After my last post, I got some questions on when someone should begin incorporating plyometrics into their training. People asked questions like, "how much do I need to squat to safely do plyometrics?" and "what age can my kid start doing them?" and "jumping makes me ridiculously sore and its affecting my workouts, why do I suck?" and "I am a female athlete and don't want to blow out my ACL's, what jumps are best for me?"
There are answers to these questions. But, just like every other time in life you have a question about something, there is a heaping pile of bullshit that must be sifted through in order to find the real answers.
First off, when I am talking about plyometrics, I am not talking about this:
Any exercise you do in your living room in front of Christmas lights with your best workout bro without a shirt on is probably not good for you.
I am talking about explosive plyometrics. Exercises that require the use of boxes, weights, and the ability to turn off the little voice in your head that keeps screaming "NO, DON'T DO THIS!!!!" Not the exercises that are used in P90X or local "sculpting" group fitness classes. These exercises do not build speed and do not build explosive strength... which is all you should care about.
Before I get to the meat and potatoes of this thing, make sure your landing mechanics don't suck:
Now that you are all nice and mobile, we can now address all of the bull-shattery that surrounds explosive plyometric training.
I am a female/youth athlete/youth athlete coach, are plyometrics safe?
First off, yes/yes/yes. A smart, well coached, and well executed periodized strength training and plyometric program is not only safe, it greatly reduces the risk of ACL injury. Here are some excerpts from a recent review of plyometric training and how it relates to injury prevention in female athletes:
"However, Mandelbaum and colleagues (2005) placed 844 female soccer players between the ages of 14 and 18 in a sports-specific training intervention that occurred prior to their soccer practice. The intervention included a variety of plyometric exercises to improve core strength and balance. The authors compared this group to 1913 females who did not complete the intervention. They found that those in the intervention group had an 88% decrease in ACL injuries during the first year of the study and 74% in the second year compared with those in the control group."
"The use of plyometrics to reduce injury rate in female sports has for the most part been positively supported in research. Pfeiffer, Shea, Roberts, Grandstrand, and Bond (2006) implemented a twenty minute, twice weekly, plyometric-based training program with female high school athletes over a two year period. The training focused on deceleration from a sprint and the mechanics of landing from a jump during their respective seasons. The rate of non contact ACL injuries was not found to differ between those that completed the plyometric training and those who did not."
Not only do plyo's help reduce injury risk, or at the very least don't increase it, plyometrics may help speed recovery from an injury and return the athlete to sporting condition faster than not using plyometrics:
"Similarly, other studies that have assessed the inclusion of plyometric training on serious injuries have found that such training reduces the incidence among female athletes in multiple sports (Hewett, Lindenfeld, Riccoene, & Noyes, 1999), and can decrease impact forces and increase hamstring torques in jumping activities (Hewett, Stroupe, Nance, & Noyes, 1996). "
Wow. A specific method of training that helps reduce the risk of hamstring injuries. Since no athlete has ever hurt their hamstring ever, I guess you can just sweep plyometrics under the rug because they are too dangerous.
Some common sense thinking for youth athletes, male and female alike:
Most youth athletes are much smaller than older athletes. This lack of mass means a lack of ground reaction forces that come into play. This is why kids can run around, sprint, jump, throw, and do many complex sporting tasks for a very long period of time without getting too beat up or worn out. Want a practical example? If you have kids that play sports or coach kids in a sport, odds are you are taking them to a million different tournaments and camps throughout the season/offseason. No one gives a second thought about the ground reactive forces that are caused by sprinting, which can be upwards of 4 to 5 times your body weight, when they sign their kids up for a 4 day straight 29 game elimination tournament then rush home to get them back in time for their practice at school.
Hopefully this helped clear some stuff up. Now go jump on stuff, it's good for you!
Solum Per Exitum. Just a hop, skip, and a jump away!