January 22, 2021

Plyometric exercise is one of the most important training regimes for developing explosiveness for MMA. From various hops, jumps, and skips, there are endless options to choose from to fit your training needs.

Explosive plyometrics must involve short ground contact times of less than 0.25 seconds in order to develop reactive strength qualities.

Since plyometrics has become the buzzword of the MMA scene, it’s important to distinguish what is and isn’t a plyometric exercise.

What Are Plyometrics?

Plyometrics are often used as an all-encompassing term for explosive jump training. However, not all jumps are plyometric. This is the biggest confusion with plyometrics as many will label box jumps or vertical jumps as plyometric when they are not.

For an exercise to truly be plyometric, it must be performed as quickly as possible in 0.15 to 0.20 seconds of ground contact time [1]. I prefer to extend this to 0.25 seconds as it then encompasses all reactive strength qualities.

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Here is why it is so important that plyometrics are performed as quickly as possible.

ground contact times

Many striking techniques occur at speeds of 0.25 seconds. Not to mentioned bouncing around the ring is a low level plyometric.

But what is it about performing an exercise quickly that makes it so special?

What Do Plyometric Exercises Improve?

The man who brought plyometrics from the Soviet Union to the Western World, Dr. Yessis, states that explosive plyometrics are a method of “converting” increases in strength to speed and power [1]. But how do plyometrics convert this strength to speed and power?

Enhancement Of The Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC)

The SSC is a key component for developing explosive power. The easiest way to understand the SSC is to think of it as the ability to store and use elastic energy.

When performing various plyometric exercises such as jumping rope, the tendon, and muscle (mostly tendon) act as a very strong rubber band. When this rubber band or tendon is stretched, it stores elastic energy. The further it is stretched; the more elastic energy is built up.

When this rubber band is released, it rapidly contracts back to its original form. As we can’t voluntarily contract our tendons, the pre-stretch phase of the plyometric is involuntary meaning it occurs when landing on the ground.

For proper storage of elastic energy in the tendon, the muscle must remain isometrically contracted at ground contact otherwise “stiffness” is lost causing a leak in elastic energy.

This isn’t the only way elastic energy can be “leaked.” Holding the tendon and muscle in a stretched position will cause elastic energy to slowly dissipate.

That is why you can jump higher when you rapidly dip and jump versus pausing at the bottom of the dip.

This rapid change in muscle and tendon lengthening (eccentric) than shortening (concentric) is known as coupling time [2]. Short coupling times are related to the more efficient use of elastic energy in the SSC.

This ability can be trained through plyometrics!

Greater Muscle And Tendon Stiffness

This is one of the mechanisms to enhance the SSC. The stiffer the muscle and tendon, the greater potential to store elastic energy. Let’s use our rubber band analogy again.

Find a thin rubber band and stretch it to its maximum length. Not that difficult is it (i.e. the rubber band is more compliant)?

Now take a very thick rubber band and try to stretch it. Now it becomes more difficult and more force is required to stretch it (i.e. the rubber band is more “stiff”).

The stiffer the muscle and tendon, the greater elastic energy that can be returned to aid the muscle during the concentric phase of the exercise.

Meaning more power being translated into the movement.

Plyometric training has been shown to enhance this quality of stiffness [3].

Desensitization The Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO)

Within the tendon are sensory receptors known as the GTO. They are also known as the force-feedback component. The GTO acts as an inhibitor to force production so when the GTO feels the increase in force production is becoming too much, it will kick in to reduce the force production capability of the muscle.

This is done as a protective mechanism as producing too much force could lead to injury.

However, the GTO kicks in far too early in untrained individuals [4].

Plyometric training desensitizes this protective mechanism so more force can be produced. In fact, 4 months of plyometric training has shown this exact effect which resulted in improved muscle and tendon stiffness [3].

Do Plyometrics Improve Agility?

Plyometric exercise can improve the physical attributes of agility. However, agility is heavily influenced by cognitive factors such as decision making and pattern recognition.

Agility For Fighters

So even though you may be more explosive and be able to move and react faster, if you aren’t well versed in making the correct decisions rapidly during a fight, then it doesn’t matter how quickly you can move.

For plyometrics to improve agility, you need to compliment this type of training with a lot of technical sparring and drills.

Explosive Plyometric Exercises For MMA

Many plyometrics are very intense forms of exercise. For that reason, it’s important that your body is prepared to handle these high forces at rapid speeds.

Jumping off a 30-inch box and rebounding as high as you can as your introduction to plyometric exercise is a sure-fire way to having an Achilles tendon crawl up the back of your leg.

Explosive plyometric exercise should be performed in a progressive manner moving from phase to phase. Here is how I view the plyometric exercise progression which you can follow in your training to maximize your explosiveness.

Phase 1: Low Level Preparation (Extensive)

This is where you will lay the foundation for more intense plyometric exercise in the future. Build load tolerance in the muscle and tendons is the primary aim of this phase.

