Why is plyometrics so misunderstood and misapplied?
Dr. Michael Yessis
Dr. Yessis demonstrates Shock Method, closely related to Plyometrics, with athlete Josh
The answer to the above question, “Why is plyometrics so misunderstood and misapplied?", is very simple; there are no unified definitions or descriptions of what constitutes true plyometrics and there are few legitimate guidelines for application. But there is quite a bit of BS tossed around to make plyometrics appear impressive and meaningful. Anyone who writes about plyometrics or talks about it or presents a visual demonstration on YouTube or some other video outlet is seen as an expert. The more impressive the BS or the videos, the more swayed the viewer becomes.
In the last 30 to 40 years since I first introduced plyometrics to the United States I have seen the term plyometrics being used to describe just about every exercise that is done. For example, plyometrics is now being used to describe a push-up, lateral walking on the hands, executing 100 jumps in a row and how it can be practiced in a pool.
It is getting to the point where now it is hard to find any of the old commonly used terms to describe a particular exercise being done. The reason for this appears to be that plyometrics is now considered a buzzword or a trendy term that supposedly gives the reader the impression that the exercise is state of the art or brand-new. You are led to believe that the old style push-up is now passé and you should do the plyometric version of the push-up which of course, is basically the same. The problem with doing the BS Plyometrics that are permeating the field is that you will NOT get explosive. You will NOT reap the benefits of what true plyometrics can deliver.
It is no wonder that Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky who created plyometrics and is considered to be the father of plyometrics refused to accept this title. According to him the plyometrics being practiced today is a far cry from what he created back in the 1960s-70s in the former Soviet Union. He called his method the shock method or as I sometimes translated it, hit or impact method. This method consisted of the body receiving a quick shock or impact which then produced a powerful involuntary eccentric contraction. The great tension produced in this eccentric contraction was then given back in the return movement which consisted of the concentric contraction.
How quickly the eccentric switched to the concentric contraction determined the effectiveness of the exercise. In general, the switching from the landing or receiving to the takeoff or repelling action respectively takes between 0.1 and 0.2 seconds. This then constitutes an effective true plyometric exercise. This does not mean that other exercises that use this concept are not effective. They can be effective exercises. For example, if the switching takes up to 0.5 seconds, it can be known as a warm-up plyometric or jump exercise or a lead up or introductory exercise to doing true plyometric work.
How did we get to the state that we are now in? A good portion of the blame should be placed on some of the early plyometric books in which almost all of the exercises described were not true plyometric exercises: they were jump exercises. Keep in mind that if the jumps are not executed as quickly as possible, especially in the range of 0.1 to 0.2 seconds they cannot be considered as true plyometric exercises. After reading these books or listening to some of these newfound experts many people began doing jump exercises rather than true plyometric exercises. The end result was that everyone came to believe that jump exercises are plyometric exercises. But as already discussed, they are not.
To get a better feel for the information on plyometrics that is presently being disseminated I did a search on Google. After checking the sources on just the first two pages you will be amazed at the wide variety of opinions and exercises being used. This is why for the most part, I say most of it is BS because it is far from what true plyometrics is or should be - if you want to get the results that are possible from doing true plyometrics.
One reason why most of it is BS is because the “experts” basically repeat each other while putting their own stamp of approval on what they say is plyometrics. For example, there are several individuals who say that they are telling you the truth behind plyometrics, bring out that “… Plyometrics originated as a training method in the secretive Eastern Bloc countries where it was referred to as jump training. This is hogwash. Not only was it originated in the former Soviet Union (which was not as secretive as we were led to believe) but it was distinguished from jump training. These experts and continue to say that “… In the 1920s, the sport of track and field was the first to employ a systematic method of using plyometric-training methods. By the 1970s this method of power development was being used by other sports that required explosive power for successful competition.”
