Christian Thibaudeau

Co-founder of Thibarmy, Trainer

Articles, Strength and performance, Training

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More and more people are starting to include various forms of explosive work in their training to make it more athletic or athlete-like.

While not everyone is a competitive athlete; a lot of us are still interested in either improving skills that require more explosiveness or are playing sports for fun and would like to improve performance.

The various forms of jump and plyometric exercises are the most popular choices here as they are more approachable for most, as opposed to options like the Olympic lift variations.

They are a great choice because few things (if any) are as effective for improving power, speed and agility.

However, a lot of people end up injured or make sub-optimal progress because they make all kinds of bad decisions with their plyometric work: wrong level/type of exercises, excessive volume, inadequate intensity etc.

In this article I will give you recommendations to help you make the best possible choices when it comes to your explosive work.


Obviously, jumps, plyos and shock training improve power. Power being the capacity to apply a large amount of force in an extremely short period of time (250 milliseconds or less).

If you are strong, but lack the capacity to display it rapidly, you cannot be explosive or fast.

But there are several components involved in producing power. Different forms of jump/plyo training train these components separately or in a different way.

The key components to power production are:

  1. The capacity to store potential energy and use it to produce force rapidly:

    this depends on your capacity to absorb force as well as the ability of your muscles/tendons to go from elastic/soft to stiff rapidly. Upon impact with the floor, more elasticity allows you to store more potential energy and immediately stiffening up allows you to keep and therefore use that energy during the projection phase.

  2. The capacity to use the elastic component of the muscles and tendons to produce force: muscles and tendons are like a rubber band; if you stretch them, they lengthen then come back to their original position. Learning to use that trait and time it properly can add some power and force during the subsequent contraction.
  3. The reactivity and strength of the stretch reflex: on top of the elastic-like nature of your muscles, you also have the stretch reflex that can contribute to force production. When activated it creates a contraction that shortens the muscle, to protect it against tears. The faster/more forceful the stretch is, the faster is the ensuing contraction.
  4. The muscles’ capacity to produce a large amount of force in a short period of time via voluntary contractions;The previous 3 points refer to ways of producing more force, or producing force more rapidly, WITHOUT the use of voluntary contractions. It’s important to not forget that the muscles contracting, and being able to contract hard rapidly, is still the main way to produce acceleration and speed.

All the above components can be trained and improved.

Plyometrics are a great way to target them but depending on factors such as the type of plyo/jump training you do, the surface you use or the intent you have when doing the exercise, you will put more emphasis on one or some of them.

The component you emphasize might not be the one that will give you the best results.


The softer the surface on which you do your jump/plyo training, the more you emphasize voluntary muscle contractions.

The harder it is, the more you focus on the reactive capacity (stretch reflex, energy storage, elasticity).

There are two reasons for this:

  1. The softer the surface is, the longer the ground contact time is. You only have 100-200ms to use the reactive component optimally. If the ground contract time is longer than that, you have to compensate by utilizing mostly voluntary muscle contraction.
  2. The softer the surface is, the less force your body needs to absorb when it contacts the ground. Energy is stored by soft bodies. If the floor is hard, your body absorbs/stores all that force in the form of potential energy (as the ground is a harder body than you). But if the floor is soft too, the force is absorbed by both the ground and body, reducing the amount of potential energy storage. A softer floor also decreases the shock, which decreases the activation of the stretch reflex.

A good illustration of this is running in sand. Try sprinting all-out for 100m in sand. Your calves will be burning (lactate), which won’t happen when you sprint on a track (Well, it can happen, but if it happens to you on track, it’s because you suck at utilizing the reactive component and have to rely on voluntary contractions).

That doesn’t mean that doing “plyo” work on a soft surface (e.g. a cushioned mat, sand or a soft rubber mat) isn’t effective. It can be useful if your main goal is training your muscles to produce force rapidly through muscle contraction.

Soft-surface “plyo” (I’m putting plyo in quotation marks because the ground contact time is too long to be truly categorized as a plyometric action) is actually a good introduction to jump/plyo training for someone with lots of lifting experience and a high level of strength. In the case of someone who has a lot of strength, but an incapacity to display it explosively, soft-surface plyo can train them to produce the force they have more rapidly. It is also gentler on the muscles and tendons because of the lower impact forces.

Once the individual is good at producing force rapidly, they can move on to more reactive plyometrics and develop the reactive component. This is a natural transition for someone who is strong but has little/no experience with explosive movements.


