CEU Article Title: Integrating Plyometric Training Into Fitness Programs
Scott Lucett, MS
Success in most activities, ranging from sport to everyday life, depends on the speed at which muscular force is generated. In head-to-head competition, for example, the athlete who reacts the quickest has the advantage. In everyday situations, the ability to generate force quickly—to recover balance from
a potential trip and fall, for instance—is necessary to avoid a dangerous injury, especially for seniors. For these reasons, plyometric training is an important component of function in both athletes and the average clientele.
Plyometric training includes exercises that force muscles to exert maximal force in a short period of
time (1-3). This is accomplished through the use of the stretch-shortening cycle, where a muscle is
loaded eccentrically (lengthened) and then unloaded through a rapid, forceful concentric contraction
(shortening), resulting in high levels of force being generated quickly. This concept is otherwise known
There are three phases involved in plyometric training, including the eccentric (or loading) phase, the
amortization phase, and the concentric (or unloading) phase. The first phase of a plyometric movement
is classified as the loading phase. This phase increases muscle spindle activity by pre-stretching
the muscle prior to activation (4). Using the vertical jump as an example, the dip down immediately
before the jump is the eccentric or loading phase (Figure 1). The second phase is the amortization,
or transition, phase (Figure 2). This phase is the period right before one transitions from the loading
phase to the unloading phase. The amount of time in this phase is inversely related to performance:
the shorter the amount of time in this phase, the more powerful the response; the longer the delay,
the less power generated. Therefore, the amortization phase should be quick for optimal power generation.
The last phase is the concentric or unloading phase. This phase occurs immediately after
the amortization phase and involves a concentric contraction. Using the prior example of the vertical
jump, the upward jump is the concentric phase of the full movement (Figure 3).
The goals of plyometric training are to improve the reaction time of the muscle action spectrum (concentric,
eccentric, and isometric actions) and to increase how fast a muscle exerts maximal force.
However, the speed of muscular exertion is limited by neuromuscular coordination. The nervous system
will only recruit muscles at the speed at which the nervous system has been trained to allow (5).
Therefore, the nervous system must be trained to work within varying speeds of the demands of everyday
life and of sport. While many fitness professionals rely more heavily on plyometric training with
athletes, the common client can use this form of training to enhance fitness and conditioning. While
a typical client’s daily activities may not be as demanding as that of an athlete’s while on the field or
court, the need to produce force quickly is an ability every client can put to use. As described in the
example above, if a client slips on a flight of stairs, the ability to react quickly (produce force quickly) to
catch themselves before falling is extremely important, especially for senior clients. Also, some clients
may play recreational sports (ex. golf and tennis), which require a level of power to perform safely and
effectively. Thus, plyometric training becomes important for all individuals to ensure optimal functioning.
IMPLEMENTING PLYOMETRIC TRAINING INTO A CLIENT’S PROGRAM
Clients must first be able to control their center of gravity (balance) and maintain optimal stability (core
stability) to safely perform plyometric exercises (6, 7, 8). They should also possess good flexibility to
allow for proper joint mechanics to occur without compensation (6, 7, 8). If an individual does not possess
good balance, stability, or flexibility, the trainer should not introducing plyometric exercises until
these elements are attained. Incorporating plyometric training into a routine should be done slowly,
with thorough and detailed explanation of each exercise.
The fitness professional should observe the client closely during these exercises to avoid potential
injury. Trainers should be sure a client uses correct form by keeping their feet and knees straight
during both the loading and unloading phases of the movement, not allowing the knees to adduct
during either portions of the movement (Figure 4). This can put excessive stress on the knees and decrease
force output (9, 10). Landing should occur at the mid-portion of the foot (right behind the ball
of the feet), allowing for optimal weight distribution through the entire foot. The landing should also
be executed quietly, allowing the force to be absorbed through the muscles and not the joints. The
exercises chosen should match the client’s physical capabilities. Exercises should begin by teaching proper landing mechanics at lower speeds and amplitudes (distances, height) and progressed by increasing amplitude and speed (6, 7, 8).
Although many plyometric exercises are lower extremity- dominant, they can also be executed to emphasize upper extremity power production using modalities such as medicine balls and elastic tubing. The progressions used with these exercises can be the same as those used for jumping exercises by performing them in a controlled manner to first learn technique and then increasing speed and amplitude (ex. how far the medicine ball is thrown). The trainer should make sure to use a load that is relatively light (roughly 10% of an individual’s body weight) so the movement can be performed at the appropriate velocities to improve rate of force production. Too heavy a load can decrease the speed of the exercise (force-velocity curve) and potentially increase the risk of injury.
Figures 5 through 7 are examples of both lower extremity and upper extremity plyometric exercises.
Depending on how the exercises are performed will dictate whether they are considered level 1, level
2 or level 3 plyometric exercises.
Level 1 Plyometric Training Exercises
Level 1 plyometric exercises are designed to help the client learn proper landing mechanics and
overall control. These exercises are performed using lesser amplitudes, slower speeds and minimal
complexities, with the focus being on soft landings while keeping their feet and knees in
proper alignment. For example, one may perform the squat jump (Figure 5) by only jumping a one
to two feet in the air, while focus on landing quietly and in proper alignment. At this level, one can
perform 1 to 2 sets of 5 to 8 repetitions, resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets.
Level 2 Plyometric Training Exercises
Level 2 plyometric exercises further challenges the client’s muscular control and the rate of force
production by increasing the amplitude of the exercises (distance, height) as well as the speed
of the exercises (more repetitive). For example, one can now perform the squat jump exercise by
jumping higher in the air and/or jump at a slightly faster pace (spending less time on the ground).
At this level, one can perform 1-3 sets of 8-10 repetitions.
Level 3 Plyometric Training Exercises
Level 3 plyometric exercises are advanced exercises that challenge the client’s maximal explosive
capabilities by having the individual perform the exercises as fast as they can (while maintaining
good control and alignment) or at the highest amplitudes possible. For example, one would now
perform the squat jump as quickly as they can (staying on the ground for as little time as possible)
while jumping as high as they can. One can perform 2-3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions. It is important
to note that not every client will require this level of plyometric training. Every individual should
be trained with exercises that safely challenge their capabilities and that are consistent with their
goals. Level 3 plyometric exercises would typically be reserved for high-level athletes.
Assuming the client is capable of performing plyometrics, these exercises could be integrated into a plyometric program design as a circuit that includes a variety of other types of exercises (i.e. strength, core,
balance, etc.) and can be particularly useful to enhance caloric expenditure for those looking to
reduce fat (11). Table 1 shows a sample circuit that integrates plyometric training. Level 1-plyometric
exercises could also be implemented as part of a warm-up to prepare the neuromuscular
system for the workout that will ensue. Table 2 provides a sample dynamic warm-up that
incorporates low-level plyometric exercises.
Plyometric training works to enhance motor learning and muscular efficiency by enhancing the
connection between nervous system and muscular system, increasing the rate of force production
and recruiting more motor units per contraction. Incorporating plyometric training into a fitness
program can increase power, increase reaction times needed in sport and everyday life.
Get your CEUs! You better jump on this…
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