Plyometric Training Zone!

Plyometric Training – Part III
Explosive Training for Upper Body Power

By Juan Carlos Santana, MEd, CSCS

This is the last article of a three part series on plyometrics.  The first article of the series described what plyometrics was. The second article concentrated on lower body plyometrics. Although we discussed its specificity towards basketball, any athlete involved in a sport that required lower body explosive power would have benefited from that program. This last part focuses on the upper body. A program such as the one we will sample below will enhance the explosiveness of the upper body. Upper body power is obviously valuable for athletes who participate in football, baseball, basketball, tennis and a variety of other sports. Before we continue let us quickly review the fundamentals of plyometrics.

Plyometrics revolves around the stretch reflex component. That is, in order for an exercise to be a true plyometric exercise, it must first "pre-load"; (i.e. quickly pre-stretch) the musculature involved in the exercise. This pre-load creates a neuromuscular reflex that allows a more forceful contraction to occur, very similar to the knee jerk that results when a doctor taps the patellar tendon. This stretch reflex is what separates plyometrics from other methods of power training.

Another element that is paramount in power development is the ability to "release";. When resistance training with traditional weighted implements, or machines, 25-50% of the energy, involved in the exercise is dedicated to decelerating (i.e. slowing down) the weight. This deceleration is actually detrimental to optimal power development. This is the reason why all of the plyometric exercises for the lower body involve jumping; when one jumps up there is no deceleration. Therefore, all of the upper body exercises, illustrated below will involve the element of release.

As we have mentioned in our previous plyometric articles, it is imperative that an adequate strength base is developed before attempting plyometric training. One must remember that an essential component to plyometric training is high intensity efforts. This higher intensity is accentuated during compressive exercise like explosive push-ups. These percussive exercises put an enormous amount of stress on all of the associated structures (i.e. muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, etc.). If these anatomical structures are not properly developed, an injury is guaranteed if these types of plyometric exercises are undertaken. This is particularly true of the upper body. Unlike the lower body, we do not have "a lifetime"; of "base training"; for the upper body. We were not born to walk, run, jump, skip and play on our upper body. Accordingly, one cannot view the upper body as one does the lower body when designing a plyometric program. Exercise intensities must be considered very carefully to establish appropriate volumes for the upper body.

The last item, which we need to emphasize, is the most important. Individualization is the key to a successful plyometric program. This is why we must emphasize that the program we will illustrate in this article is not a prescription for anyone. It is only an example of what an upper-body plyometric program looks like. It is here where good knowledgeable coaching is invaluable. Although general plyometric programs are provided for many teams and position, I do not approve of everyone following one program. Body structures, strengths and weaknesses are highly individual and should be addressed in that manner. A cookie-cutter plyometric program, without ongoing evaluation, is a sure way to hurt an athlete. I have seen this many times, a coach making a copy of a plyometric program he/she saw in a journal and using it on their team. Parents should be aware of this and ask questions. This approach to coaching, or training, is lazy, uneducated and unprofessional.

Now let us get to the program. The general components targeted for improvements are: 1) overhead throwing power, 2) rotational explosiveness, 3) pushing power, 4) pulling power and 5) throwing deceleration power. Although this program focuses on upper body power, it is necessary to understand that the energy for each exercise comes from the ground. Therefore, in many of the exercises the lower body and core get considerable residual training. The chain of structures that transfers energy from the ground to the implement used is called the kinetic chain. Enhancing the kinetic chain is a main advantage of this type of upper-body power training.

Like the lower-body plyometric program we illustrated a few weeks back, the program illustrated here is 12 weeks in duration. I have used various permutations of this program very successfully with many of my athletes. The weekly chart includes the number of sets and reps. I have included some figures to help with the identification of the exercises.

This program may be implemented during the pre-season, 2 times per week in conjunction with a 2-3-day/week resistance-training program emphasizing functional strength and power conversion. I often mixed this program with the lower-body plyometric program. This can be accomplished by performing lower-body program one day and the upper-body on the next plyometric training session, or by taking half of each of the programs and performing a mixed program twice per week. Once season begins, cutting down to once per week may be indicated. This would depend on athlete's physiological development, resistance training and competition schedule. The progression allows the complexity and intensity of the drills to increase with a corresponding decrease in volume. The lower volume allows higher efforts to be exerted during each repetition. As mentioned before, this increase in intensity is essential for optimal power development. As usual, make sure you warm up thoroughly before performing these exercises.

Many of the exercises in this program use medicine balls. The new types of medicine balls are made of durable rubber, offering a comfortable bounce. This offers several advantages. They allow bouncing against walls, which serves to "pre-load"; the body structures targeted. The bounce capability of the balls also allow and individual to train by themselves. Some of the exercises I have developed over the years are illustrated in this program. Do not attempt them, they require professional supervision and can be dangerous if not done properly. I have included them only to demonstrate what is possible, not what to do!