Sport plays an undeniably huge role in the lives of many children and young teenagers. For most, these sports are an avenue to have fun and be with friends, and for some, are a pathway to future success in the sports industry. There is no doubt that kids find the most fun in winning games of their respective sports, thus, enhancing their sports performance early on can be important for them to achieve future success. One method for performance enhancement in young individuals is plyometrics.
Plyometrics are exercises which utilise the speed and force of different movements to build strength and power – think bounding, hopping, and jumping as a way to improve your leg strength and power. This makes plyometrics a very good exercise for sports which require lots of running and jumping (which is most of them!). Plyometrics don’t just involve using your legs, using equipment such as medicine balls can allow athletes to train their upper body as well. Throwing and catching medicine balls can mimic the load absorption and generation patterns that are seen in plyometric jumps.
Plyometrics make use of the ‘stretch-shorten’ cycle (SSC) of our muscles and tendons. The SSC basically means that when our muscles and tendons are stretched briefly before they contract, they produce significantly more force. The best example of this is how we squat down before jumping into the air – as the squatting movement stretches our glutes, quads and calves prior to a quick contraction.
When young athletes (12-15 years old) begin to undertake resistance training to develop their strength and power, increases in force production are the result of improved neuromuscular connections, as the brain figures out how to best use the muscles for each exercise. This makes plyometrics ideal for these age groups, as athletes don’t need to use free weights (such as dumbbells and barbells) to achieve strength gains, and these exercises can be carried out in the backyard and can even be developed into games to make them more fun. In addition, the frequent force generation and absorption throughout the body, assists with bone development, which is very important for young individuals.