For a plyometric exercise to be low level, it must:

  • Be low amplitude (small rebound heights)
  • Low intensity can be performed in high volumes
  • Cyclical so it can be repeated without rest

Here are example exercises that fit this phase of training:

Skipping/Jumping Rope

The staple exercise for all martial artists. There’s a reason it has stuck around for so long. It’s very low amplitude means it can be performed for long durations and very high volumes with few adverse effects.

Pogos In Pace

Pogo, or ankle pops, there are many names for this exercise. It’s essentially skipping without the jump rope. These can be performed with slightly higher rebounds but the premise remains the same. Low intensity that can be performed for higher volumes than more intense plyometrics.

Multi Directional Pogos

As you feel comfortable performing pogos in place, you can progress to performing them in different directions. Now you are developing resilience in different directions whether that be forwards, backwards, side to side, or even in random diagonal directions that you’ll often encounter in MMA.

Extensive Rolling Hop

I came across this plyometric variation from James Smith of Global Dynamic Coaching. While not “truly plyometric” due to it’s longer ground contact, it is still a great exercise to prepare for horizontal plyometric variations.

Extensive Box Rebound

https://www.instagram.com/p/B3XRS4VBDw2/

This is one of Russian sports scientist Dr. Verkhoshanksy’s plyometric variations he provides in his book Special Strength Training: Manual For Coaches. The idea is to be relaxed as possible and learn to have the legs act like springs.

Extensive Medicine Ball Front Facing Hip Rebound

Plyometrics aren’t just for the lower body. Upper body plyometrics can also be performed with the same adaptations in mind. This exercise trains a little bit of rotational throwing.

Extensive Medicine Ball Chest Pass Rebound

The lowest level upper body pushing plyometric you can perform as you can load the medicine ball as light as you want. In a sub-maximal manner, it’s about finding a relaxing rhythm to prepare you for harder pushing plyometric exercises.

Phase 1b: Low Level Preparation Single Leg

I named this phase 1b to illustrate the idea that when moving from phase to phase, you shouldn’t completely stop what you were previously doing. It should be a slow transition.

This means that even if you are performing phase 1b with single leg plyometric exercise, you should also have some exercises from phase 1.

Moving from two legs to one leg makes your plyometric exercise more intense due to the increased loading on one leg.

Single Leg Skipping/Jump Rope

Alternating legs and same leg skipping variations and whatever other variations you can think of are all go here.

Single Leg Pogos

These are performed on one leg at a time similar to the pogos on two legs.

Single Leg Multi Directional Pogos

An easy way to intensify the two-legged pogos. These can be performed in exactly the same way.

Skater Jumps

Similar to the rolling hop, these are not truly a “plyometric” when performed in an extensive manner due to the longer ground contact times but they are great for building resiliency in side-to-side movements which are often neglected in traditional training.

Further, they help build rhythm and coordination outside of the normal up and down, back to front movements.

Extensive Plyometric/Jump Circuits

These circuits are a combination of short ground contact “fast” plyometrics and longer ground contact “slow” plyometrics or what we’d label jumps. These circuits make a great progression from performing single low-level plyometric exercises.

Plyometric/jump circuits develop work capacity while teaching rhythm and relaxation. Since being explosive is not just about how quickly you can produce force, but also how quickly you can relax, developing this ability in a slower, less intense setting can help transfer these skills to more intense variations.

This is a great example of an extensive plyometric/jump circuit.

Phase 2: Intermediate Preparation (Extensive-Intensive)

Phase 2 is simply increasing the rebound heights of the above exercises in a progressive manner. For example, the pogo exercise can involve forcefully trying to rebound as high as possible.

Skater jumps and rolling hops can be performed over greater distances while box rebounds can be performed on taller boxes.

In addition, a rotational element can be introduced to various low-level “slow” plyometric jumps. For example:

Rotational Jump Squats

Rotational plyometrics and jumps are more advanced variations as they require greater coordination. This variation challenges the “slow” plyometric.

Rotational Pogos

Exactly the same concept as the previous exercise but emphasizing the “fast” plyometric ability in a rotational manner.

Incline Clap Push-up

Performing clap push-ups with an incline deloads some of the bodyweight making the exercise easier on the shoulders and arms.

Phase 3: Continuous Intensive Plyometrics

This phase progresses from lower-level plyometrics to intensive variations. These are performed in a continuous manner but with maximum height with the shortest ground contact time possible. The idea is to carry over the relaxed rhythms you trained in the previous two phases to this phase.

Continuous Hurdle Hop

Using high hurdles such as athletic hurdles, hop over each one spending the least amount of time on the ground as possible. As we have performed the necessary preparatory work, you should bounce over these with ease.

Single Arm Side Jumps

This is an obscure exercise from Dr. Yessis Explosive Plyometrics book. It involves “jumping” from arm to arm in a continuous fashion while in a push-up position.

Explosive Push-ups

You likely already know these. Can be performed clap style as well.

Medicine Ball Chest Pass Rebound

A follow on from our extensive variation, now these are performed further away from the wall with more effort.

Phase 3b: Rhythm Change Continuous Intensive Plyometrics

These are variations you can use to challenge the rhythm and coordination of the continuous exercise. Adding various hurdle heights, extra bounces on the ground, and performing a task after completing the hops are all ways to challenge this rhythm.

