. (2011). Effects of running velocity on running kinetics and kinematics. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(4), 933-939.

I was asked to post some thoughts on the biggest breakthroughs in strength training over the last 25 years. I’m going to divide my thoughts into four categories: training breakthroughs, marketing breakthroughs, research breakthroughs, and discipline breakthroughs.

Training Breakthroughs:
There are several major training breakthroughs over the last 25 years, though these have not all been positives:
• The ascension of periodization: With the break-up of the Eastern European communist block, the influx of their writings and experts, and with the core scientists in strength and conditioning having an Olympic weightlifting background, periodization of training is king when it comes to strength and conditioning. Elsewhere I have thoughts on the limitations on what we know, what I’ll say here is that there has been an interesting attempt to control the language associated with periodizaiton. For example, linear, nonlinear, conjugate, block, unplanned, etc.
• Bulgarian training approaches to Olympic-style weightlifting: This is specificity personified. Have the weightlifters snatch, clean, jerk, and front squat very heavy several times a day. Like a lot of training approaches, because it worked in a small and limited population it has been widely copied elsewhere. Personally I think this approach has really set back American Olympic lifting.
• Westside barbell: The Westside barbell approach has really had an influence on powerlifting and on the strength and conditioning of athletes. Analyze your weaknesses, train your weaknesses, repeat. It also brings back the old school idea of breaking movements down into their components to train weaknesses.
• Attempts to get a handle on speed and agility training: Speed is poorly understood outside of track and field. Agility is poorly understood period. In the last 25 years there has been a real attempt to get a better handle on how to coach these two aspects of training. Sometimes borrowing from track and field, sometimes borrowing from motor learning, sometimes just trying things and seeing how they work.

Marketing Breakthroughs:
Marketing has a huge impact on the strength and conditioning field. What is always challenging about this fact is that educated professionals can rarely be counted on to do their homework and succumb to things that sound good. These include:
• Core training: Again, I’ve voiced my thoughts on this in several areas. I do think this has been really valuable from the standpoint that it gets people into the gym, and ultimately anything that does that is a good thing.
• Functional training: At the end of the day, anything that makes you stronger, more powerful, faster, more mobile, etc. is functional training. But coining this term was genius because it implies that anything that doesn’t fit under this term is not functional. Again, anything that ultimately gets people into the gym is a good thing.
• Assorted implements: There must be a magic exercise, drill, or piece of equipment out there. Bands, unstable devices, balls, kettle bells, etc. are all examples.

Research Breakthroughs:
Over the last 25 years, strength and conditioning has been researched extensively. In my opinion, the following are the major breakthroughs as a result of research:
• Static stretching and warm-up: Static stretching as warm-up seems to interfere with power and speed. This was really important research for the preparation of athletes and completely changed how all of us approach this.
• Understanding of how the squat works: After Karl Klein’s study, many were scared of the back squat exercise. Today we have a great understanding of how the squat exercise impacts the structures of the knee and it conflicts with Klein’s conclusions.
• Power development: There has been a lot of significant research, especially out of Australia, on how the body develops power. Everything from weighted jumps, complex training, contrast training, slow strength exercises, fast strength exercises, plyometrics, and the Olympic lifts.
• Recognition of gaps: Over the last 25 years, we’ve realized that we don’t “know” what we think we know. This includes core training, periodization, velocity specificity, the neural adaptations from training, etc.

Discipline Breakthroughs:
Over the last 25 years, strength and conditioning has emerged as a discipline and a career field:
• Strength and conditioning coaching: Most universities, semi-professional, and professional teams have strength and conditioning coaches today. People go to school and work their way up a career ladder to be a strength and conditioning coach. Now, this has lead to a lot of issues that are common with other coaches including job security, qualifications, demands for licensure, injuries to athletes, and the good old boy network, but it’s something that didn’t really exist 25 years ago.
• Professional associations: Professional associations, attempting to link research to practice, now exist to disseminate information on strength and conditioning. This has been a positive from the information dissemination standpoint. It’s a negative because these associations become people’s careers, become dogmatic, and end up existing to exist as opposed to serve their populations.

Anyway, my $0.02 on the breakthroughs of the last 25 years with strength and conditioning.

