Plyometrics for Football Explained
The end goal of plyometric training is to improve your capacity to perform fast, powerful movements whilst also conditioning your nervous system to combine with your muscular system faster.
In simple terms, with plyometric training you're training your body to absorb and reproduce force at greater speed, focusing on your ankles ability to be springy.
For football, a great example of this is suddenly having to dart off to the left to intercept a pass having just landed from challenging for a header. If you lack that speed and elasticity rebounding back off the ground towards the left and take too long to absorb the force whilst landing, you'll lack the quickness and explosiveness to reach that interception.
Examples of TRUE plyometric exercises:
- Rebound depth jumps
NOT TRUE plyometric exercises:
- Squat jumps
- Counter movement jumps
- Box jumps
Key components of plyometric training:
- A true plyometric has a ground contact time of less than 0.2 seconds
- It must include the stretch-shortening cycle (explained below)
- You must learn to land effectively first to maximise the potential results from your plyometric training
- Learn to land in a way that allows you to push off in any direction, so that your weight is spread equally
- Don't land too deep (it takes too long to get out of that position and into the next)
- Always aim for quick ground contact times, try to generate a tapping sound when you rebound off the floor
- Don't let your knees collapse in upon landing (high risk of injury)
- Do plyometric training in doses, little and often!
- Use a surface which is slightly springy if possible - like a gym floor
You may have heard of something called the stretch-shortening cycle or 'SSC' for short?
This is a muscle contraction sequence which occurs at the back of the ankle when you're performing movements like stop-start actions. In basic terms what's happening at the back of the ankle is a lengthening of the muscle and tendons (which then stores elastic energy) immediately followed by a shortening.
Visualise the back of a kangaroos foot as it hops...the angle at the front of the ankle becomes smaller as the tissues at the back stretch longer and then when the kangaroo propels itself forwards and into the air, the angle at the front of then ankle becomes bigger and the tissues at the back shorten again. This is exactly the same as what's happening to you but on a bigger more obvious scale.
This lengthening and then shortening action (the SSC) is vital to help you perform explosive movements. By having that pre-stretch you're actually able to then produce enhanced power in the shortening action which follows. Think of an elastic band, the further you stretch it back the further and faster it propels itself when you let it go, you're enhancing the recoil affect with the pre-stretch!
You'll use this stretch-shortening cycle in many movements on the pitch such as:
- Changing direction
- Changing speed
...which is why training to improve it can yield such great performance results for you in a short space of time.
If the time delay is too big between the lengthening and shortening action, then the elastic energy that's been stored will dissipate and be lost. This is why many players lack speed, because the speed of that cycle is too slow to utilise all of the energy that's just been stored. With plyometric training that cycle can be sped-up.
As you may have identified if you're stopping suddenly from a high speed or landing from a good height then the body and in particular your ankle joint has to be able to withstand an exceptional amount of force. This is why strength is so important, if you lack strength you'll find yourself getting injured when trying to perform these movements at high velocity and even limit the amount of force you are able to produce in the explosive movement which follows.
With strength, good movement mechanics are also important in avoiding injury. If you're able to absorb some of the force of a landing by effectively bending at the hips and the knees then you'll limit the force which the ankle has to absorb whilst still enabling enough energy to be stored in the SSC to produce that subsequent explosive movement.
It's about finding that right balance between preventing injury and storing enough energy to be explosive. You want to use plyometric training to increase tendon stiffness to be able to store energy and generate explosive movements, but at the same time you don't want too much stiffness which can lead to injury and you don't want too much flexibility which will hinder your ability to absorb and reproduce movement at great speed. You need to explore your current level of mobility and stiffness and find the balance which works best for you.
So if you want to become a faster, more explosive player then plyometric training will play a big part in enabling that to happen for you. Remember to stick to the guidelines bullet pointed above, you really must earn the right to train plyometrically by practicing your landing and stopping technique first to yield the best results moving forwards.