Plyometrics, also known as “jump training” or “plyos”, are specialized, high-intensity training techniques used to develop athletic strength and speed. These movements use the strength and elasticity of muscle tissue to increase the speed or force of muscular contraction; over time allowing someone to jump higher, move faster and improve performance in just about any sport.
There are several benefits to plyometric training that include increased mobility in selected joints and adding a challenging but fun aspect to an athlete’s workout, but one of the lesser known benefits of plyometric training is that if properly done, it can help reduce the ever-so-common ACL injury in female athletes.
ACL injuries remain the most prevalent and frequent in female athletes specifically, and overwhelmingly majority of these are sustained without the incidence of contact, occurring when the athlete is landing from a jump, decelerating, or pivoting on one foot while running – we see more knee injuries in cheerleading than we do football. ACL injuries can be caused by a multitude of factors, including connective tissue integrity and insufficient neuromuscular control of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex (this is the lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spines in conjunction with the pelvic girdle, and the hip joint). By design, females are “quad dominant”, meaning they contract their quadriceps first during lower body weight-bearing exercises, increasing the anterior tibial translation which can induce ACL strain. Conversely, men trigger the hamstrings first, which helps to stabilize the knee during landing and change of direction activities.
Plyometric training teaches female athletes how to land properly by absorbing the force before ultimately developing it. This type of training helps with neuromuscular control and teaches the muscles of the posterior chain to absorb the impact from landing. Gains from plyometrics go more than muscle deep, too: new research shows these moves also help keep the bones stronger. Women reach maximum bone density between 25 and 30, which then decreases 1-2 percent each year, and the best way to promote rebuilding bone is by stressing them with explosive movements.
Athletes should always be encouraged to achieve a “soft landing”, making as little sound as possible and with proper alignment. Always start with low-intensity jumps like jumping in place, standing hops and low box jumps and perfect the form before moving on to higher intensity movements such as depth jumps.
A training session for a beginner or average person should consist of no more than 40 total jumps and utilize a work-rest ratio of ten seconds. Ideally, reps are kept low during each set to ensure good form is maintained. Healthy, fit athletes who are advanced in their training may incorporate closer to 140 jumps per session. Of course this isn’t 40-140 of the same movement or jump but three to four different exercises of three sets consisting of 10-20 reps. Female athletes should add jump training, supervised by a professional, to their regimen to reduce sports injuries.