Earp, et al. had an interesting article in the February issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that reinforced something that I had written in an earlier post about plyometrics (http://wp.me/pZf7K-P) which is that different jumps may be applicable to different types of athletic events.  This is something that is really logical, but we rarely practice it with plyometrics.

The authors studied 25 “trained” individuals and looked at how characteristics like muscle fascicle length and pennation angle influences rate of force development on various jumps.  This is an interesting approach because there has been some work showing that pennation angle increases as a result of strength training and that length and angle both impact sprinting speed, but nothing looking at jumping.

Subjects performed 2-3 squat jumps (2 second pause at the bottom), countermovement jumps, and depth jumps (from a 30 cm box) on a force platform, the jumps were also videotaped.

There are some interesting results from this study:

  • Depth jump height > counter movement jump height > squat jump height, like you’d expect.
  • Peak vertical ground reaction force is greatest in depth jumps, then countermovement jumps, then squat jumps.
  • The depth jump had the greatest rate of force development at the 0-10, 10-30, and 30-50 millisecond time periods.
  • No anatomical variable predicted propulsion time for any jump type.
  • For the squat jump a longer Achilles tendon meant a faster rate of force production at the later stages of the jump.
  • For the countermovement jump, gastrocnemius fascicle length predicted rate of force development at the early stages of the jump (i.e. greater fascicle length meant greater rate of force development).
  • There is an intensity-dependent effect of Achilles tendon length on early force production.  Restated, higher intensity jumps requiring a faster rate of force production are more dependent upon Achilles tendon length than lower intensity jumps requiring a slower rate of force development.
  • Length of the muscle fascicles and the Achilles tendon is probably more important because of the “stretch” in the stretch shortening cycle.  Greater length means more stretch which means the ability to store and recover more elastic energy, in theory.

 

Things we don’t know from this study:

  • The “trained” status basically refers to recreational weight training.  Some subjects were former football players.  This means that it is challenging to carry these results over to an athletic population, which means that the usefulness of these results is limited.
  • We do not know how experienced these subjects were with these jumps.  Subjects with more experience (i.e. elite athletes) may have performed very differently.
  • We do not know basic things about these subjects like fast twitch fiber percentage, fiber area, or strength levels.  These are critical variables to successful performance of the jumps and may have impacted the results.  It also limits the applicability of the results to a larger population.

 

Interesting things that we can determine from this study:

  • The different jump types have different rate of force development profiles, which makes them more or less applicable to different athletic events.  For example, an athletic event that requires a RFD over a 0-50 millisecond time period is going to benefit more from a depth jump, one that requires it over 200-300 milliseconds is going to benefit more from a squat jump.
  • Fascicle length and Achilles tendon length may be things to look at for athlete selection, but this requires a great deal more research.

 

Earp. J.E., Kraemer, W.J., Cormie, P., Volek, J.S., Maresh, C.M., Joseph, M., and Newton, R.U. “Influence of muscle-tendon unit structure on rate of force development during the squat, countermovement, and drop jumps.”  Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(2), 340-347.

Athletes have different strength and conditioning needs across the course of their athletic careers.  This is important for the strength and conditioning coach to realize because one program will not fit all.  It’s also important to realize when reading research that is geared towards a very specific population and attempting to extrapolate the results to other populations.

 

Beginners/High School

Beginners respond to everything.  Beginners also need everything.  There isn’t a training history, there isn’t an injury history, the slate is clean.  This both limits and provides lots of opportunities all at the same time.

 

In general, beginners really need to focus on the following:

  • Strength training:
  1. What Bompa calls anatomic adaptations.  Getting the joints, bones, and muscles in shape.  Developing hypertrophy that can eventually be transferred to the athlete’s sport.
  2. Technique on fundamental exercises.  It is entirely appropriate to spend 2-4 years developing technique on the bench press, squat, deadift, power clean, power snatch, push jerk, and a handful of assistance exercises.  With a proper program a beginner will respond to these exercises for a long time, so there isn’t a need to do anything fancy.
  • Plyometrics:
  1. At the level of the beginner, it would almost be best to focus on these as injury-prevention exercises.  In other words, a handful of basic plyometrics exercises teaches landing technique which could reduce ankle and ACL injuries.
  2. There’s some evidence that plyometrics effectiveness is linked to strength levels, in other words failing to have sufficient strength means the exercises aren’t as effective as they could be.
  3. With the above in mind, the beginner should really be focusing on basic vertical and horizontal jumps involving both legs.  Again, there’s no benefit to being fancy here.
  • Speed/agility training: A beginner needs to focus on technique: how to run, how to start, how to stop, etc.  The beginner really could do this for 2-4 years and make great gains.  This ensures efficiency, speed of movement, and prevents injuries.

