This article is Part 1 in a series on Plyometrics. In Part 1 focus on how to program and use plyometrics as a tool for fitness athletes.
Part 2 focuses on the tools -exercises- themselves. It is called “The Top 15 Plyo Exercises for CrossFit.“
Defining & Identifying Plyometrics
Plyometrics is a category of exercises that I would define as high-powered jump training.
I keep the definition of “high power” fairly loose in this article to allow me to include more sport-specific, high-rep bounding elements from the Sport of Fitness (e.g. Double Unders).
Although upper body exercises (med-ball slams, rotational hits, flying push-ups, etc.) aren’t technically jumping, I include them into the plyometric umbrella. The way I see it, these exercises are basically the upper body equivalent of jumping; they are overspeed and the joint angles accelerate through the entire range of motion.
For example, in a squat the joints angles (knee & hip) accelerate open in the first half of the movement and then slow again (decelerate) as the athlete locks out the rep. That acceleration-deceleration cycle happens in upper body exercises in the same way, just think about the lifting (concentric) phase of a push-up. It starts slow, picks up speed, then slows again.
Now, compare that squat and push-up to a squat jump and wall ball throw. Both the squat jump (lower body) and wall ball (upper body) accelerate through the entire range of motion with the end range being the fastest portion of the contraction.
Constant acceleration through the entire range of motion is the most accurate way I can describe plyometrics. It’s the reason why running is plyometric and rowing is not. It’s why wall balls are plyometric and thrusters are not. It’s why box jump overs are plyometric and box step-ups are not.
Once you have identified plyometric exercises, the next step is learning how to train and progress them.
To address this, I break plyometrics into two categories that I take on one at a time: Sport-Specific exercises (and) Accessories exercises.
Sport-Specific Plyometrics: Building Efficiency & Volume
Sport-Specific plyos are any exercise that is tested in the Sport of Fitness.
Realize the way in which the Sport of Fitness is tested is constantly changing so the pool of exercises that can be considered “sport-specific” continually grows. For example, at the 2019 Dubai CrossFit Championship Event 8 (To view start at 2:35:30) included flying push-ups and jumping dumbbell A-Squats.
Excluding these outliers, there is a battery of exercises that appears with much higher frequency and are considered to be staples in the Sport of Fitness.
This battery of commonly tested plyometrics exercises includes…
-Box Jump Overs
-Burpees (Sprint Variants)
Each of these exercises is seen frequently in testing scenarios. In each, the athlete’s body leaves the ground or an implement is thrown, producing the continuous acceleration that characterizes a plyometric exercise.
In the Sport of Fitness these exercises are frequently paired with other movements in scenarios that require a volume of contractions to be completed. Repeatability is more important than peak contraction strength.
Accessory Plyometrics: Developing Power & Quality Movement
An accessory movement is anything that is not sport-specific.
This is extremely broad, encompassing many different training objectives, from improving sport-specific capacity, strength, sustainability, joint integrity, tissue health or any number of other factors.
Choosing to build volume in any exercise that doesn’t directly translate to sport-specific capacity is a waste of adaptation currency that could be better spent elsewhere. I find that statement particularly true when speaking in regard to plyometrics because of the abuse they put joints and soft tissue through.
For this reason, I prescribe lower volumes and higher intensities of accessory plyometric exercises. These exercises frequently translate to developing sport-specific strength and correcting unilateral deficiencies.
Creating an Athlete’s Training Year
I would propose for most athletes in the Sport of Fitness to use a model for plyometrics that mirrors weightlifting development for CrossFit.
In the off-season, the goal is developing new levels of strength through heavier loads (higher intensity) and lower volumes.
As competition approaches, the focus shifts to more sport-specific contexts, such as barbell cycling and lifting moderately heavy loads while under variations of fatigue.
Programming Plyos: Off-Season
I recommend athletes follow a similar progression from their weightlifting development for plyometrics training. This goes for both exercise selection and the volume-intensity seesaw.
Earlier in the training season and an athlete’s career, opt to keep the volume in plyometric movements low while concurrently working on strength. During the athlete’s off-season, start with high-intensity and low-volume. Pick plyometric exercises that prime the athlete for high-tension activities that approach a max effort. These exercises will be less sport-specific, but translate to the Sport of Fitness through developing maximal power output and keeping the athlete muscularly balanced.
