Ultimate Power Plays for the Soccer Player Using Plyometrics correctly
Every soccer player requires power for speed and movement to attain optimal performance.
This applies to every position and at whatever level, whether you play in the Sunday league, English Premiership or Scottish Soccer.
Plyometric Conditioning plays a vital role in explosive upper and lower body power, and involves the rapid and explosive execution of jumps using no weights. Programming the Central Nervous System (CNS) to contract muscles in the quickest amount of time, and strengthen surrounding muscular tissue to withstand incredible forces generated.
By carefully applying plyometric principles and techniques, a players alround skill and ability can vastly improve, and compliments and contributes to other important components such as strength and speed.
Didier Drogba of Chelsea is a great example of how this form of power training can transform and separate you from the crowd !
History of Plyometrics
The word Plyometrics originates from the Greek word Plio which means to increase, and metric meaning measurement.
Hence the term Plyometric.
This form of power training emerged back in the mid 1960’s, when one of its pioneers Yuri Vershanski from Russia began to experiment with techniques for reactive ability. After extensive research it was found that not only did plyometrics develop exceptional contractile strength and power in the muscle tissue, but it also effected the whole neuromuscular system in the same way.
Thus, paving the way for a new concept of conditioning athletes in many sports, especially in eastern block countries at the time.
One of the most prominent displays of this explosive conditioning came in 1972, when Valeri Borzof a 100m and 200m sprinter from Russia claimed Olympic gold for both events. It was not just that he broke the US strangle hold over the sprints of the past two Olympics, but the manner in how he achieved it. Effortlessly leaving world class opposition in his wake as he powered to victory, in times that even by todays standards are impressive.
Even more remarkable, is the fact that Borzof was only recording times for the 100m of 13.00 sec 6 years earlier !
Plyometrics therefore played more than a significant role in the 1972 Olympics, where it made an impact and introduced itself as a potent force in sports conditioning.
This opened the floodgates for its application into a diverse array of explosive sports in the western world, such as basketball, martial arts, american football and baseball etc from about 1975 onwards. With its introduction into soccer coming much later.
Although it is important not to ignore other contributory factors that go into achieving such stunning performances, such as natural ability, mental preparation and other physiological training programmes that determine ultimate success.
Plyometrics never the less when applied correctly, always has and always will produce exceptional results. And taken as a stand alone conditioning tool, is essential in sport today.
Be it professional or amateur.
For the modern soccer player this can literally be the difference between mediocrity and above average excellence.
The Mechanics of Plyometrics
The key for any soccer player in developing explosive power soccer moves and dynamic actions, involves the activation of the Myotic Stretch Reflex. A mechanism that regulates muscles when stretched.
It does this by safely contracting the stretched muscle once it has reached its maximum length, therefore preventing muscular tears and pulls. This whole process takes place in milli seconds, sending signals to the Central Nervous System (CNS) which then relays back to the active muscle to create a strong reflex action.
Learning to overload the Myotic Stretch Reflex has profound results when it come to soccer player performance, and is one of the reasons why plyometrics when performed correctly can dramatically enhance an individuals ability.
This is the way to train your CNS to react quicker and autonomously ( subconsciously without thinking ) and determines how explosively a soccer player moves forward, backward, laterally or jumps.
To elevate this reflex action to an above average level, the myotic stretch reflex needs to be shocked into action by means of using a weight many times above the maximum you can lift.
But how do you do that you might ask ?
To make more sense of this we need to look at 3 phases of contraction that occur when executing most exercises.
They are the ECCENTRIC, ISOMETRIC AND CONCENTRIC CONTRACTIONS.
As an example we will use the squat that utilises all three of these components to the maximum. Your maximum weight for 1 rep is 100kg
In the downward movement the muscles are being stretched and lengthened, this is the Eccentric phase of the exercise and is the strongest muscular tension. This is equal to about 60% above your maximum weight, which would allow you to lower theoretically 160kg into the squat position.
This phase is also the most important, as it activates the myotic stretch reflex when put under extreme tension.
On reaching the squat position you are now in a momentarily static mode which is the Isometric Phase of the exercise. This is equal to 10% above what you can maximally lift, and is the second strongest of the contractions. At this stage of the squat the muscles do not move, and therefore this is 110kg that you could statically hold in place.
