Developing power speed, explosiveness must be the ultimate goal for every coach who is training athletes, simply because this is what makes difference on the court, regardless of the sport. If you watch athletes competing, for example basketball or soccer in division II, and you compare them to the players from the top teams, everything seems faster, quicker and more explosive. This is mainly because of the capacity to produce higher power outputs compared to the players of the top teams.
Throughout my career I struggled a lot to find the proper way to make someone more explosive and faster on the court. I found it much easier to make an athlete stronger, but strength alone isn’t the best solution for most of the sports (if so, then power lifters would be known as incredibly strong athletes who also run fast, change direction explosively…). For me, the so called “game changer” was when I learned that to be able to produce force fast, I firstly must learn how to absorb forces. There is a huge advantage if an athlete is able to control efficiently eccentric forces before next jump, cut or when changing direction. We are all training our athletes too often with explosive movements where domination is put on concentric forces. Focusing only or mainly on this to create a faster athlete, we are missing another important part: deceleration and landing mechanics!!! Together with this I “figured out” that power development can be progressed and regressed not only through intensity and volume, but also through learning the patterns! I was already using this kind of approach for fundamental movement and during strength training, so first I did the progression continuum for power training which today looks like this:
One of the most important, but so often overlooked components of plyometric is the proper landing mechanics! Athletes need to learn how to be able to ABSORB high forces when touching the ground; the critical point to understand being that these forces are always higher than athlete’s bodyweight! The ability to absorb force uses advantage of natural mechanisms that exist in our muscles and tendons. THE MORE FORCE AN ATHLETE CAN EFFECTIVELY ABSORB, THE MORE FORCE AFTERWARD HE CAN PRODUCE. To properly teach landing mechanics, which are highly related to deceleration abilities as well, first we have to understand how body works during these movements from the biomechanical prospective. Deceleration causes a high neural demand that puts a lot of stress on our body because of eccentric muscle action movements. Proper landing or deceleration involves proper coordination movements, such as bending the hips, knees, and ankles while maintaining centre of gravity by having core pre-activated. Teaching athletes how to start and stop moving properly, how to change directions efficiently, how to jump and land correctly, helps not only to improve speed and agility, but can also significantly reduce the chance of injury.
There are many exercises to teach and develop landing mechanics and, honestly, only the trainers’ imagination limits them. The basic ones are the following:
Drop to Split Stance
Drop to Single Leg Squat
Vertical Jump to Squat Freeze
Lateral jump to freeze (pay attention to how much more difficult is for me to properly land on my left leg)
Isoinertial training has been invented as a solution for the strength training of astronauts. Because, during long travel in space, a problem to maintain strength and power of the astronaut’s muscles exists. In the absence of gravity, regular strength training methods with weights are useless. The term isoinertial comes from the words iso (same) and inertial (resistance). The primary concept of the isoinertial system is the same inertia in both the concentric and the eccentric phases of muscle contraction. The benefit of the isoinertial method and what makes it different from the isotonic muscle contraction is the fact that during isotonic type or conventional exercises (strength machines and free weights), the resistance is constant in both the concentric and eccentric phase. In the isoinertial method the resistance is adapted in every moment. What that means? It means that more force you produce in concentric phase, the same force you will need to control in the eccentric phase, which makes a HUGE difference from conventional type of exercising. So, an athlete needs to be able to absorb the same amount of force, which he/she can produce. However, the speed of action will vary as a function of the effort — just as in sports; there is acceleration and typically deceleration to break and stop and then change direction. This is how the skeletal muscle is designed to operate. If you follow statistics and researches, majority of muscle pulls or strains is happening during inadequate capacity to absorb high eccentric forces.
But what made me show interest about isoinertial training on the first place was the so called eccentric overload. After the end of concentric muscle action and during transition period there is almost zero resistance in the first 10-15° of eccentric phase, but after that you get “hit” with strong eccentric forces. When it comes to joints position and angles, this “eccentric punch” is happening around angles when you are on the court and want to change direction or do another jump! So, if you don’t understand it well, eccentric overload is happening at the most difficult and critical position to execute proper change of direction!
A number of researches have been carried out on the benefits of eccentric overload training in raising neural and muscular performance and in the rehabilitation and prevention of injuries. Some benefits include; higher forces are generated compared with traditional concentric action (LaStoya et al., 2003), unique neuromuscular activation which can be trained specifically (Enoka, 1996), stimulate specific micro-adaptations to regenerate a stronger muscle tissue (Brandenburg and Docherty. 2002), effective in injury rehabilitation (LaStoya et al., 2003; Lorenz and Reiman. 2011), increased hypertrophy adaptations when compared to other forms of training (Brandenburg and Docherty., 2002).