Are You Screwing Up Your Plyo, Speed and Agility Work?

Posted by Jason Ferruggia

Question: Coach, can you give me a quick overview of how you implement plyos, speed and agility work with your athletes?

Answer: Ok, just so everyone is on the same page here, plyos consist of jumping, bounding and hopping exercises. These can be done off of one or two legs.

Some of the simplest and most effective plyos are vertical jumps for height, box jumps, hurdle jumps, and broad jumps.

Speed work consists of short sprints from 10-50 yards. When we discuss speed we usually mean straight ahead speed, whereas agility represents change of direction.

So agility work would consist of running straight, sideways and backwards; changing direction often throughout the drill.

No set of plyo, speed or agility work should ever last more than ten seconds.

People often ask, “What are the best exercises to increase my vertical jump? To run faster? To improve my change of direction speed (agility)?

They often want some hi tech answer and the fanciest drills known to man when the answer is as simple as it gets.

To improve your vertical jump you jump more.

To run faster you sprint more.

To improve your agility you work on some basic change of direction drills.

It is not that complicated.

Of course you have to improve your relative strength so that you can apply more force to the ground but I will assume that everyone is already doing that. So as long as you are doing squats, deads, glute hams or what have you, and consistently getting stronger, the best thing you can do is work on the skills you want to improve with the simplest drills possible.

Jump, sprint and change direction; for no more than ten seconds per set, 2-3 days per week.

These drills should be done either immediately before your strength training workout or as a separate workout 4-8 hours earlier or later than your strength session.

So how many sets should you do? The easiest way to control the volume is simply through performance.

When you are doing plyos, sprints or change of direction drills you should always use complete rest intervals. When your performance starts to decline, you are done for the day. Couldn’t be any easier than that.

Let’s say you are doing max height box jumps. First of all, we need to address proper technique on this exercise since everyone does it incorrectly. It’s not just a test of dynamic knee flexion. In other words, when you land your knees shouldn’t be in your mouth with your butt on your heels.

When you do box jumps you want proper jump technique which involves triple extension. Stick the landing on the box at no deeper than 135 degrees of knee flexion. If you can’t that means the box is too high. So all you guys who are posting videos of yourselves jumping on 70 inch boxes need to bring it back down to a 24 inch box and start over.

Now back to the sample workout. You start with low boxes to warm up and continually increase the height of the box as you go. You can take short rest periods on the low boxes but once the height becomes challenging you need to increase the time between sets.

You hit a 30 inch box, rest then make a 32 easily. You’re feeling good so you add another few mats and make it 34 inches. You make the 34 but know it was probably your max for the day. You could stop there or take another attempt at 35 or 36 if you so desired. If you get that you could keep going. If you miss it you’re done. Easy, right?

Now, if you are coaching a large group of athletes or training with partners, using performance to dictate volume isn’t always practical. In that case I would recommend 3-6 sets of 1-5 reps for plyo work.

For sprints it really depends on the distance. If you are doing 10 yard sprints you can do more sets than if you are doing 40’s. So take Charlie Francis’s approach and measure the volume of the workout by total distance covered. 300 total yards for the day makes up a good speed or agility workout. Simple enough.

So there you have it. It’s definitely not rocket surgery. Get stronger in the gym, relative to your bodyweight, while keeping your bodyfat levels low, and keep pushing your numbers in basic jumping, sprinting and change of direction drills and you will improve your athletic ability. Don’t make it any harder than it has to be.

Good luck.

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