Max effort plyometrics have a great potentiation effect that stimulates the nervous system and helps prime the body to produce high levels of force. This is characterized by maximal effort with a very low work to rest ratio (>12:1).
Accessory Plyometric Protocol, Sample 1: Potentiation
A. Row 1k @ 5k TT Pace
B. EMOM 9
1) 3 Front Squats @60% – As Fast As Possible
2) 6 Ice Skater Jumps; Alternating @ Max Effort
3) 2 Complexes: Broad Jump + Vertical Jump @ Max Effort
C) E2M, x 4 Sets
-1.1.1 Squat Clean @87% (Learn about Cluster Sets here.)
Accessory Plyometric Protocol, Sample 2: Skill Carryover
A) Every 90s x 16 Sets (8 Each)
1) 3 TnG Power Snatch @70% 1RM
2) 4 Box Jump Over 42/36; using Leap Frog technique
B) Parallette Handstand Push-Ups; kipping (5 x 5)
C) E2M x 4 Sets
-8 Plyo Push-Up to Plate + 8 Deficit Push-Ups
Programming Plyos: Competition Prep
Later on in an athlete’s career and during preparation for competition in the Sport of Fitness, the most important thing is preparing for the demands of the sport. In this case, building sustainability and repeatability at sub-maximal intensity is the most important thing. In this phase, volume will be built in a variety of movement categories, plyos being one of them.
Building an athlete’s tolerance to volume is extremely important in this phase.
Remember, top athletes in Open workout 18.3 did 800 double unders. Those that chose to repeat did that number again in the same weekend.
Including warm-up sets and rehearsal rounds, that’s approaching 2000 Double Unders.
Related Read: What I Learned from 15000 Double Unders in 30 Days
This is the sort of volume we are talking about.
This is why early in the comp prep phase, volume is the highest training priority.
Once volume has been built over a period of time (several weeks to few months), then the contraction density needs to be built. Think of density as the number of reps per minute, a more specific way to measure work capacity.
Here is a simple 8-week Double Under comp prep progression for an intermediate level CrossFit athlete.
Volume-Density Plyometric Progression for Double Unders
Week 1 | EMOM 12: 25 Double Unders (Volume = 300, Density = 25 / min)
Week 2 | EMOM 15: 25 Double Unders (Volume = 375, Density = 25 / min)
Week 3 | EMOM 18: 23 Double Unders (Volume = 414, Density = 23 / min)
Week 4 | EMOM 22: 22 Double Unders (Volume = 484, Density = 22 / min)
Week 5 | EMOM 17: 27 Double Unders (Volume = 459, Density = 27 / min)
Week 6 | EMOM 13: 32 Double Unders (Volume = 416, Density = 32 / min)
Week 7 | EMOM 15: 30 Double Unders (Volume = 450, Density = 30 / min)
Week 8 | EMOM 12: 33 Double Unders (Volume = 396, Density = 33 / min)
To keep things simple, I only used EMOMs (Every Minute on the Minute) work with a single movement (Double Unders), but typically a coach will need to balance volume of multiple movements in a mixed modal setting where progressions and tracking volume gets much more complicated.
Common Errors with Programming Plyos
Volume and density are two factors that the person programming needs to continually monitor. Misjudging an athlete’s abilities in certain movements or movement pairings can lead to unpredicted dips or spikes in volume, which isn’t conducive to an athlete’s health or long-term progress.
If you are programming and don’t feel like you know an athlete’s capacity well, especially when programming plyos, opt for controlling variables through prescribing…
Rest-Work Times: Rather than EMOM, prescribe a 30s rest b/w rounds
Work Priority Workouts: You know the volume of “Fran”; you don’t know the volume of “Cindy.” “For Time” is work priority; “AMRAP” is time priority.
Percentages: Rather than a set load. (e.g. 70% of 1RM vs. 225/155lbs)
Paces: Rather than letting athletes choose the pace, set it based on Time Trials (e.g. 500m, 2k, 5k, etc.) previously determined through testing.
Time Caps: This prevents time domains from getting out of control and saves an athlete in case you misjudged their capacity or readiness to train.
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Want to read Part 1? The Top 15 Plyo Exercises for CrossFit