How Not to do Plyometric Work
Top MMA News would like to welcome Geoff Girvitz to the site to help whip our readers into fighting shape. Geoff will be tackling strength and conditioning topics on a monthly basis in his Condition Critical column. Geoff is the director of Bang Fitness in Toronto. He is certified as a personal trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine. Geoff is connected with some of the top names in the strength and conditioning industry and is hard at work with Toronto’s next generation of fighters. On to his first topic…Plyometrics.
Plyometrics are one of the most effective tools in a fighter’s training arsenal. Anyone who wants speed, power and agility needs to address this component of training. However, done poorly, plyometrics are a waste of time that will damage your joints.
I don’t want to waste your time or wreck your joints. I’m a swell guy. That’s why I’m going to pinpoint some of the major mistakes people make and provide you with solutions.
Before getting started let’s make sure that we’re on the same page. Plyometrics take advantage of, among other things, the natural elasticity of your muscles upon impact – just like when you throw a rubber ball onto the ground. At the moment of impact, there is a contraction of the material (in this case, your soft tissue) followed by a release of energy. You have a brief moment to take advantage of this energy. If you are able to use this efficiently, you will jump higher, move faster and hit harder than you could without it. Sounds good, right?
Obviously, plyometric training is very useful when done right. The question is how to make sure that happens. Here are a few of the most common problems (and their fixes):
Problem #1: Driving with the Parking Brake on
The number one mistake athletes make is performing repeated ballistic movements, such as jump squats, without being able to deal with ground forces properly. As described above, plyometrics take advantage of the elasticity of your muscles. If your joints are bearing the brunt of impact, then your muscles aren’t getting the opportunity to work. In this case, you’re not only failing to use that energy, you’re setting yourself up for chronic injury.
If you consistently raced away from green lights with your parking brake on, you wouldn’t be surprised that you were not only hindering your speed, but damaging your vehicle in the process.
Solution: Learn to Absorb Impact
Your senses of hearing and touch are going to give you the best feedback on the quality of your landings. Any time you come into contact with the ground, you should be aiming for a smooth, silent landing and to feel the force transferring through your muscles, not your joints. The simple fact is that the energy has to go somewhere. And no, that somewhere shouldn’t be your knees. Your muscles should be able to absorb every last Newton. Once you can cleanly absorb that energy, we can talk about what to do with it.
Problem #2: As much Rhythm as a Hippie Drum Jam
If your background with weights has been informed by bodybuilding, then segmented movement has been the name of the game. Unfortunately, this doesn’t offer a lot of athletic carry-over. There is a genuine rhythm involved in plyometric work that doesn’t necessarily give you the opportunity to wait until you are ready. The timing involved in moving multiple parts of your body at the same time – not to mention alternating waves of tension and relaxation throughout – can be tough to practice. This can be frustrating for someone who needs to work on breaking things down.
Solution: Maximum Efficiency not Maximum Capacity
If you’re not able to relax enough to feel what’s happening upon contact, or to capitalize on the rhythm of force/counter-force, you need to dial things down. Since we can’t stop and re-start, we can reduce both the speed and range of motion in order to give you more time (and less overload). If we come back to our rubber ball analogy, we might not be able to interrupt the bounce but we can throw it with less force in the first place.
Problem #3: Too Hardcore for your own Good
You want to come in and rip it up. That’s cool. There are worse problems out there than having a great work ethic. However, a lot of hard workers make the mistake of sacrificing movement quality for volume and intensity. The result is poor efficiency and increased injury risk.
Solution: Perfect Practice
If you have a fight or important competition in your near future, there are some adjustments that might be made. If not, your focus needs to be on perfecting your quality of movement. It doesn’t matter how many reps you perform; if technique starts to degenerate, stop. It’s important to note that you’re not practicing to be fatigued (that’s a different type of training). You’re practicing to move well. And perfect practice makes perfect.
Here’s a very simple fact for you: if you can’t perform a single repetition well, you won’t be able to perform multiple repetitions well. There are no ifs, ands or buts. Start with one and work up from there.
I hope these details help you train more safely and more effectively.
Geoff Girvitz is the director of Bang Fitness – a Toronto-based facility offering complete solutions to body composition and athletic performance. www.BangFitness.com.