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Use Power Wisely: Plyometric and Ballistic Exercises
The Importance of Limitation and Preparation
If you remember from my last post regarding proper ramp up, I mentioned ways to safely introduce exercise into your routine. This is most true for those of us who have not been as consistent with training, or who want to start a new routine. And as I’m typing, it actually holds true for even those of us who have consistency in their training. It may be working a bit backwards, but I’m talking about limiting the and ballistic exercises at the gym. They are the point of the pyramid and should comprise the least volume of all training. For most of us, excessive power movements such as plyometrics and ballistics result in injury. But I also find many people question what I mean when I say plyos or ballistics. So that’s what we’ll discuss now.
What is a power exercise and how is it different from a strength exercise? Quite simply, a strength exercise is a movement where the main goal is to overcome resistance. Weight and gravity are most commonly the resistance variables we see. A power exercise is a strength exercise that overcomes resistance as quickly as possible. Adding this time component to the exercise recruits a different response in the body than a pure strength movement. So now let’s talk about two of these options.
“Plyometrics” and “Ballistics” are two commonly used training concepts to improve power, or the ability to generate force quickly. They can look very similar, but there is a unique difference between them. Both of them utilize what is known as the “stretch shortening cycle” which is a rapid change in length/position of the muscle/tendons. Think of a box jump: someone stands, then drops down slightly before jumping up quickly. The stretch shortening cycle occurs as soon as the drop down and jump takes place. The muscles are stretched quickly and then contracted even quicker. Basically, think of a rubber band quickly stretched and then released. The timing of this cycle is important for this type of training. Now how are they different?
Plyometrics require a very precise reaction time known as the ground contact time. Think of someone jumping over hurdles or hopscotch. The time in touch with the ground must be less than .3 seconds. Ballistic exercises are velocity-based movements that focus on the shortening or force production rate of a muscle or muscle group. Medicine ball throws and many olympic lifts are examples of ballistic exercises. Both plyos and ballistics are great for closing the gap of strength and power and making an individual much more fit.
It is very much worth noting again that these types of movements are at the very top of the triangle and you have to earn the right to get there. Individuals who tap into power movements too quickly are at an increased risk of injury. One should have a solid strength foundation of at least their body-weight + because the force of your body hitting the ground increases due to the laws of nature and your body needs to be able to handle that repeatedly. It is also important to have good control of your body during these powerful movements. Control is important during the landing phase and without good control, the body mechanics are altered and the rate of movement is changed which can and often leads to an increased risk of injury.
We get a lot of questions on how to start exercising, and we also have honest conversations with our clients that come in injured or hoping to prevent injury. You wouldn’t allow a new driver to tackle the more challenging driving conditions until they have proven themselves to have good understanding and control. We try and promote that same level of safety for all of our clients. We much prefer to see people more active than sidelined. Definitely give us a ring or pop in if you have some questions on these topics! We love to talk shop. Ashley has been killing it with her box jumps and Justin loves to demonstrate skipping. I mostly just like to eat pizza and juggle a soccer ball.