 

In generals, beginners should avoid the following:

  • Advanced speed training tools: Until an athlete hits the wall in terms of speed development, the resisted/assisted tools are not going to help very much.  For a beginner, using these will reinforce technique problems,  may create bad habits that lead to slower speeds, and may cause injuries.
  • Position-specificity: We don’t know how a 14-18 year old is going to develop, we don’t know what position he/she will play, and without a strength and conditioning foundation specific training is not going to provide the athlete with a competitive edge.  At this level the program should stay general.
  • Advanced periodization models: For beginners, there is no need to get fancy with the periodization.  The program needs to be progressive, structured, and safe.  If this is followed then the beginner will make gains.

Collegiate/National Caliber

Collegiate athletes (or national caliber depending upon the sport) have different needs than the true beginner and the strength and conditioning program should reflect that.  This is also the most-studied group in the literature, largely because the majority of researches work at universities.

 

A collegiate or national caliber-level athlete has a number of unique needs that makes them different from a high school level athlete:

  • The athlete is going to have a training history: While this is true, it’s also true that there is going to be a lot of variability in terms of the quality of that training history and what the athlete actually knows.
  • The athlete is going to have an injury history: This is going to need to be accounted for in the strength and conditioning program.
  • The athlete is going to develop a lot physically during the four years of college: This provides an opportunity for the strength and conditioning program.
  • At this level it is appropriate to distinguish between positions: However, as the athlete develops he or she may change positions and this needs to be kept in mind.  It means that, with team sports, there should be a core general program with some differences based upon the positions.

In general, collegiate athletes need to focus on the following:

  • Strength training: While the athlete has a training history, we cannot assume anything. Viewing training progressively, the initial focus needs to be on technique and anatomic adaptation.  Classic periodization (hypertrophy followed by strength followed by power) is ideal for this level of athlete.  Over the years, the athlete’s strength training exercises should become more advanced in terms of a greater variety of exercises and a greater variety of training approaches (for example, complex training, contrast training, bands, chains, that sort of thing) because the athlete will stop responding to the more general training as the years progress.
  • Plyometrics: Like with the strength training, we cannot make assumptions here.  Initially low-level plyometrics might be incorporated into the athlete’s warm-up to teach certain concepts (i.e. landing).  As the training year progresses these may become more advanced or morph into their own training session.  As the athlete progresses over the years and builds his/her strength and technique base, it is appropriate to begin incorporating greater volume and more exercises.
  • Speed/agility training: The initial focus needs to be on technique.  As the athlete progresses through the training year, volume and complexity pick up as the athlete has a chance to adapt to the workload and solidifies his/her technical base.  As the athlete progresses through the years of training, a balance needs to be struck between employing more advanced exercises and keeping the training applicable to the sport.  For example, there just aren’t a lot of sports where the athlete gets to run in a straight line for 60 meters or run through a pre-programmed cone drill, so thought needs to be given to this with regards to speed and agility training.
  • Position-specificity: We don’t know how the athlete is ultimately going to develop over college, but we can already rule out certain positions based upon body type.  For example, the 160 pound kicker isn’t going to be an offensive lineman at the end of his college career.  This allows for there to be some position-specificity in the programming.  This is especially important in terms of metabolic conditioning, speed, and agility training.

