How to Progress Plyometrics for Jumping Athletes
Jumping is often part of end-stage rehabilitation before athletes return to play. This can be complicated both in terms of physical and psychological barriers, especially after an injury, so breaking these movements down is a good way to inspire confidence and build progressive strength and power. It also makes it easier to identify potential weaknesses in the plyometric chain. For a great introduction to plyometric principals, or for clarity around any of the terms used in this blog, have a read of Steven Collins’ blog ‘A Physio’s Guide to Plyometrics’.
Dancers are ‘performing athletes’ who are known for their ability to seemingly defy gravity. I regularly need to return performers back to full dance capacity, whether that’s a student looking for agent representation, or a professional getting back to eight shows a week in the West End.
This blog will explore ways to regress and progress jumps, by breaking down the stretch-shortening cycle into stages, working with double-leg or single-leg variations, increasing complexity, or adding resistance. It won’t give you a recipe for any particular injury, but can be tweaked and adapted depending on your patient’s individual needs.
I have used variations like these in cases of ankle sprains, ACLR surgery, fifth metatarsal fracture, talus bone stress, patella subluxation, patella femoral joint pain, plantar fascia rupture, and Achilles tendinopathy. These patients were signed off from full performance for a period and unfortunately their strength/confidence/technique had reduced dramatically. When reintroducing jumps into their routines, they struggled for a variety of reasons; reduced coordination, loss of power, fear of re-injury, reduced range of motion, residual low levels of pain, and/or fear avoidance. This meant that breaking things down into accessible chunks was extremely useful.
This series of progressions is specifically based on a male dancer who was recovering from a severe ankle sprain. After many months of rehab, he was left with moderately reduced dorsiflexion in his left ankle, which was both physically and mentally challenging. He effectively had to re-learn how to jump, hop, and leap, so these steps were crucial during the final stages of rehabilitation back into full performance (NB the dancer in the videos is not the patient from the case study).
Working on the eccentric stage in isolation is like learning to put the brakes on before you start to drive. You can do this using a standing single-leg squat at speed, or a drop off a step into a controlled landing. It can also be done on two feet (which regresses it further) by increasing stability and reducing the relative load through each leg.
Video 1 below outlines the following drills:
- Double-leg knee-bend eccentric drop from rise
- Single-leg knee-bend eccentric drop from rise
- Drop off step into single-leg eccentric hold
Next, we worked on power production in the concentric phase. To enable the dancer to focus specifically on this phase, we took out the eccentrics at the beginning by starting from a seated position. We started with double-leg and progressed to single-leg. To make it easier, I asked him to land on two feet, thereby giving him a greater base of support and reducing the amount of control he needed in comparison to a single-leg landing. We also added weight as a further progression a few weeks later.
Video 2 below outlines the following drills:
- Double-leg seated jump
- Double-leg seated jump with weight
- Single-leg seated hop into double-leg landing
To start combining the two phases, we then dropped off a step to encourage eccentric control, with a single concentric contraction (hop) into a double-leg landing (easier than a single-leg landing). Because of his reduced dorsiflexion, dropping off a step worked better than from standing, as there was a little more velocity, which encouraged him to use the full range he had.
Video 3 below demonstrates the following drill:
- Drop off step and hop into double-leg landing
Then we increased the difficulty by working exclusively on the single leg. We kept the hop low and tried to utilise the full ankle dorsiflexion that he had. We started by moving through the exercise, allowing him to step straight out of it and then added a hold at the end for balance/control as his confidence increased.
Video 4 below demonstrates the following drills:
- Drop off step and hop with step away
- Drop off step, hop and HOLD for balance/control
Another way to progress or regress is to add a step/box/platform to jump or hop onto. This regression reduces the demands of the last eccentric phase, or progresses by giving a target height to reach, thereby requiring an increased concentric force production. The height of the target step/box determines whether it’s a regression or progression. To make it harder still, you could add a hurdle (rather than box) so that there’s a target height to jump over, in addition to high intensity eccentric load during the landing.
