With youth sports becoming increasingly competitive, training methods for young athletes are also becoming more and more advanced. One type of training your child may encounter is called plyometrics. However, there has been some debate on whether or not plyometrics is safe, not only for children, but for athletes in general. People in the field of exercise science point out that there is very little, if any, scientific evidence supporting the safety or effectiveness of plyometrics. On the other hand, plyometrics is supported by the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine. The National Strength and Conditioning Association also has a position stand in favor of plyometrics. So, is plyometrics safe or isn’t it? What exactly is plyometrics? What are the supposed benefits or cautions against it? Let’s take a look at the answers to these questions so that you can make informed decisions about your child’s athletic training.
What is plyometrics?
In plyometrics exercises, a muscle is rapidly contracted and lengthened, and then immediately contracted and shortened further. Plyometric exercises force the muscles to contract rapidly from a full stretch position. In the simplest of terms, plyometrics are exercises or drills that involve a jumping movement, sometimes referred to as “jump training.” Examples of these types of exercises include skipping, bounding, jumping rope, hopping, lunges, jump squats, sprinting, and clap push-ups.
What are the benefits of plyometrics?
Some describe plyometrics as a successful speed training tool. Plyometrics is used for the lower body, upper body, and core to enhance speed of movement in many specific skills. Speed training drills and exercises focus on improving acceleration and pure speed. Athletes often use plyometrics for enhanced conditioning and to gain more explosive power. Speed of movement and explosive power are related. Developing explosive power is important because athletes with higher power to body weight ratios execute faster, and often dominate athletics.
While most plyometric training is done to increase speed, power, and overall athleticism, it is also seen as an important factor in aiding injury prevention. Plyometric exercises force muscles to contract from a full stretch which is also the position in which muscles tend to be at their weakest point. Since plyometrics exercises train and condition muscles at their weakest points, these muscles are then better prepared to handle this type of stress in a live, game environment.
What are the cautions against plyometrics?
Plyometrics has been likened to high impact aerobics which has been stopped due to risk of injury. Physiologists say that most athletics injuries are caused by “excessive force” on an athlete’s musculoskeletal structure. Some feel that bounding off 2 to 3 foot boxes and jumping back up onto another box generates excessive force. Also keep in mind that the bone structure of children and adolescents are relatively immature. The great forces exerted during intensive depth jumps should be avoided. Any intense, repetitive plyometrics exercises should be avoided by young athletes who are still growing.
Even those in favor of plyometric exercises issue warnings and precautions. Plyometrics is considered an advanced form of conditioning which is ideal for enhancing the performance of a well trained athlete. Even then, well trained athletes should start off slow, seek expert supervision, and obtain proper shoes and equipment. Some experts even recommend a thorough grounding in weight-training before starting plyometrics.
Other guidelines include the following:
Simple drills first. Skipping, hopping, and bounding should be introduced first. More intense, demanding exercises such as depth jumps should be limited to thoroughly conditioned athletes.
Proper Warm-Up is essential. An athlete’s body needs to be prepared for the intensity of plyometric exercises.
Proper technique is very important. If an athlete is feeling too tired to perform the exercises with proper technique, plyometric training for that session should stop.
Don’t over do it. Athletes should have enough rest and recovery time between exercises and between training sessions.
Avoid hard surfaces. Grass is one of the best surfaces for plyometrics exercises. Do not perform plyometrics exercises on concrete, asphalt, or other hard surfaces.
Get good shoes. Impact is inevitable. Use well-cushioned shoes that are stable and can absorb some of this impact.
Should you allow your child to participate in plyometric training?
There are actually thousands of plyometrics exercises ranging in intensity. Common children activities such as hop-scotch, jumping rope, and even jumping jacks can be characterized as plyometric exercise. Regular participation in a plyometric training program may help to strengthen bone and facilitate weight control in children. Some suggest that moderate jumps can be included in training of young children. Less intensive exercises can be used; it’s the depth jumps that should be avoided. With qualified coaching and age-appropriate instruction, plyometrics training can be a safe, effective, and fun form of conditioning and athletic training for children and adolescents. But like any other athletic activity, there is a risk of injury if the intensity or amount of training exceeds the physical ability of the child involved. With plyometrics it’s best to start slow, then listen and watch. Watch that your child is not getting too tired to do the exercises with proper technique. These exercises should not be performed when your child is fatigued. Listen if your child complains of pain or discomfort and immediately end the training session. Most of all educate yourself so that you can help monitor your child’s activities.