Opinion response

Plyometrics for newbies

These exercises are just an introduction

First off, a big thanks to Wuqiong for joining the discussion on athletic training! One of Fresh Start’s goals is to get people on campus sharing ideas about fitness and finding ways to make time for healthy endeavors. He has excellent points for athletes looking to improve vertical leap, and it’s a very nice supplement to what we posted on Tuesday. I strongly encourage others to share their experiences and tips either to The Tech opinion section, online comments, and/or by emailing freshstart@tech.mit.edu so that your ideas will show up in print!

However, it is important to emphasize that the workouts Fresh Start provides are not intended as customized, elite athlete performance training regimens. Although such articles would definitely have merit, Fresh Start subject matter is selected based on the following criteria:

1. Most Tech readers are not elite athletes. We have a broad readership!

2. Generalized workout plans are the best starting blocks for a broad target audience.

3. Elite performance training requires customization and supervision, hence—

4. Fresh Start only presents safe regimens possible to do with minimal experience, instruction and supervision.

Although there are some incredible athletes on campus, and we definitely want to include them in the discussion, Fresh Start aims to serve a spectrum of readers at many different points in their athletic journeys. We assume that everyone will read our articles, but that only those who have never tried one of the regimens suggested or are out of practice will implement it verbatim. It goes without saying that elite athletes are already following more intense regimens that are customized to their personal athletic goals. We hope that elite athletes might be inspired to try some of the ideas if they don’t already do these workouts, and that they will bring them up with their coaches and trainers. Their trainers can then incorporate them in an optimal routine for the athlete’s personal goals.

For instance, Wuqiong points out that the plyometrics circuit presented in Tuesday’s issue will not endow you with an NBA-worthy vertical leap. He is absolutely right about this: the circuit presented has been designed to be a general, widely implementable routine that is more or less equal parts cardio, quickness, and strength training. Such a program is ideal for the newbie plyometrics enthusiast because risk of injury is low, it teaches technique, it includes both cardio and strength elements, and it can be a high intensity workout in its own right. While our cardio emphasis may deviate from “pure” plyometrics (which by definition are explosiveness-based only), the drills themselves are still plyometrics; about that there can be no debate. How you choose to rest in between sets will determine whether you’re training explosiveness, endurance, or both.

For a program further tailored to explosive movement (such as one for volleyball or lacrosse players), you could incorporate sport-specific plyometrics in shorter, more intense drills with much longer rest periods, as Wuqiong suggests. In addition to these drills, you should have a strength coach-directed weight regimen focusing on explosive lifts like cleans, snatches, deadlifts, squats, split-squats, hamstring curls, calf raises, etc. Because this level of customization would be risky or at least suboptimal for someone to attempt without coaching, Fresh Start leaves these programs to strength trainers to teach you one-on-one.

Finally, the “barefoot hypothesis”: The idea that wearing shoes inhibits athletic improvement, is based on the assumption that humans were evolved to walk barefoot, but have been lulled into weakness and bad habits by shoes. Wuqiong mentions this, but does not address that most of our bodies have adapted to wearing shoes since childhood and are not ready to “jump in” to barefoot training, whether this hypothesis is true or not. When Fresh Start warns to wear shoes, we interject this for the sake of the novice who is at greater risk of injury with no protective footwear than with shoes.

Wuqiong further asserts, “Using ‘athletic shoes’ breeds improper form, carelessness, and they really don’t absorb enough energy to save your joints from a bad fall.” He is correct that athletic shoes will not protect your joints if you consistently land like a rhinoceros, but the claim about engendering improper form and carelessness is a generalization. Whether you wear shoes or not, maintaining proper form requires concerted effort. It is certainly possible to train with perfect form with your shoes strapped on.

It is true that many experienced athletes train barefoot in order to train foot muscles because they have (hopefully) weaned themselves off wearing shoes. Therefore, for your safety, Fresh Start urges you to wear athletic footwear during plyometrics and to seek professional guidance in transitioning if you decide to do so. The barefoot strategy is not a mainstream idea accepted by trainers and doctors. It is not necessarily wrong nor will it not someday be proven correct, but it does mean you should research it to convince yourself it is right before trying it.