They say – ‘variety is the spice of life.’
I say – ‘Fuck variety.’
When it comes to training, variety for variety’s sake is like playing Russian roulette with your results.
Your body likes consistency, and it likes gradual progressive overload.
Sure, there’s an argument to be made for a certain amount of variety and exercise switching in a program, but if you’re constantly changing your exercises around to prevent boredom, or due to some false belief in muscle confusion, you’re doing it wrong, and won’t get the results (be those muscle gain, fat loss, or building strength) you deserve.
So when I see people in the gym doing plyometric exercises, a little bit of the training purist inside me dies every single time.
I’d better explain though, so first up, here are the two types of people who SHOULD be doing plyometric exercises:
There are very few sports that don’t require explosive power, and where competitors never sprint, leap, bound or jump.
I bet even pool players and clay pigeon shooters occasionally have to half-heartedly hop up from a position.
The research is there to support these guys doing plyometrics (1-4). It just makes sense, doesn’t it?
The laws of specificity in training state that if someone wants to get better at something, they need to do more of it. Ergo, if you’re a basketball player who’s a crap blocker because you can’t jump high, you should probably get some vertical jump training in. Wannabe long-jumper who can barely leap out of the bath? Then you’re going to want to correct that.
Plyometric training can take different forms, but be it bodyweight or resisted, it’s highly likely that it will have carryover to athletic performance.
‘Snail trainers’ AKA: people who are slow as shit can definitely benefit from plyometric training.
You have two types of muscle fibers – slow twitch and fast twitch.
The slow twitch are used for activities that are longer duration and lower intensity (i.e. jogging) while the fast twitch, as the name suggests are used for fast and powerful movements – sprinting, heavy squatting, and so on.
Everybody has different ratios of each fiber, but at the extreme end, it’s estimated that elite endurance athletes have as high as 75% slow twitch fibers, while professional sprinters are 75% fast twitch.
If you’re reading this (and on the HLHL site) I’m guessing you’d probably rather have more fast twitch muscles, and be stronger, faster and power powerful. Well, unfortunately, you can’t change a pure slow twitch muscle to a completely fast twitch one. (Up yours, genetics.)
But what you CAN do is alter the composition of your make up slightly. According to a study from Simoneau and Bouchard, around 40% of our fiber type is due to environmental factors, meaning they can be changed to a degree (5).
Due to the fact that genetics are still (slightly) the over-riding factor here, that means that some guys are naturally fast and powerful, and therefore have an easier time when lifting with good technique and close to their 1-rep max.
If, like me, you’re a grinder (and by that I mean you tend to be able to do lots of reps at a high percentage, but they look slow and ugly, NOT the gay dating app) then you have mostly slow twitch, and could therefore do with some plyometric work in your program.
This is similar to the concept of dynamic training, or sub-maximal speed work, as popularised by Westside Barbell. You can use this type of training in some of your sessions to teach yourself to react better and be more explosive, or you can use plyometrics.
Now, I’m going to lay down some completely un-scientific, non-peer reviewed data on you here, but I started including plyometric work in my training, and I got better at lifting at a higher percentage of max max.
n=1 example for the win.
Jokes aside, I also got some clients to do similar (by putting standing or seated box jumps in the warm ups before lower body day, and some plyometric pushups before their bench pressing,) and they remarked that doing this made them feel more powerful by the time it came to lift heavy.
Am I going to keep it in because it made us perform better, have more productive workouts and move weights quicker?
Therefore, if you think you don’t lift as powerfully as you should, or it takes you a while to warm up, and the bar often feels clunky or grindy, then get some plyos into your program.
Oh yeah, and there’s also some real science too . Check out Verkhoshansky’s “Shock Methods and Plyometrics.”
No one really gave two craps about plyometric training until 2003, when P90X came along, and all of a sudden, people were jump lunging and lateral leaping in gyms across the globe.
P90X (and subsequent programs such as Insanity) told users to do plyometrics to burn calories, to increase intensity and to feel the burn.
Let’s do a little bit of Plyometric 101 here:
The purpose of plyometrics is to improve explosive power.
For that, you need perfect reps, and not very many of them. We’re talking sets of 3-6 reps, each performed with perfect technique and delivered with maximum focus and purpose, NOT bounding around your gym looking like the coke-fuelled, ADHD brother of Zebedee.
Unfortunately, people in the conditioning industry (and even more unfortunately, those with a big social platform) have taken plyometrics for themselves, and advised that people wanting to lose weight do literally hundreds of reps of jump lunges and jump squats every single workout.
Let’s think for a minute that even beginners shouldn’t be performing more than 80 f00t contacts per session (6), and advanced athletes won’t be doing many more, sets of 25 jump squats don’t seem like such a great idea.
Oh yeah – and the injury risk is HUGE.
Every now and again, bodybuilders hop on the plyo train, hoping it will be the best muscle-building discovery since creatine.
I guess I should preface this by saying that if you’re someone who wants to build muscle, but also get stronger, more powerful and is typically slow, then plyometrics can have their use.
The trouble with how most bodybuilders do them however, is that they load themselves up with extra weight for clap pushups, or chuck on a weighted vest to do box jumps, when they’ve not performed a bodyweight box jump for the best part of a decade, and keep repping out until they feel sore as hell, lactic acid oozing through their muscles, or they fall flat on their face, and claim they were simply training to failure.
You might hear a bodybuilder say –
“I’m going to put jump squats in my program so I increase my 1 rep max.”
Here’s why this doesn’t stack up –
For one, I’m yet to see any evidence that performing plyos leads to an increase in 1-rep max strength. For this you need frequent training in the 80-85% plus rep range.
Secondly, why would a bodybuilder want to take time away from the bread and butter of their training to increase strength specifically?
Sure, there’s an argument that a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle, and maybe that’s true, but a stronger muscle is also harder to fatigue, and to create muscle damage in. While volume is a driver in hypertrophy, so is muscle damage and metabolite stress, and so by deliberately getting stronger in low rep ranges or on power moves, you’re not making it any easier for you to create stress on the muscle and grow.
I wouldn’t say so.
Like I said, for athletes and for folks who squat like old people fuck, plyometrics have a place.
But for the rest of us, not really.
It all comes down to specificity and questionning WHY you’re putting certain exercises in your program. For each and every exercise, rep range and loading guideline you should know why it’s there, and the reason why most people put plyometrics into their routine has nothing to do with their goals.
There’s a case to make your routine varied so you keep motivated and continue giving it your all so you make progress, but what’s more motivating than progress itself, and getting bigger and stronger?
You get THAT by sticking to a program that works and training hard, not doing some jump lunges because Tony Horton said you should.
Just train sensibly.
Take a look at your program and ask yourself if there’s a reason why you’re doing what you’re doing. If “because I like it” accounts for more than 30% of what’s in there, maybe you want to change your approach to training.
I’m as bad as the next guy for getting shiny new toy syndrome and wanting to routine hop every time I see one of my favourite athletes or powerlifters doing some new exercise or program, but you’ve got to keep your eyes on YOU and your progress.
That’s why having a set routine and not just winging it every time you get in the gym is so crucial.
At least it is if you want to build muscle and get strong as fast as possible, or stay on track with your fat loss. Why not take the thinking out of your programming by following a tried-and-tested done for you routine.
Need a hand?
Try The HLHL Intro to DUP
Sign up to the newsletter for regular updates