Speed and Strength are integral components of triathlon. The term plyometrics is used to describe the method of training which seeks to enhance the explosive reaction of the individual through powerful muscular contractions as a result of rapid eccentric contractions such as jumping, bounding and hopping exercises. Since most triahletes have time constraints by having to train for three sports, plyomtetics is an effective way to "weight train" anywhere and in less time.
The maximum force a muscle can develop is attained during a rapid eccentric contraction. However, it should be realized that muscles seldom perform one type of contraction in isolation during athletic movements. When a concentric contraction occurs (muscle shortens) immediately following an eccentric contraction (muscle lengthens) then the force generated can be dramatically increased. If a muscle is stretched, much of the energy required to stretch it is lost as heat, but some of this energy can be stored by the elastic components of the muscle. This stored energy is available to the muscle only during a subsequent contraction. It is important to realize that this energy boost is lost if the eccentric contraction is not followed immediately by a concentric effort. To express this greater force, the muscle must contract within the shortest time possible. This whole process is the underlying mechanism of plyometric training.
Choose the method to fit the sport:
The golden rule of any conditioning program is specificity. This means the movement you perform in training should match, as closely as possible, the movements encountered during competition. Since cycling and running are mostly lower body movements, here are examples of lower body plyometric exercises with intensity level:
* Standing based jumps performed on the spot (low intensity) - Tuck Jumps, Split Jumps
* Jumps from standing (low-medium intensity) - Standing long jump, Standing hop, standing jump for height
* Multiple jumps from standing (medium intensity) - bounds, bunny hops, double footed jumps over low hurdle, double footed jumps up steps
* Depth jumping (high-very high intensity) - jumps down and up off box (40 to 100cm), bounding up hill
* Eccentric drop and hold drills (high-very high intensity) - hop and hold, bound/hop/bound/hop over 30 meters (athlete stops and holds on each landing before springing into the next move), drop and hold from a height greater than one meter
Planning a Plyometric Session:
The choice of exercises within a session and their order should be planned. A session could :
- begin with exercises that are fast, explosive and designed for developing elastic strength (low hurdle jumps; low drop jumps)
- work through exercises that develop concentric strength (standing long jump; high hurdle jumps)
- finish with training for eccentric strength (higher drop jumps).
An alternative session could be:
- begin with low hurdle jumps
- progress to bounding and hopping,
- continue with steps or box work
Where to do it and what to wear:
For bounding exercises, use surfaces such as grass or resilient surfaces. Avoid cement floors as there is no cushioning. Choose well-cushioned shoes that are stable and can absorb some of the inevitable impact. All athletes should undergo general orthopaedic screening before engaging in plyometric training. Particular attention should be given to structural or postural problems that are likely to predispose the athlete to injury.
Conditioning for plyometrics:
Higher than normal forces are put on the musculoskeletal system during plyometric exercises so it is important for the athlete to have a good sound base of general strength and endurance. Simple plyometric drills such as skipping, hopping and bounding should be introduced first. More demanding exercises such as flying start single-leg hops and depth jumps should be limited to thoroughly conditioned athletes.
A thorough warm up is essential prior to plyometric training. Attention should be given to jogging, stretching and general mobility.
How many repetitions?
It is wise not to perform too many repetitions in any one session. Split the repetitions into sets with ample recovery in between.
Plyometric exercises have been used successfully by many athletes as a method of training to enhance power. Careful attention must be given to the technique used during the drill or exercise. In addition, the coupling time or ground contact time must be as short as possible. The challenge to you as athlete is to select or create an exercise that is specific to the event and involves the correct muscular action. As long as you remember specificity the only limit is your imagination.