Video 5 below demonstrates the following drills:
- Drop off step and hop onto low platform (mats)
- Drop off step and hop onto high box (double-leg landing)
- Drop off step and hop onto high box (single-leg landing)
You can progress the eccentric phase by adding weight via dumbbells or similar. Once the patient has reached the amortization phase (the time to rebound) they should drop the weight and focus on the concentric contraction. This progression is courtesy of Claire Minshull and one that I’m borrowing with permission for this blog – thanks Claire! The shorter the amortization phase the more powerful the jump will be. If the time between the eccentric and concentric phases is too long, the stretch reflex will be lost and stored energy wasted, which has a negative effect on the resulting jump.
Video 6 below demonstrates the following drills:
- Squat with weight, drop weight and jump:
- Version 1 with pause – incorrect
- Version 2 without pause – correct
The magnitude, rate, and duration of the stretch during the eccentric phase will affect the amount of energy stored, which in turn affects the force of the resulting concentric contraction. Therefore, playing with these variables is another way to modify the load, depending on what you want to focus on.
The next stage was to combine everything into a single hop movement. Once that was achieved, we began linking these together into continuous hops.
Video 7 below demonstrates the following drill:
- Continuous hops
Dancers are masters of disguise
The dancer in the case study was able to perform quite complicated sequences of choreography, which included leaps and jumps, yet the simple continuous hop test continued to challenge him. The simplicity of the exercise is its strength and for this reason, I use continuous hops as an end-stage functional measure for many lower limb injuries, especially in dancers. Performers are masters of compensation and can make even the most difficult moves look easy, until you strip them back.
A perfect example of this is the dancer in the videos. You may have noticed he only demonstrated double-leg and left-sided variations of the exercises. This is because he ruptured his right Achilles tendon ten months ago. While his function is excellent, you can see the difference in the springiness, power of his plantar flexors, and stability in the lower limb with the single-leg hop test. However, when asked to perform an impressive trick (jump split in 2ⁿᵈ position), you’d be forgiven for not picking up these small deficits.
We have only recently started these plyo progressions as part of his Achilles rehabilitation. I may do a follow up video to show how we get on!
Video 8 below demonstrates the following drills:
- Continuous hops on uninjured leg (left side)
- Continuous hops on injured leg (right side)
- Jump split in 2ⁿᵈ position
Finally, you can introduce changes of direction, different preparations into the jump/hop, and combine them with other movements. This is where you can get really creative and sport specific.
While dosage is another blog altogether, if you’re working on explosive power, you generally want to keep reps and sets low (think strength work), with longer rest periods to allow the muscle-tendon-unit to recover between sets.
End-stage exercises like these are one of my favourite parts of the rehabilitation process. The options are endless and it’s possible to create highly individualised programmes by having a good understanding of how to regress and progress jumps, combined with experience in the sport your athlete is returning to.
If you want to learn more about plyometrics and sports rehab, then check out Teddy Willsey’s masterclass Exercise Prescription in Sports Rehab.
Dancer credit: Callum Evans
Training: The MTA (Musical Theatre Academy)
Recent theatre credits include: Rocky in The Rocky Horror Show (UK Tour), Swing in Chess (London Coliseum), Eugene in Grease (UK and international tour), Miss Saigon (Prince Edward Theatre, London), Cool Rider Live (Lyric Theatre London).
Want to learn more about sports rehab?
Dr Teddy Willsey has done a Masterclass lecture series for us on:
“Exercise Prescription in Sports Rehab”
You can try Masterclass for FREE now with our 7-day trial!
- Bosco C, Komi PV, Ito A. Prestretch potentiation of human skeletal muscle during ballistic movement. Acta Physiol Scand. 1981 Feb;111(2):135-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-1716.1981.tb06716.x. PMID: 7282389.
- Claire Minshull https://getbacktosport.com/
- Davies G, Riemann BL, Manske R. CURRENT CONCEPTS OF PLYOMETRIC EXERCISE. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2015;10(6):760-786.
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