From there you now enter the Concentric Phase where the muscles begin to shorten. This is of course the maximum you can lift, ie. 100kg.
The intense impulse from the eccentric contraction activates the stored energy in the concentric phase pushing you upwards.
To effectively activate the myoptic stretch reflex in the eccentric phase requires you to jump from a low height of between 12 - 24 inches, normally using a box. Yet there is no way that you could possibly put a heavy weight across your back and jump, even from such a short distance without either seriously injuring yourself or worse. Besides we’re trying to shock the myoptic stretch reflex into creating a strong reflex action to propel you further or more powerfully upwards.
This would not happen if we used such a heavy weight, and you would be to slow to react.
Therefore this would not result in the rapid rubber band response we‘re looking for.
The solution to this is PLYOMETRICS
Plyometrics requires no body weight. Yet if you jump from exactly the same height as above, on impact with the ground your muscles absorb up to 5 times your own bodyweight.
The result is a powerful contraction in the downward /eccentric phase, that creates a tremendous force that catapults you skywards !!
Correct jumping Technique
To perform plyometrics for optimum results a soccer player relies on two important biomechanical factors, they are :
1. Centre of Gravity Alignment
- Correct alignment of your centre of gravity when executing any particular action.
- A sequential order of limb and joint movements.
Your center of gravity or geographical body mass, is an imaginary point in the lower part of your torso and diaphram. This is positioned about 3 - 4 inches below your navel and roughly 2 -3 inches inwards.
The best way to visualise its function, is to think of it as a small lightly weighted ball or sphere in the centre of your body.
The most important aspect of your centre of gravity, is that it must be aligned over a specific base of support when executing any dynamic or explosive movements.
As a simple demonstration, and for the purpose of plyometric jumping we can use the basic two footed jump as an example.
Taking up the crouched position with your feet shoulder width apart you are ready to explode upwards. Your base of support is the area anywhere around or between where your feet lie.
For you to execute the jump in good form and without deviating to the left or right, your centre of mass must be kept within the parameters of both feet on the upward and downward phases. Likewise, if you were to perform a one legged jump off of your left side, then the base of support would then shift over your left foot. 2. Sequential Movement Accumulation
In order for a soccer player to gain as much height as possible when jumping with plyometrics, or with any other dynamic movement associated with soccer.
A sequential order of limb and joint movements is required that accumulates into speed, and ultimately produces vertical power.
To understand this better, a good example is to stand stationary with a ball in your hand. You then throw the ball forwards, (the speed of the ball being about 20mph).
If you now throw the ball once again but this time while running ( your running speed approx 15mph ), you now have an accumulated speed of 20 + 15 = 35mph.
Taking that a step further, so that now you are now running on a moving object such as a train at 40mph. The total speed the ball is travelling is now 75mph.
This is the biomechanical concept involved in many explosive movement patterns such as jumping, and when this is applied correctly it acts as a vehicle for propelling your centre of gravity.
For the soccer player this can generate enormous speed and power for many soccer moves.Breakdown of Technique for the Vertical Jump
Its worth remembering before you attempt the vertical jump. That although each movement is after one after the other, the whole process happens in fractions of a second. So for best results it is important that you do not over analyse the technique, and in the beginning concentrate on executing the movement smoothly. Focusing on refining certain elements at different times as you become more experienced.
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart, with arms loose and straight at your sides. Proceed to swing the arms up to shoulder level before allowing them to swing back and bending your knees. Therefore creating a centrifugal force with the arms.
- On swinging back, swing the arms forward again in a wide arc without hesitation, and extend the arms upwards, while straightening the head and back. Initiating momentum of your centre of gravity.
- Drive through the hips instantaneously, closely followed by pushing up with the powerful quad and glute muscles and begin straightening the legs.
- On straightening the legs, there should be a small flick from the calve muscles to add extra power and speed to the jump.
This is a similar action to cracking a whip, where there is a large movement to begin with. Followed at the end by a small flick that disperses a huge build up of energy that produces an explosive snap !!
At first glance, the practice of even the most simplistic plyometric exercises may give you the impression that very little is being achieved. Yet nothing could be further than the truth, as plyometrics are possibly the most intense conditioning exercises that any soccer player can add to their training programme.
