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Guidelines for Using Boxes and Barriers in Plyometric Training

By Dan Hutchison, MS, ATC, CSCS

Athletes and individuals crave accomplishment.  Whether on the competitive field, in the classroom, or on the job, a sense of accomplishment occurs when something is overcome, and that satisfaction is even greater when that something is ‘HARD’.  Strength and conditioning usually involves overcoming a weight or resistance, but in sports performance applications, one is typically overcoming resistance of another kind – time, reps, distance, or height.  Height seems to be something inherent in us as humans that drives and motivates us.  High jumpers, pole vaulters, divers, basketball and volleyball players, even professional snowboarders are obsessed with height, either by overcoming it or pushing its limits.

Plyometrics applications were founded on improving height, a.k.a. enhancing lower body power.  The ability to either jump on a box, jump off a box, or immediately jump onto a box after jumping off of a box, led to the original plyometric movements and programs that many coaches still use today.  All of these concepts are based on solid research that confirms that if we apply a force to an object (the ground) on a consistent basis and at various distances (heights), we should improve the body’s ability to not only withstand these forces, but to also overcome them at a higher capacity than before.  The question becomes “When?”  In previous blog posts, we have covered progressive plyometric applications using patterns (directional plyometrics) and variable load (cord or band resistance), in time frames that allow soft tissue adaptation and performance enhancement.  Taking the ‘fundamentals’ one step further, we introduce some guidelines for adding boxes and barriers to a plyometric training routine.

Boxes have been used extensively over the last two decades for various means of improving functional performance.  Stepping, jumping, landing, etc., have been manipulated using various box heights.  One method that gets used very infrequently is the ‘rebound’ box jump.  Different from the traditional depth jump, the rebound box jump involves starting on the ground, jumping and touching the box at the specified height, than returning to the ground to immediately ‘rebound’ back up to the box.  This is repeated for a specified number of reps with the goal of leaving the ground and the box height as quickly as possible.  This application, although deemed aggressive, continues the same stretch-shortening cycle concepts as our fundamental plyometrics, but now allows for a slight increase in height.  That increase in height comes in very small increments of 2” to 6” for not only performance enhancement, but also for safety.  Starting individuals on box heights of 12” or more, especially when no ‘fundamental build-up’ has been practiced or established, is twice as dangerous as introducing a rebound plyometric concept.  This smaller box height increment, promotes ‘speed and power’ early in the process, which will lead to more and safer height enhancements in the future.

Box Plyometric Key Points:

  • Establish fundamental footwork plyometrics (4-6 weeks)
  • Integrate box rebound jumps at a 2”-6” box (4 weeks) for 6-10 reps
  • 2-4 sets maximum
  • 2 Day (48 hr) recovery period

The plyometric barrier application does not involve a straight line of hurdles, but a directional movement pattern to development spatial awareness and improve ground force production.  A foam barrier is used with the Perform-X™ pattern sequence to establish landing areas, as well as barrier height awareness, for the individual to overcome and adapt.  Once fundamental directional quickness and body control have been established, the barrier application exaggerates those multidirectional forces.  As height can be manipulated by adding additional barriers, the goal is to promote ground force quickness at a low barrier level with the goal of maintaining or improving that ground force quickness with additional barriers.  Similar to the rebound plyometric concept, small incremental changes can promote large adaptations in the future.

Barrier Plyometric Key Points:

  • Establish fundamental footwork plyometrics (4-6 weeks)
  • Integrate barrier applications into simple movement patterns and progress according to athlete adaptation.
  • Time intervals should be no more than 10 seconds.
  • 2-Day (48 hr) recovery period.

Integrating height components to plyometric workouts via box and/or barrier applications, adds a significant challenge, and fun, to the routine.  These two methods allow coaches to intelligently progress a plyometric program, especially for young athletes, by promoting ‘speed’ and ‘power’ over obnoxious box heights and unsafe barrier jumps.  As previously mentioned, we are fascinated by height and how to overcome it, but always remember, “To reach great heights a person needs great depth.”

 

References:

Chu, D.A. and Myer, G.D.  (2013). Plyometrics:  Dynamic Strength and Explosive Power.  Human Kinetics.

Hutchison, D.  (2015). Perform-X Training Systems Education Manual.

 

 

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