Plyometrics are very short, very intense, maximal efforts. By definition, these movements demand as much power as you can produce. Power can be defined as force times velocity–by exerting a maximal effort, you are moving as forcefully and as you can, and by also doing this as quickly as you can, you are producing a high amount of power.
Power is also defined as work divided by time. If we think about throwing a ball, we know how much work you are doing by measuring the distance you move your hand. Do this in a very short time, and you’ll probably throw the ball much further than if you moved your hand over a longer time. Thanks, power!
This photo from Men’s Health shows the classic and effective Squat Jump
If we think about the basic plyometric movement of the squat jump, we know that we will jump higher into the air if we move our center of mass up very very quickly. On the other hand, doing this movement slowly will only result in us going from squatting to standing. That’s not very powerful!
It’s kind of a difference between a weighted squat and a squat jump. A weighted squat may be very forceful, but that doesn’t it’s powerful.
If you’ve ever tried to go for a ride and do things in slow-motion, you probably know it doesn’t work very well!
All my athletes will do plyometrics at some point in the season–even if their goals don’t include being great sprinters! The reason we train with plyometrics is to prepare the body to cope with the demands of mountain biking and those tiny powerful movements we are doing all along the trail.
While I don’t recommend jumping on a slippery surface, 4x National Champ and KHS Factory Pro Seamus is showing his power here^
Below are 3 ways MTB riding presents us with demands of plyometrics and why plyometric workouts might benefit your training.
1. Every impact is like a plyometric
Think about a movement as simple as riding off of a curb: your wheels hit the ground and the suspension absorbs some impact. You must also keep in mind that your legs and arms absorb some of the impact. Tiny, powerful muscular contractions stop us from crumbling onto the frame…and just as quickly the muscles return to where they were before the impact.
-Check out the RESEARCH page for the work we’ve done on trail vibrations-
Out on the trail, we have these powerful muscular contractions several times every second–and this is just to absorb the small vibrations! Every rock, root and drop accentuates the demand.
Think of your posture in the ready position…then imagine the way your bike is moving underneath you. Now understand that you’re not just a passenger on that bike–you’re controlling it with your powerful muscles!
By making our muscles more powerful and able to continue to do powerful contractions, we can make sure that we can stay smooth and in control on the trails.
2. Bunny-hopping is a plyometric
In mountain biking, we are doing lots and lots of plyometrics movements all of the time, without even knowing it. Think about the bunny-hop: do it slowly and with little force, and you’re unlikely to leave the ground by very much!
I know Jeff is saying here you may never need to bunny hop again, but have a look:
Jeff held the bunnyhop world record, and you better believe he is a very powerful rider. Imagine if he did this movement slowly and with little force? Throughout the season Jeff does a lot of trials demos, which means he is doing lots of on-the-bike plyos all year. If we want to be able to bunnyhop like Jeff, we also need to be very powerful.
You can use plyometric workouts to become more powerful, then use this to improve your technique on the bike.
3. Pumping can make you go faster
If you’ve ever gone to the local pumptrack, you know how difficult it can be. Sure, you can just roll through it, but if you want to go fast you need to transfer your energy for forward movement on every bump. What we are doing when pumping is absorbing the take-off of each hump, but instead of launching we use a very powerful movement to force the bike downward and keep the wheels [or wheel] on the ground.
While this translating of energy (e.g. moving our mass about the bike according the the terrain) makes us go faster, it cost a lot of energy from our upper body and legs. This is obvious if you think of how your legs felt and how hard you were breathing last time you went to the track. Now just imagine if we were more powerful and couldn’t continue to repeat this?
We can do the same kind of things on a trail. We previously talked about why we need to be fit for gravity racing. And while aerobic fitness is important, the ability to resist fatigue when pumping along the trail is also important. Now just imagine if we can trade some pedaling for some pumping and go just as fast?
There are lots of possible plyometric movements we can do, but it’s important not to over-do it! A beginner might start with around 80 contacts ( this is what each plyometric movement is called), while an expert might do more than 120. This doesn’t sound like a lot…and that’s the whole point!
The more of these efforts we do, the more we will start to fatigue. If we fatigue, our power starts to decrease, which means that even though we feel like we’re working just as hard, we just aren’t doing the movements as powerfully as we can.
In addition to avoiding too many movements, we also allow a long rest in between sets of these exercises. The energy systems we use for our most powerful movements need a long time to regenerate. During our plyometric workouts it’s all about finding a good mix of stressing the systems and muscles, but avoiding premature fatigue.
It’s common for athletes to keep in 1-3 minutes of recovery between sets only 8 exercises. So while it might not take a very long time to do 24 box jumps, completing 3 sets of 8 jumps with 3 minutes of recovery, you are looking at no less than 6 minutes!
There are a lot of misconceptions about plyometrics, but I want you to avoid the pitfalls of doing too much or doing ‘power’ workouts that aren’t actually power movements!
I created the MTB PhD Plyometrics Training Plan to gradually work you through a typical plyometrics progression I use with pro athletes. The plan is 21 days, and is designed to fit in with your current training plan.
The plan is only $19.99!
That’s less than a dollar a day!!!
You can find the plan HERE!
**EDIT** You can use the discount code MTBPHDPLYOS to save 25% until October 31st!!!!!