I am sure at some point you have heard the term “plyometrics”, have seen it performed or even taken part in it yourself. Plyometrics training has become more popular in recent years as an effective way to improve athletic performance in sports, but it is equally important for dancers to take part in. Unfortunately, it is not yet standard for dancers to incorporate plyometric training into their conditioning routines; however it is highly effective for improving the ever important aesthetic of jumping.
I think it is important to give you a little more background on what plyometrics actually entails so that you have a better understanding of how and why we do it. Traditionally, a dancers training program may include performing a variety of jumps (including from 2 feet, 1 foot, different directions, etc.) and takes place during a regular dance class. The idea is that dancers jump a lot- so we should train them by repeating the technical jumps over and over again. BUT this can potentially be grounds for injury because of the repetition and overuse of the same muscles. Knowing how to develop solid jump protocols for your dancers is important because there is absolutely a right way and a wrong way to perform plyometrics- and the latter is likely to result in injury.
A few key components that plyometrics training should include:
- Proper technique and alignment training
- A variety of jumps (NOT just dance specific jumps) and appropriate number of each type
- Should be done in isolation from dance class, because it causes significant muscle fatigue and doing this before or after dance can result in injuries.
Many dance teachers do not want to take a full class session to work on plyometrics, however
when implemented correctly I promise you will see a big improvement in jumps and leaps!
In my last blog post, I eluded to the fact that we have evidence to show that dancers who only perform repetitive sauté jumps and plies do not get adequate training to improve jumps as a whole. We must provide the right amount of variation in the types of jumps and the frequency which they are done.
PT's and Dance Instructors- this means that we need to be giving our dancers the education
and proper training on how to do this.
Dancers- this means that you need to seek out trained (trained being the key word here!) professionals to help you safely develop these programs if you want to see progress.
*Disclaimer before I go on* I want to be VERY clear, in that you should NEVER perform plyometrics
without a properly developed program by a trained professional. This blog absolutely does not serve
that purpose and I will not be teaching you how to do plyometrics via the interweb. If you would like a personalized program for you or your studio, please contact me directly and I would be more than happy to help you out!!
So what are plyometrics??
Put simply- it is jump training. However, there is a lot more to it than just jumping in the air 100 times.
So let's start with what makes plyometrics plyometrics. In order to jump, our bodies use something
called the stretch shortening cycle. Basically think of your body like a spring. The more we stretch a
spring out, the bigger potential it has to produce energy. In other words there is a buildup of tension on the spring and when we let go it releases energy and springs back. The more tension on the spring, the more recoil you will get. This is what happens in our muscles as well. We must first put them on stretch to create a build up of energy in the muscle so that it can recoil- thus allowing us to leave the ground.
There are 3 main phases that must be present in order for this all to take place. These steps are the
same no matter what type of jump is occurring. It can be a dancer performing a leap or a basketball
player making a jump shot- these 3 steps will always occur.
1. The eccentric (loading) phase.
This is the period when we are bending our knees to prepare for takeoff. Or for dancers, it is the initial plié phase that you use to prepare for your jump. Using the spring analogy, we are stretching the spring out and creating tension. Eccentric muscle contractions occur when we are contracting the muscle by elongating it. In the case of the plié, it is our quads and calf muscles that are elongating.
2. Amortization (transition) phase.
This is the period between the eccentric muscle contraction (lengthening of the muscle) and the powerful concentric contraction when the muscle actually starts to shorten instead. It is a very brief period of a jump that is hard to actually isolate out from the other 2 phases, but none-the-less is occurring within the muscle.
3. The concentric (take-off) phase.
Concentric muscle contractions occur when a muscle shortens. For example, when we straighten our knee the quad muscle is shortening to produce that movement. During plyometrics, the concentric phase occurs when your knees start to straighten and you produce the power to leave the ground. Again going back to our spring analogy, this would be equal to the recoil of a stretched spring.
Eccentric Loading Phase. The calf (gastroc) and Concentric Phase. The gastroc and quad
Quad muscles are on stretch to build energy. muscles are shortening and releasing their energy just prior to going airborne.
The final phase is landing, because what goes up must come down! This phase doesn't get its own number because the same thing occurs during landing as in phase 1 eccentric lowering. This is equally important to the other phases, as it helps you to absorb the shock of the ground, and can again be done correctly or incorrectly if not careful.
There are many things that we must look at in each individual phase of plyometrics, which I have not outlined here. Alignment is key, and can be the difference between getting injured or not. I will save this for another blog post as it can be a lengthy topic on its own!
Why is plyometrics training important?
Jumping is a necessary component of every dancers training. It is in almost all choreography and can be
quite repetitive. Some research suggests that dancers jump as much as 200x per class. We must prepare a dancers body for the stress of jumping to help prevent injury and improve performance. Plyometrics is one of the best conditioning techniques to do just that.
Benefits to plyometric training:
1. Improved strength and power
2. Improved neuromuscular control and coordination
3. Improved balance and proprioception
4. Improved jump height
5. Reduced injury rates
Now that you have learned a bit about what plyometrics involves, you can see that there are many different components of a jump. It is not as simple as you may have thought! Learning to train the muscles for each type of contraction that needs to occur is important to create a well rounded program.
In this post, I chose not go into detail about alignment during jumping or how to create a proper
plyometrics training program, as my goal today was just to introduce the topic to you. BUT I do plan on
adding this information to a later blog so stay tuned!
If you are interested in implementing a plyometrics program for yourself or the dancers that you work with, contact me at email@example.com.