BALLISTIC VS PLYOMETRIC: OPTIMISING OLYMPIC LIFTING PERFORMANCE THROUGH DYNAMIC MOVEMENTS

There is this saying, “once you stop jumping, you start dying”? Whilst dramatic, this saying underlines the importance of maintaining your body’s capacity for explosive movements. As we age, we naturally become more risk-averse, and injuries take longer to heal. However, keeping up with your ability to jump and land can help decrease your physical decline. This principle is especially relevant for Olympic lifters, where explosive power is paramount.

UNDERSTANDING PLYOMETRICS AND BALLISTIC TRAINING

WHAT ARE PYOMETRICS?

Plyometrics are exercises designed to stimulate the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). The SSC involves two key components: elastic elements (such as fascia and tendons) and contractile elements (muscles). Think of the human body as a mattress spring—compress or stretch it, and it recoils back. This analogy applies to jumping, where three phases occur:

  • The eccentric phase: This is when the spring stretches, corresponding to the downward motion of a jump.
  • The amortisation phase: The brief period between eccentric and concentric phases.
  • The concentric phase: This is when the spring contracts, corresponding to the upward motion of a jump.

These phases work together to produce force at a certain speed. The harder the muscles pull on the elastic elements, the greater the force. The speed of contraction is influenced by the elasticity or stiffness of these elements.

WHY SHOULD OLYMPIC LIFTERS INCLUDE PLYOMETRICS?

For Olympic lifters, enhancing elastic recoil is crucial. Improving this aspect of training can lead to running faster, jumping further, and hitting harder. Additionally, plyometric training can reduce the risk of common injuries. By increasing the size and strength of muscles and tendons, lifters can achieve explosive power and speed, which are essential for Olympic lifting.

THE STRENGTH SPEED CURVE

Training movements under different loads and speeds can yield a spectrum of stimuli. For Olympic lifters, it’s wise to train specifically for their needs. The strength-speed curve helps determine the optimal training zones. Strength-speed is emphasised for powerlifting, whereas speed-strength is more relevant for activities requiring quick, explosive movements. It’s important to note that power output is limited by maximum strength output. Therefore, Olympic lifters should focus on building foundational strength before delving into ballistic and plyometric movements.

BALLISTIC VS PLYOMETRIC TRAINING

WHAT IS BALLISTIC TRAINING?

Ballistic training involves high-velocity movements with maximum intent. The goal is to build strength-speed in athletes. The benefits include muscle hypertrophy, increased muscle fibre contraction force, and improved muscle contraction speed.

WHAT IS PLYOMETRIC TRAINING?

Plyometric training involves high-velocity movements with typically lower loads. The focus is on fast contraction speeds, aiming to improve speed-strength and reactive strength. The benefits include increased tendon elasticity and stiffness, reduced eccentric loading time in jumping movements, and reduced injury risk due to stronger tendons.

DIFFERNCIATING BALLISTIC AND PLYOMETIRC BASED MOVEMENTS

Ballistic movements are characterised by their high velocity and maximum intent. Examples include box jumps, countermovement jumps, medicine ball throws, ballistic bench presses, ‘plyo’ push-ups, Olympic lifts and their derivatives, lateral bounds, kettlebell swings, and depth jumps for height. On the other hand, plyometric movements typically involve lower loads and focus on quick, explosive contractions. Examples include light hang cleans, stiff-legged pogo jumps (assisted with a band), AFSM exercises, skipping, punching drills, catching drills, footwork drills, and stiff-legged depth jumps for speed.

PROGRAMMING BALLISTIC AND PLYOMETRIC BASED MOEVEMENTS

Proper periodisation is crucial for incorporating plyometric and ballistic training into an Olympic lifting regimen. Here’s how to program these movements effectively:

FREQUENCY AND VOLUME

Frequency should be around 2-3 times per week, with 48-72 hours between intense sessions. Start with 80-100 contacts per week and build up to 120-140 as you progress. It’s important to include sport-specific training in this count to avoid overtraining.

PROGRESSION AND ADAPTATION

Gradually increase the intensity and volume of plyometric and ballistic exercises. Monitor performance improvements and adjust the training load accordingly. Ensure foundational strength is sufficient before prioritising explosive movements.

EVIDENCE BASED RESULTS

Several studies and anecdotal evidence from elite Olympic lifters demonstrate the effectiveness of incorporating plyometric and ballistic training. Research shows that Olympic lifters who include plyometric exercises in their training experience significant improvements in explosive power, crucial for lifts like the snatch and clean and jerk. Lifters report better performance in competitions, with increased jump height and faster reaction times. Strengthening tendons and muscles through plyometric training helps reduce the risk of injuries, allowing lifters to train more consistently and effectively.

CONCLUSION

For Olympic lifters, integrating plyometric and ballistic training can lead to remarkable improvements in performance and injury prevention. By understanding the principles behind these dynamic movements and programming them effectively, lifters can unlock new levels of explosive power and athleticism. Remember, maintaining your ability to jump and move explosively is not just about improving performance—it’s about sustaining physical vitality and resilience throughout your lifting career.

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