 

Elite/Professional

The elite/professional athlete has very different needs than any other class of athlete and the strength and conditioning program needs to reflect that.  The following are considerations for the elite/professional athlete:

  • The athlete has a training history: The elite athlete has a history with training, knows how to perform a variety of exercises, knows how he/she responds to different training approaches, and has an opinion about the effectiveness of those approaches.  All of this needs to be factored in with their training.
  • The athlete an injury history: This has to be understood and accounted for in any conditioning program.
  • This is the only sport the athlete participates in: An elite/professional athlete is playing one sport full-time, this both simplifies and complicates things.  It simplifies things because we’re not as worried about multi-lateral development at this stage, it complicates because the training needs to be very sport-specific and this can be a challenge if a coach isn’t familiar with the sport.
  • The athlete’s position is set: At this level the position that the athlete plays is pretty much set, changes to this are noticeable exceptions.  This means that any strength and conditioning program needs to address the sport, the athlete, and the athlete’s position.
  • General training won’t produce results: An elite athlete is close to their genetic potential in terms of functional strength and hypertrophy.  There also isn’t much time during the year for non-specific training.  As a result, any training is going to have to be focused on improving the athlete’s performance in his/her sport.
  • The athlete is in-season almost year round: Professional soccer players compete from July until mid-May.  Professional baseball lasts 180 days, but also includes winter and spring ball.  Professional football lasts from August until at least December (January/February if the athlete is in the playoffs), then there are OTA’s during the spring and summer.  In other words, the true off-season is very short for the elite/professional athlete.  Competition, travel, and the lack of an off-season all have to be factored in to the athlete’s training.
  • The athlete is hanging on against time: Time only moves one way and physical abilities will deteriorate over time, especially those related to speed and power.  All elite athletes, unless they retire beforehand, will see this happen.  With that in mind, training is geared to trying to allow the athlete to hang on as long as possible without becoming injured.

Masters

We don’t often think of masters athletes, but with the aging of the population in the west, fitness professionals need to keep this potential market in mind.  There are a number of differences that need to be kept in mind with masters athletes:

  • They don’t have the same ability to recover: This means that a great deal of care must be taken when introducing new exercises, increasing the intensity of a session, or increasing volume.  If this is done for one component, it needs to be balanced out in other components.
  • Even if they stay fit, time only moves one way: Performance will decline with time, even if the athlete continues to train.  Cross-sectional studies of weightlifters and sprinters shows that there are several points where performance drops sharply as athletes age, this is regardless of whether or not the athlete continued training.
  • If they haven’t remained fit, they can regain a lot of ground: Individuals who have not remained fit will lose muscle size especially to their type II muscle fibers.  This will help contribute to lower strength levels, lower power levels, shorter strides, slower reaction times, etc.  A lot of this can be reversed after only a few months of training.
  • Masters athletes are recreational athletes: Although they may not see it that way, at least today there is no place to go professionally with master’s sports.  They have careers, families, lives outside of this and the scale of their conditioning is not going to be anywhere near that of the collegiate or elite athlete.

With the above in mind, masters athletes should focus on the following:

  • Strength training: If the athlete is untrained, then any approach to strength training will improve performance, just like with a beginner.  The big thing is to take a very slow, gradual approach.  Many studies looking at elderly and strength training have the subjects initially train at 50-80% of their 10-RM.  If the athlete is trained, then it is appropriate to perform full-body strength training and use exercises such as squats, cleans, presses, etc.
  • Plyometrics: Remember that there needs to be a strength basis for plyometrics training to be effective.  If that foundation isn’t there, then this training will be a waste of the athlete’s time.  If it is there, then beginning with low-level plyometrics that teach landing and taking off are appropriate.
  • Speed/agility training: If the athlete is untrained, then the focus should be on teaching techniques and increasing stride length – just like with beginners.  If the athlete is trained, then the focus is going to be on sprints, and combination agility drills (start, stop, start again that sort of thing).  Too much speed/agility work is going to impair the athlete’s ability to recover.

 

McCurdy et al had a study in the December issue of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looking at the relationship between the kinematics of jumping and sprinting with division I female soccer players.

It’s an interesting premise. Sprinting involves exerting force so that an athlete can travel in a horizontal direction. During sprinting, only one leg is exerting force against the ground at a time. The idea behind the study was that those exercises that involve exerting force in a horizontal direction are going to be most effective on sprint performance, particularly if they are performed unilaterally.

