by Kevin Watson
What routine do you have in your repertoire that will give you an edge on race day? Do you listen to your favorite song exactly five minutes before you hit the track to warm up? Do you look fixedly at yourself in the mirror and say, ” I’m the greatest hurdler alive” before the race? Or, do you constantly remind yourself to obey every command barked by your coach throughout the week? No matter what your routine, you should definitely consider adding another to your race preparation. Every hurdler should consider adding Plyometrics to their training regimen. No, Plyometrics is not some fancy, superstitious routine; nor is it some get-fit-quick workout that will easily rid you of all your hurdling problems. Originated by Russians in the mid 1900’s, Plyometrics is a method of training that aims to improve one’s explosive power, thus improving one’s performance.
You may be asking yourself, “Why should I worry about explosive power when ten hurdles must be cleared?” There is no question that hurdles slightly impede one’s natural sprint to the finish line. If the hurdles were not there, things would be so much easier, right? Wrong! We love the challenge of clearing each hurdle efficiently and racing someone else while doing so. We love overcoming trail-leg clips and landing blunders enroute to beating all contenders to the finish line. Plyometrics add fuel to our fiery passion, the passion to succeed despite adversity. Developing one’s explosive power increases the physical strength needed to do that which we love most – succeed. First, let’s understand why and how Plyometrics work within the grand scheme of training.
There is no doubt that jumping, bounding and hopping exercises have been known to enhance one’s athletic performance throughout the career of the athlete. Plyometrics is a method of training that aims to improve ones speed and strength by doing just that – jumping, bounding and hopping. When precisely implemented as a supplement to one’s basic training regiment, Plyometrics can increase one’s running speed, decrease one’s touch-down times, and increase one’s maximum force application.
Plyometrics train what is called the stretch shortening cycle (SSC) in one’s muscles. The SCC provides the means for the movement on the body. The SCC mechanism is one that consist of one’s muscle contractions and the relationship between those contractions. There are three types of muscle contractions that allow for movement of the body. They are concentric, eccentric, and isometric contractions. During a concentric contraction, the muscle shortens, thus performing work by tightening. An eccentric contraction occurs when the muscle lengthens. Finally, an isometric contraction stabilizes its connecting joints by using the muscle to create no movement. It is understood that a muscle has the potential to produce a maximium force once a rapid eccentric contraction takes place. This act is similar to pulling apart a spring at its ends. An immediate concentric contraction must take place in order to utilize the energy produced from the eccentric contraction and maximize the resulting force, thus completing the SCC. This act is like letting go of one end of the spring. In other words, as soon as you load, you must explode if you want to get the most out of your muscles.
It is important to note that all plyometrics exercises are not specific to a hurdler’s training program. Before considering plyometrics, a well-balanced training program should be in place for the athlete. A hurdler must be able to meet the physical demands of such training. Age and physical maturity should be considered before implementation. Forces greater than normal will be placed on a hurdler’s body with all of the hopping and jumping involved in plyometrics. That means that you should have an understanding of the proper overload, specificity, progression, moderation and other important principles specific to the hurdlers in question. A hurdler must have already developed at least a moderate level of strength along with aerobic and anaerobic fitness. A few weeks of general training should do. If plyometrics are performed improperly, too frequently or while the hurdler is not physically fit, it puts the hurdler at higher risk for injury or overtraining. So, make sure you are mindful of all aspects of training before adding plyometrics to your regimen.
Now that a basic understanding of plyometrics is apparent, let’s examine a few hurdle specific exercises. The take-off is a very important phase in hurdle execution. Single-leg Alternate bounding is a good exercise that mimics the action of the take-off. Bounding occurs when an individual extends forward movement by increasing the stride length and airtime. Single-leg alternating bounding is exactly what it says, you bound from one leg to the other. By doing single-leg bounding, a hurdler develops the hips, hamstrings and gluteus muscles while working on forward movement. Single-leg bounding mimics the sprint mechanics of the hurdler’s take-off in the form of knee drive, force application, and foot position. Alterations can be made to the single-leg bound such as bounding up stairs, double-leg bounding, single-leg bounding or anything you can imagine. Working on your muscles’ elastic response, the reaction to the prestretch or loading of the muscle through bounding, will directly contribute to the increase in propulsion and turn-over speed when clearing a hurdle.
Another plyometric exercise is Drop Jumping. Drop jumping is my favorite exercise because it develops one’s ability to quickly explode off of the ground once contact is made. Drop jumping works on exactly what you want to do as a hurdler, produce the greatest amount of force in the shortest amount of time. This ability will enable you to get from start to finish as fast as possible. Drop jumping involves the hurdler dropping, not jumping, from an elevated surface such as a box or platform. As soon as he or she hits the ground, the hurdler is to jump as high and as quickly as possible. In order to get the most out of this execrise, a hurdler must jump immediate after hitting the ground. By doing so, the muscle stretch, created by ground contact, will be immediately followed by a concentric contraction. This is the essence of plyometrics.
Since there are a predetermined amount of steps in the sprint hurdle race, it should be one’s goal to create a fast tempo in executing the steps. There are seven to eight steps to the first hurdle, three to four steps in-between each hurdle, and five to six steps from the last hurdle to the finish. Spending less time on the ground during the race can dramatically decrease your overall race time. Drop Jumping can be very rewarding, but it is a rather intense exercise. Make sure the hurdler adheres to proper progression principles by doing less intense exercises before attempting more intense ones. A proper exercise progression with respect to doing plyometrics is very important. Make sure you understand what you are doing and how it will effect you before you try and implement the exercises. I recommend reading Donald A. Chu’s Jumping into Plyometrics for more information about plyometrics and finding more exercises that may suit your needs. Also, consult with a professional trainer if possible.
This article represents only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you can accomplish when you adhere to performing plyometrics regularly. This is only a sneak-peek, so to speak. Plyometrics can be fun, empowering, and very effective. Take charge off of your future success instead of thinking wishfully about running a Personal Record. Do plyometrics.
© 2005 Kevin Watson
A 2005 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with a personal best of 14.04 in the 110 meter high hurdles, Kevin Watson currently works as a volunteer assistant coach with the Virginia Commonwealth University Track & Field program.