There are three levels of plyometric action. The higher the level, the more you rely on the reactive component.

Level 1 – Jumps with resets: Here we are talking about variations where you do each jump in a set individually. Let’s say that you are doing a set of vertical jumps. You would dip down, jump up, land, then reset and prepare for your next jump. With this level you are not really using any of the reactive component because there is very little force absorption (and potential energy storage) because there is no shock absorption. There is a small use of the stretch reflex and the elasticity of the muscles (depending on how fast you dip down and how rapidly your turnaround is).

Level 2 – Jumps in series: Here you link several jumps in a row. For example, you do a set of 5 vertical jumps in series. You dip down for your first jump, jump up, land and then use the landing as your dip for the next jump: meaning that you jump back up as soon as you land. You use the shock from the landing of your previous jump to create potential energy and a stronger stretch reflex activation, which is then used for your next jump. The key here is to land softly: if you make noise when you land (heels slamming on the floor), your ground contact time will be too long, and you lose a lot of that potential energy. At first an individual will be less powerful performing jumps in series as opposed to jumps with resets. This will be especially true in people who rely mostly on voluntary contractions to produce power. The reason for this is that you have less time to apply force into the ground. But with practice both types of jumps will become equal and eventually the jumps in series can become higher (which would indicate a very high reactive capacity).

Level 3 – Shock training: The shock method was developed by Yuri Verkhoshansky. It consists of standing on a box, slightly higher than your maximum vertical jump height (so that there will be more force upon landing) and stepping off (while the body stays loose and relaxed). When you land on the floor you either jump back up (not on to the box) as high as you can (If you want to develop power) or as quickly as you can (if your goal is strictly reactive capacities). These are called depth jumps. Just like with the jumps in series, the landing when stepping off of the box should be “soft” (not making noise).

The best image I can give you is that to maximize reactive capacities your body must be like a rubber ball (elastic and bouncy) not a baseball (hard and dies when it balls on the floor).

Note that there is also a version in which you do not jump back up. Here you simply train the force absorption phase. This is strictly to train your capacity to absorb force and store potential energy. It can either be used with the same box height as you would for depth jumps (to prepare the body for depth jumps) or slightly higher to create an even bigger overload to develop force absorption capacity. These are called altitude drops.

IMPORTANT: These three levels are not a way to divide plyometrics by difficulty. For example, low intensity rebound ankle jumps are a low impact, easy plyometric exercise. One of the very first exercises someone should do when beginning plyometrics. Still, it is a level 2 exercise when it comes to the amount of reactive involvement.

A maximum effort broad jump with reset would be a level 1 exercise when it comes to reactivity, but is actually a very high stress movement (because of the shearing force during landing) and one of the last one exercises someone should introduce to their training.

The same applies to a loaded jump squat with reset. It is technically a level 1 exercise when it comes to reactivity, but it is near the top of the list when it comes to stress level.

The three levels simply act as a classification of the importance of the reactive vs muscular components.


When you do jump/plyometric exercises, there are two main intents that you can have. This in turn has some influence on whether you emphasize the reactive/elastic or muscular component.

  1. Minimizing ground contact time: This only applies to jumps in series. The goal is that you must spend as little time as possible on the floor. We often use cues like “imagine that the ground is hot lava”. When we spend less time on the floor, we have less time to apply force. For that reason, most people will sacrifice height and power when trying to minimize ground contact time. As such, this intent focuses more on the reactive/elastic component and less on the muscular one. Specifically, it trains you to be effective at absorbing force, storing it and using it (as well as training the stretch reflex).
  2. Maximizing height or distance: Here your sole focus should be on jumping as high (or as far) as possible. Don’t give any technical cue to the athlete (or don’t have any technical cue yourself), only think about going as high as possible and let the nervous system uses the most favorable strategy to do that. In most people this will mean a longer ground contact time, which emphasizes the muscular component more. Note that this intent can also be used with jumps in series, not just ones with a reset.


While the proper progression in jump/plyo methods can vary depending on the capacities of the individual. Here is a good one (only looking at bilateral vertical actions) for those with little or no experience with jump training.

  1. Jump rope
  2. Ankle hops
  3. Ankle rebound jumps
  4. Vertical jumps with reset on padded/softer surface
  5. Vertical jumps with reset on hard surface
  6. Vertical jump in series on padded/softer surface
  7. Knee tuck jumps in series on padded/softer surface
  8. Vertical jumps in series on hard surface
  9. Knee tuck jumps in series on hard surface
  10. Knee-high hurdle jumps in series
  11. Waist-high hurdle jumps in series
  12. Loaded jumps (10-20% of max squat)
  13. Depth jumps
  14. Altitude drops

So, the next question is…

How long should you spend at each stage?