The key to building explosive power in Plyometrics as described in is to violently shock the Myoptic Stretch Reflex. This produces a strong muscular contraction by means of a quick release, or fast reaction with the ground by jumping from an elevated distance.
To do this effectively, each jump a soccer player makes has to be the best he/she can do, and although the reps, sets, and sessions are short, your execution has to be 110% every time.
That is why it is vital that a successful strength and power phase has been completed by the soccer player, before contemplating moving on to such a physically demanding programme.
This addresses a problem area many coaches and soccer players fall into when introducing plyometrics for the first time. Where inadequate preparation, lack of knowledge and over training, can and does lead to serious stress injuries such as severe tendonitis and joint problems. Especially in the knees and connective tissue.
Below are some important guidelines that a soccer player must follow, in order to get the full benefits and avoid injury.PLYOMETRICS SAFETY GUIDELINES FOR THE SOCCER PLAYER
Introductory 3 Week Plyometric ProgrammeWeek 1 Low Intensity Drills
- Each soccer player must have completed a successful strength and power phase before attempting plyometrics.
- Make sure you have adequate footwear such as a good pair of basketball shoes that offer good support to the ankles etc.
- Do not practice plyometrics on a hard surface, and use either the grass verge or good thickness mats for landing on.
- Minimise hard contact with the ground when performing the jumps and concentrate on executing in a soft and quite manner. Good technique involves locking the ankle and landing on the balls of your feet so that quick release away from the ground is maximised.
- Always allow 4 - 7 days rest between plyometric training sessions. (4 days off season, 7 days in season). Plyometrics is a high intensity workout and complete recovery is essential for optimum results.
- Soccer players should avoid training if they are injured or have knee soreness.
- Always perform plyometrics at the beginning of a work out, straight after warm up
- Do not incorporate a weight training programme on the same day
Week 1 for a soccer player concentrates on helping the CNS, joints and muscles to adapt and become familiar to the explosive nature of plyometrics. Where simple low intensity exercises are incorporated, using no boxes to encourage a sense of timing and feel for technique.
Rest periods are 1-2 mins between setsSquat Jumps -
Bunny Hops -
- Stand in an upright position, with your hands behind your head, and proceed to drop into a half squat.
- From there, explode upwards concentrating on maximum height and power. When descending, focus on landing as smoothly and quietly as possible by rolling your feet toes to heels.
- Repeat without pausing 3 x 10 reps
- Stand in an upright position, with your arms at your sides.
- Dropping into a half squat, simultaneously throw your arms back and then forward to create momentum, and jump forwards.
- On contact with the ground, immediately repeat the process without pausing.
- Concentrate on keeping the jumps low, and exploding through the ankles, while extending the legs and flicking the toes.
- Jump over 5 low hurdles landing on one leg after final hurdle. Repeat landing on opposite leg on final hurdle. (Alternating between right and left landing leg on final jump = 1 rep)
- Continue for 5 reps for 3 sets
Alternate Leg Bounds -
- Stand in an upright position, and proceed to push away with left leg while pulling through the right leg.
- Upon contact with the ground immediately push off with the right foot, and land on your left foot.
- Repeat the process so that you are hopping forward from left to right foot.
- 3 x 10 reps
Keep jumps low, and focus on distance through driving the pushing leg. Clockwise / Anti Clockwise Grid Hops -
Resisted Med Ball Throws -
- Create a cross shape on the ground using sticky tape, marking spray or two pieces of string about 1 metre
- Pick a square to stand in and proceed to hop with both feet, in a clockwise direction until back to start.
- Immediately repeat the process anticlockwise.
- Do this for 5 reps, where 1 cycle of clockwise and anticlockwise = 1 rep
- Continue for 3 sets
- Both soccer players sit on the floor while facing each other, their feet and ankles entwined for stability.
- Partner 1 keeping their arms extended, throws the medicine ball to partner 2 who catches it by absorbing the impact also with arms extended.
- partner 2 then repeats the action by throwing it back to partner 1.
The key aspects to this exercise is that both soccer players should aim to keep arms extended at all times, and concentrate on using the core muscles to propel the medicine ball back to one another. Week 2 Plyometrics Using Boxes
Once the body has adapted to the aggressive nature of plyometrics, the soccer player is now ready to incorporate the use of boxes.
There are normally 3 heights of box for performing specific jumping actions and to accommodate progression from beginner to advanced.