Continuous Low and High Hurdle Hops

Place the hurdles in a random order so as you hop through, you will have to mix low and high amplitude hops.

Double Bounce Continuous Hurdle Hop

This can actually be used as a regression to the normal continuous hurdle hop if you struggle with the normal variation. Perform an extra small hop between each hurdle.

Continuous Hurdle Hop w/ Turn and Touch

For this variation, you would hop through as usual, then after the last hurdle, land and turn to touch the hurdle. This will teach you to not land in a predetermined landing stance as landing or deceleration often precedes movement or reacting in another direction.

Phase 4: Advanced “Shock” Plyometrics

These are the most advanced variations of plyometrics invented by the plyometric pioneer Dr. Verkhoshanksy. These are the most intense plyometric variations you can use. This is like the ace card up your sleeve once you’ve milked the other three phases.

The sharp shock of the stretch to the rapid concentric contraction is what makes the “shock” method unique [5].

Drop Jump & Depth Jump

The drop jump and depth jump are often used interchangeably. However, they are two different exercises. The drop jump involves performing the rebound with as little knee bend as possible which targets maximizing the storage of elastic energy.

Depth jumps on the other hand increase the explosive and maximal strength of the concentric movement. These are performed with more knee bend when rebounding.

The drop jump involves jumping high as possible with minimal ground contact time while the depth jump is just about maximizing height.

Because of this, depth jumps are generally performed from higher boxes.

“Shock” Medicine Ball Throws

The same principle applies here where a medicine ball is dropped into the hands before being rapidly reversed and tossed up as high as possible as fast as possible.

“Shock” Plyometric Push-up

This is the hardest upper body shock variation as it involves your own bodyweight.

Plyometric & Explosive Exercise Training Program For MMA

These plyometric training programs are examples you can use either before your strength training sessions as part of an extended warm-up or as standalone sessions. Sessions could even be performed as an extended warm-up before your MMA technical session depending on your training week setup.

Phase 1

Day 1

exercise

set/rep

A1) Pogos

3-5x20-30

B1) Multi-Directional Pogos

2-4x20-30

C1) Extensive Medicine Ball Front Facing Hip Rebound

2-4x20

D1) Rolling Hop

3-5x10-20

Day 2

exercise

set/rep

A1) Extensive Medicine Ball Chest Pass Rebound

3-5x20-30

Extensive Jump/Plyo Circuit


B1) Squat Jump

1x10

B2) Pogo Forward

1x10

B3) Lateral Squat Jump

1x10

B4) Pogo Backwards

1x10

B5) Sumo Squat Jump

1x10

B6) Lateral Pogo

1x10

Phase 2

Day 1

exercise

set/rep

A1) Single Leg Pogos

3-5x10-20

B1) High Amplitude Pogos

2-4x10-20

C1) Incline Clap Push-up

2-4x10-15

D1) Skater Jump

2-4x10-20

Day 2

exercise

set/rep

A1) Single Leg Multi-Directional Pogos

3-5x10-20

B1) Extensive Box Rebounds

2-4x10-20

C1) Medicine Ball Rotational Rebound

2-4x10-20

D1) Rolling Hop More Distance

2-4x10-20

Phase 3

Day 1

exercise

set/rep

A1) Continuous Hurdle Hops

3-5x8-10

B1) Quick Contact Skater Jump

2-4x6-10

C1) Explosive Push-up

2-4x3-5

Day 2

exercise

set/rep

A1) Continuous Low and High Hurdle Hops

3-5x8-10

B1) Quick Contact Skater Jump

2-4x6-10

C1) Single Arm Side Jumps

2-4x4-8

Phase 4

Day 1

exercise

set/rep

A1) High Amplitude Pogos

2-3x10-20

B1) Drop Jump

3-5x2-6

C1) “Shock” Medicine Ball Throws

3-5x2-6

Day 2

exercise

set/rep

A1) High Amplitude Multi-Directional Pogos

2-3x10-20

B1) Drop Skater Jump

3-5x2-6

C1) “Shock” Plyometric Push-up

3-5x2-6

References

1. Yessis, M. (2009). Explosive Plyometrics. Ultimate Athlete Concepts.

2. Kobsar, D., & Barden, J. (2011). Contact Time Predicts Coupling Time in Slow Stretch-Shortening Cycle Jumps. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research25, S51-52.

3. Kyrölänen, H., Komi, P. V., & Kim, D. H. (1991). Effects of power training on neuromuscular performance and mechanical efficiency. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports1(2), 78-87.

4. Schmidtbleicher D, Gollhofer A, and Frick U. Effects of stretch shortening time training on the performance capability and innervation characteristics of leg extensor muscles. In: Biomechanics XI-A (Vol 7-A). DeGroot G, Hollander A, Huijing P, and Van Ingen Schenau G, eds. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Free University Press, 1988. pp. 185–189.

5. Verkhoshanksy, Y. (2011). Special Strength Training: Manual for Coaches. Verkhoshanksy.com

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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