It honestly depends on how good you are and how fast you progress. Normally you should do each level for 2 to 6 workouts. But it is possible to use two methods in the same phase when progressing.

For example, you could do:

Workouts 1-3

Jump rope

Ankle hops

Workouts 4-6

Ankle hops

Ankle rebound jumps

Workouts 7-9

Ankle rebound jumps

Vertical jumps with reset on padded surface

Workouts 10-12

Vertical jumps with reset on padded surface

Vertical jumps with reset on hard surface

Workouts 13-15

Vertical jumps with reset on hard surface

Vertical jump in series on padded/softer surface

Workouts 16-18

Vertical jump in series on padded/softer surface

Knee tuck jumps in series on padded/softer surface

Workouts 19-21

Knee tuck jumps in series on padded/softer surface

Vertical jumps in series on hard surface

Workouts 22-24

Vertical jumps in series on hard surface

Knee tuck jumps in series on hard surface

Workouts 25-28

Knee tuck jumps in series on hard surface

Knee-high hurdle jumps in series

Workouts 29-31

Knee-high hurdle jumps in series

Waist-high hurdle jumps in series

Workouts 32-34

Waist-high hurdle jumps in series

Loaded jumps (10-20% of max squat)

Workouts 35-37

Loaded jumps (10-20% of max squat)

Workouts 38-40

Depth jumps

Workouts 41-44

Altitude drops

I would recommend 2 or 3 plyo workouts per week, on non-consecutive days. So, the whole progression would take you anywhere between 14 and 21 weeks.

That is the “long” progression and not everyone needs to go through it all. But even if you do not NEED all those steps, I still recommend that you do it.

After that initial learning progression is done, you would select drills based on what you need the most.


Jump training can either be extensive or qualitative/intensive. I personally favor the qualitative approach (maximal effort for fewer reps per set and less sets per workout).

The exception to this being the very low intensity work (jump rope, ankle hops) which is used to get you used to plyometric actions and to build up the tendons. In this case, you can use more reps per set (15-30).

But it is my belief that the biggest mistake made with jump/plyo training is using too many reps per set and too many sets.

That’s probably because we’ve been programmed to think that if it doesn’t “burn” or if you aren’t breathing hard, it’s not going to work.

With plyometric work this mindset will do more harm than good, however.


  1. The more reps you do in a set, the longer the ground contact becomes. If your focus is to develop the reactive component, this becomes a big problem.
  2. As fatigue sets in, force and the rate of force development decreases. Which means the muscular component less effectively trained also.
  3. You can start to have technique and compensation issues as you fatigue.

If I am using exercises, levels, and intents to target the reactive component I prefer to stick to 3-5 reps/set (the less efficient someone is, the lower reps used per set). If I’m targeting the muscular component we can do as high as 10 reps/set but I still prefer to stay between 5 and 7 reps/set to maximize quality.

While doing more sets is a little bit less problematic when it comes to the performance of the exercises, especially if you have long rest intervals, the high volume can quickly become problematic for the tendons and nervous system.

Remember that if the central nervous system becomes fatigued, the first thing that suffers is the recruitment of fast-twitch fibers. Which is the opposite of what we want.

A good approach can be to use an accelerometer (e.g. Vitruve, Push or Gymaware) and use power production (in watts) to determine when you should move on to another exercise. I would allow a 3-5% drop-off in average power within a set. When you lose 5%, don’t do any more sets.

If you prefer a static number of sets. I recommend 3-4 sets per exercise.


Even if you are not a competitive athlete, jump/plyometric training has a lot to offer.

For example, it can help maintain neuromuscular function which degrades as you get older. It can also help you maintain the function and resiliency of your tendons.

Studies have also shown that it improves muscle fiber recruitment and force production in any type of muscle contraction, which can make your “regular training” more effective. This is beneficial whether you are focusing mostly on strength or muscle growth (or any other goal).

It can lead to the conversion of Type I (slow-twitch) muscle fibers to IIa (fast-twitch) muscle fibers, which will increase your muscle growth and strength gain potential.

Finally, it can act as a solid CNS activation tool when performed at the beginning of a workout, directly improving performance on your subsequent lifting for that day.