To test this, the authors had fifteen D1 female soccer players perform 10 meter and 25 meter sprints. The athletes also performed bilateral and unilateral drop jumps (bilateral from 40cm, unilateral from 20cm) and bilateral and unilateral counter-movement jumps. Jumps were performed for height (i.e. vertical jumps) and again for distance (i.e. horizontal jumps). In other words, each jumping condition was performed as a vertical jump and again as a horizontal jump.

Selected kinematic variables were measured on each jump. These included jump height/distance, reactive strength, and flight time to contact time ratio (FT/CC). Correlations were then run between all the variables and sprinting performance.

The results are interesting:
• First, none of the bilateral jumps variables correlated with 10 meter or 25 meter sprints.
• Second, unilateral jump results were inconsistent in terms of correlations. For example, on the unilateral vertical jumps, the right leg jump height and FT/CC were correlated with the 25 meter sprint, but the left leg was not.
• Third, pooled (i.e. both legs considered) unilateral jump height was correlated to both 25 meter and 10 meter sprint time. Unilateral jump distance was correlated to only the 10 meter sprint time.

It is difficult to take these results and draw meaningful, actionable conclusions. There are several reasons for this:
• First, unilateral jumps take a lot of skill and practice. The authors themselves acknowledge that this may be a limitation. Athletes with more or less experience with these jumps may have resulted in a study with different results.
• Second, based upon the correlations you cannot draw any conclusions about whether training with unilateral jumps would benefit sprinting. There was no effort in the study to look at the impact of training.
• Third, coaches need to understand that there are some inherent risks with using unilateral jumps. To my mind, this is an exercise for advanced athletes with a serious strength and technical base. Again, performing this study with that caliber of athlete may have generated different results.

Part of the concern that I have with studies like this is that it appeals to the “magic bullet” crowd. These are the coaches, athletes, and parents looking for a magic exercise or drill. At the end of the day, D1 soccer players need to be practicing sprinting to become better at sprinting. Once that has been exhausted, then it’s appropriate to look at resisted/assisted sprinting and advanced plyometrics.

McCurdy, K.W., Walker, J.L., Langford, G.A., Kutz, M.R., Guerrero, J.M., and McMillan, J. (2010). “The relationship between kinematic determinants of jump and sprint performance in division I women soccer players.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(12), 3200-3208.

Juan Jose Gonzalez-Badillo and Mario C. Marques had a study published in the December issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looking at the relationship between kinematic variables of jumping with vertical jumping height.

A lot of studies have looked at vertical jump, this study is interesting because of the population. The authors looked at 48 male track and field athletes (primarily jumpers and sprinters) of whom 25 were international athletes.

In this study, the athletes performed a counter-movement vertical jump in a Smith machine. The athlete held the empty barbell on the back of their shoulders and then did the vertical jump. They did three jumps on a force platform.

They divided the jump into three phases:
• Eccentric phase: beginning of the jump until maximum negative velocity occurred
• Transition phase: the moment after maximum negative velocity until velocity of the center of mass reaches 0 meters/second
• Concentric: End of the eccentric phase until maximal positive velocity was achieved

They ran correlations between a number of variables and jump height for each jump. The correlations between all of the variables are statistically significant and include time spent in the eccentric/concentric phases, impulse of eccentric/concentric/transition, force in all three phases, peak power in all three phases, average power in all three phases, and maximum negative velocity.

The majority of these correlations, while statistically significant, are very weak. For example, eccentric time explains between 8 and 11% of the variation in jump height.

Several of the variables explain almost 50% of the variation in jump height, these include:
• Force production in each phase
• Concentric peak power
• Concentric average power
• Maximum negative velocity

These variables have some important implications for a strength and conditioning professional. First, force production indicates the need to have a strong lower body to be a better jumper. Second, the relationship of concentric power indicates the importance of explosive training to be a better jumper. The negative velocity shows how a fast stretch can help result in the storage of elastic energy, resulting in a higher jump. This also indicates the importance of plyometrics and the Olympic lifts in the training of jumpers.

Gonzalez-Badillo, J.J. and Marques, M.C. (2010). “Relationship between kinematic factors and countermovement jump height in trained track and field athletes.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(12): 3443-3447.