Plyometrics – various jumping, bounding, and hopping exercises – have been a staple of many training programs in the United States for some time now. The success of the European Eastern Block countries and the old Soviet Union of the 1970s lead to the inclusion of plyometrics into U.S. training programs with the belief they would enhance athletic performance, particularly sprinting speed. Now that we know the aforementioned foreign geographical regions had extensive and effective performance enhancing drug programs, we need to look at the reality of plyometric training, especially on sprinting speed performance.
Many, many studies have been performed to determine the effectiveness of plyometric exercises on sport performance, particularly sprinting speed. Do these exercises actually enhance the ability to run faster?
In a joint research project at the University Pablo de Olavide in Seville, Spain and AUT University in Auckland, New Zealand, a meta-analysis was done to achieve a better understanding of the magnitude of increased sprinting ability expected after long-term plyometric training and to identify specific factors that influence the treatment effects. Conducting a meta-analysis means examining and combining the results of several studies that address a set of similar research hypotheses.
What they examined:
- Studies that used plyometric training intervention with data necessary to calculate effect size (effective size = a measure of the strength of the relationship between two variables in a statistical population).
- 26 studies with a total of 56 effective size were analyzed.
What they discovered:
- Analyzing effective size resulted in strategies that seem to maximize the probability of obtaining significantly better improvement in sprint performance that included training volume for less than 10 weeks, a minimum of 15 training sessions, and high-intensity programs with more than 80 combined jumps per session.
- To maximize sprint ability, the combination of different types of plyometrics and the use of training programs that use greater horizontal acceleration (that is, sprint-specific plyometric exercises, jumps with horizontal displacement) would be suggested, as opposed to using only one type of jump training.
- Nothing was gained from doing plyometrics with added weight. The loading parameters noted in their analysis should be considered by elite sprinters and qualified trainers regarding the most appropriate exercise prescriptions of plyometric training to optimize increases in sprint performance.
Based on this meta-analysis, if you want to use plyometrics in the attempt to improve sprinting speed, it would be wise to do this:
- Use a program lasting less than 10 weeks.
- Schedule a minimum of 15 training sessions.
- Perform a minimum of 80 combined jumps per session.
- Do not add weight to the plyometric exercises (i.e., weighted vest or holding weights).
- Use plyometric drills that emphasize greater horizontal force as opposed to vertical (more specific to sprinting).
An important point to emphasize based on the last two suggestions: the principle of specificity clearly states that to improve skill in anything, exact practice of that skill is required. Applied here, the actual skill of sprinting must be replicated if improvement in speed is desired.
So, don’t forget to practice sprinting if you want to get faster. If you want to incorporate plyometric exercises as a training adjunct, do it wisely.