This is the question.
The intention of plyometric training is to generate force at a greater rate. Therefore, the idea here is that this adapted power can increase strength and enhance the control the lifter has when performing their maximal lifts.
“Plyometrics tap into energy stored in muscles for explosive movements, which help encourage muscular development, cardiovascular conditioning, stamina, and power, all of which are important for weightlifting work.” (Yusuf Jeffers, a NASM-certified personal trainer)
Before we dive in to what research says can be gained from incorporating jump training, we need to understand what plyometric exercises are and what happens when our bodies are performing them.
To the typical fitness guru, “plyometric training” may be thought of as a series of squat jumps, box jumps, and jumping rope for a quick cardio routine (generally speaking), but when you look into the real history and definition of plyometric/jump training you will discover there is more depth to its meaning and existence.
Originally termed ‘jump training’ or ‘shock training’, plyometrics in fact refers to a training style with the meaningful and strategic purpose to increase the measurement of a sport specific outcome, not just (or at all) to make you sweat and feel your legs turn to spaghetti noodles.
For the purpose of this article we will be looking at how it pertains to the sport of powerlifting and therefore at the mention of the athlete I will be speaking in terms of a powerlifter.
Many incredible things happen within our bodies when performing plyometric (or jump) training of which include but are not limited to:
- The Central Nervous System (CNS), which is responsible for functions of the body and mind, increases in motor unit activation, firing, and control at the utilization of plyometric training.
- The Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC), which is present in many sports-specific actions to provide the force the athlete needs to optimally perform, is utilized in jump training as the body increases its ground reaction time and builds control in the deceleration of a movement, increased neuromuscular control, and greater joint stabilization.
- Fast twitch muscle fibers recruited from high intensity efforts of plyometric exercises transfer to developing more power. (For optimal response from FT muscle fibers, utilizing high-speed small amplitude pre-stretch exercise selection is of high importance for the greatest enhancement in performance.)
All functions that when properly and adequately trained can positively impact powerlifting.
If strength is measured in time, not by intensity, then increased explosive power could very well transfer over into moving more weight. Plyometrics create the greatest force through the concentric power production phase of the contraction of a muscle, which is typically the weakest part of a muscle action and a large component in completing a power lift. To achieve a successful power lift, the competitor needs to drive from the bottom of the lift, stay in tight control, and lock out. Exercise selection is huge when helping a lifter perfect these areas of the lift. Whether it is squats, bench pressing, or deadlifts, this is a contributing factor in finishing strong and deeming the lift “good.” Studies have found improvement in maximal effort lifts when specificity is the main contributor. Therefore, it is highly important that when selecting plyometric movements, that they resemble the movement in which an athlete performs such as the explosive drive from the “bottom of the hole” or lock out/finish. (2)
It is important to note that like with the introduction to any new or variant of a movement, incorporating jump training can increase delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). In return, this can negatively affect the strength and possibly form (depending on the level of the athlete) in heavy lifting when disregarding adequate recovery time. These things considered, according to NSCA, plyometric programming when done correctly is no more dangerous than any other methods of program design and DOMS will lessen through the course of a consistent training cycle.
When designing a powerlifting program with jump training incorporated, the plyometric exercises should not be the focal point of a session but have the intent to add value to the main lifts. Its main objective and purpose to the athlete is to increase explosive power and improve areas of weakness, and therefore the method and strategy in which to incorporate plyometric work can change depending on the program, day of training, cycle, and level of experience.
With this in consideration, there are a few variations of incorporating jump training that athletes and coaches can use as guidelines:
- One possibility would be to introduce a plyometric exercise at the freshest state of training. This would provide highest neuromuscular adaptations.
- Another method, with the goal to promote power production, is to incorporate a plyometric exercise as a superset to a strength move. This is referred to as Post Activation Potentiation (PAP) Training. (3)
In whichever way one chooses to incorporate jump training it is suggested that, for the strength focused athlete, moderate to low intensity sub-max plyometrics be selected for the most optimal overall performance. (4)
Plyometric Exercise Selection – for increasing explosive power in squats, deadlifts, & and bench press:
- Medium-High Box Jumps
- Seated Box Jumps
- Box Jump Overs
- Seated Box Jump Overs
- Depth Jumps
- Broad Jumps
- Squat Jumps
- Weighted Squat Jumps
- Explosive Sled Push
- Explosive Upper Body Sled Shove
- Plyometric Push Ups
There still isn’t much research on specifically how plyometrics and powerlifting correlate. That being said, trial and error for the individual athlete is going to be the greatest contributing factor in if plyometric training will positively impact maximal strength and technique in power lifts. As with any training program, ample time with a program design, consideration in exercise selection, and consistency in training are going to be the greatest indicator to whether a training program and style works for the athlete.
- A Comparison of the Effects of Short-Term Plyometric and Resistance Training on Lower-Body Muscular Performance: Malcom T. Whitehead, Timothy P. Scheett, Michael R. McGuigan, & Angel V. Martin
- Successful Coaching 4th Edition