On first glance this sounds impressive. However it is pure fiction. Plyometrics did not exist in the 1920s. It is true that track and field was the first to use plyometrics and that it was also used by other sports for explosive power in the 1970s. However, its use in other sports was only beginning at this time because plyometrics was not developed until the late 1960s, early 1970s. Other experts state that plyometrics was developed to improve weightlifting. This too is a fallacy. However it should be noted that plyometrics is also used in the training of weightlifters.
Pure garbage is the statement that plyometrics was known as jump training. The Soviets used jump training and plyometric training in one session or in alternate sessions. Jump training was and is used as a separate type of training. Plyometrics may involve jumping but not all jumps are plyometric!
For even more examples of BS the author goes on to state that “ Plyometrics can best be described as "explosive-reactive" power training. This type of training involves powerful muscular contractions in response to a rapid stretching of the involved musculature. These powerful contractions are not a pure muscular event; they have an extremely high degree of central nervous system involvement. The event is a neuromuscular event! “. These may sound like impressive words but they mean very little and show lack of understanding.
For example, the description, “explosive-reactive”. The explosive nature of plyometrics is seen mainly in the transition and resulting movement. The reactive comes before the explosive or does the author mean something different? He describes plyometrics as a neuromuscular event but yet, all movements, sports skills and actions are neuromuscular in nature. Is this said just to impress us? The authors also miss the mark when it is stated that ” this type of training involves powerful muscular contractions in response to a rapid stretching of the involved musculature”. In a true plyometric action most of the stretching and shortening takes place in the tendons, not in the muscles.
It is also easy to find statements to the effect that running, is a plyometric event. They also consider other skills such as throwing, swinging a golf club/bat, jumping and skipping as plyometric events. They do not back up this statement with facts because most likely they could not find any substantiation in the literature. Each of these skills may include a plyometric action but the skill itself cannot be considered plyometric. For example in running it is only the landing and takeoff that is plyometric -- but only in the best sprinters. The other leg actions are not and should not be considered plyometric. You can however, do some plyometric type exercises to enhance some of these actions such as the knee drive. See Explosive Running or Explosive Plyometrics for details.
In response to questions related to finding a good book on plyometrics several authors recommend the book Jumping into Plyometrics. This is a good book but not for true plyometrics since it contains mostly jump exercises. In fact this book, which was one of the first to be published for the mass market, may have been responsible for many people believing that plyometrics is simply doing jump exercises.
This book is also recommended for sports specific plyometric training on several sites. This too is a fallacy because plyometrics is not specific to any sport. Plyometrics is used only to develop an explosive joint action that is used to improve execution of a particular skill. Thus it is important for all sports that require this particular skill. For example, running is involved in a multitude of sports; how then can an exercise specific to improving the pushoff in running be specific to a sport. It can only be specific to improving the pushoff in running.
Some sites recommend supplementary equipment such as jump soles for use in plyometric training. Such equipment can be used effectively but they are certainly not necessary. Many times this equipment causes injury because of the extreme stretching that takes place.
The misinformation on plyometrics is compounded many times over when it comes to the exercises and their descriptions that are given by the various pseudo-experts. It is possible to fill up many pages with examples of these non-plyometric exercises masquerading as true plyometrics. For example, there are several that recommend double leg jumping or bounding. In the directions you are told to go into a deep swipe and jump forward as far as possible keep the landing short and then leap out again. In the accompanying video the athlete executes the leap well. Upon landing he stops and then initiates a new jump. This automatically eliminates it as a plyometric exercise. Some recommend the front chop it which they swing a medicine ball up-and-down from between the legs to overhead. This has nothing to do with an explosive action since there is no loading or release.
Almost all sites recommend doing multiple jumps of 50 to 100 or more or jumps last thing 90 or more seconds. These are jump exercises, not plyometric exercises. A true plyometric exercise should be done for a maximum of about 10 reps at last no more than 10 seconds for execution of the number of reps specified. Going above 10 seconds brings in a different energy system and doing more than 10 reps is not possible have done explosively. This is why they are truly jump exercises when they exceed 10 repetitions.