Every football player wants to be faster. You never hear a coach yell, “Slow down! Let him catch you!” or “You’re moving too fast! Take longer to get to that block.” Plyometric training is a great exercise to increase your speed—when used correctly. Too many programs lack the correct plyometric progression, and athletes don’t receive the full benefits plyos can offer. Below, I offer a beneficial way to approach a football-specific plyometric system.
Before I explain the proper way to train using plyometrics, I have to explain how I developed my program. I am one of the luckiest people in the world, because I know some very smart mechanical engineers who have access to some pretty cool toys—like a high-speed motion analysis system that can break down incredibly fast athletic movements. With nine cameras, this device allows me to see fast, explosive, athletic movements in super slow motion. I used this system to analyze a number of athletes in the weight room and on the field. Reading the data, I realized that I couldn’t mimic the speed achieved by the second and third steps of running by using conventional plyometric exercises. At that point, it dawned on me that I had to find a way to accelerate my athletes’ bodies to mimic the speed they generate during running. That’s how I developed my plyo program.
Many strength coaches think single-leg plyometrics are sport-specific because sports are played mainly on one leg. I don’t disagree with this, but the motion analysis machine showed me that single-leg plyometrics are so much slower in producing force that they don’t mimic true sporting action.
Most programs incorporate single-leg plyometrics after double-leg plyometrics have been worked on, because coaches believe that single-leg training requires more strength. Football, however, is not a game of strength. Football is a game of power, with athletes generating force (strength) at very high speeds.
Single-leg plyometrics are beneficial in helping the body be more explosive, and double-leg plyometrics teach the body to accelerate faster. Also, note that with double-leg plyometrics, because the weight per limb is distributed, there is a higher potential for developing speed because of increased explosiveness.
I believe that the correct progression for plyometric exercises is the opposite of many current programs. Here is a progression I created that focuses on generating force:
Day 1: Hurdle Hops — Sets/Reps: 4×4 for distance
Day 2: Hurdle Hops — Sets/Reps: 4×4 for height
Day 1: Hurdle Hops — Sets/Reps: 4×6 for distance
Day 2: Hurdle Hops — Sets/Reps: 4×6 for height
Single-Leg Accelerated Plyometrics
Day 1: On platform — Sets/Reps: 5×3
Day 2: On platform — Sets/Reps: 5×3*
Double-Leg Accelerated Plyometrics
Day 1: On platform — Sets/Reps: 6×3
Day 2: On platform — Sets/Reps: 6×3*
*Plyometric on Day 2 can be replaced with Alternate Leg Bounding — Sets/Reps: 5×20 yards
The progression moves from the least sport-specific to most sport-specific exercise. Keep in mind that to get speed and explosiveness to transfer to the football field, you must perform movements that mimic speed and joint angles of your sport. For more information and training examples of how to increase speed and explosive performance in football players, check out Triphasic Training: A systematic approach to elite speed and explosive strength performance.
Ben Peterson, author of Triphasic Training, is currently pursuing his doctorate in kinesiology and exercise physiology at the University of Minnesota. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peterson started his career in 2008, working for the Minnesota Twins as an assistant strength and conditioning coach. Over the past four years, he has worked with hundreds of professional athletes in the NFL, NHL and MLB. Most recently, he has served as a consultant for Octagon Hockey, spending the NHL off-season working with their athletes in the Minneapolis area.