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Coaching Plyometrics: Extensive vs. Intensive and why that may not be the whole story

Plyometric training is an essential component to any athlete’s well rounded program, that much should be easy to agree upon. As we get in to the details, where nuance, variability and skill take over, is when lines can be drawn and differences amongst coaches become more concrete. So, let’s see how we can find some common ground and methodologies that benefit a wide array of athletes.

As a coach, how do you classify your plyometric exercises? Do you even classify them at all? What structure do you use to progress, regress and assign plyometric movements to your athletes?

Based upon the work of Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky, (if you are not familiar with that name, there’s some homework for you) the terms extensive and intensive have been increasingly applied to the programming of plyometrics. These terms basically categorize the movements based on the intensity those movements impose on the body.

Intensive Plyometrics: Usually refer to high impact, highly neurologically demanding movements typically done in lower volume and more focused on vertical displacement (Verkhoshansky would classify these as shock methods with a depth jump being an example).

extensive plyometrics: Lower impact and neural demand than their counterpart, which means higher volume can typically be handled and more locomotive in nature.

The above classification system is widely used and is a great jumping off point when it comes to programming plyometrics. It provides a rationale for exercise selection, and is scaleable (meaning regressing and progressing movements can be done methodically and intelligently). However, as with almost anything in the strength and conditioning field, exceptions are commonplace and these “rules” definitely need to be adjusted based on the athlete in front of you. Let’s look at a few examples below as to why extensive vs. intensive terminology may not be the end all be all with plyometric programming.

  • 1. What makes a plyometric movement intense?

Narrowing down the exercises that fit into the intensive category is more straightforward for coaches than the broad range of movements that fit into the extensive category. Movements with very short ground contact times (GCT) and high ground reaction forces (GRF) fall into the intensive category. GRF is the force exerted by the ground on the body in contact with it. While these two measurements can be easily visualized and monitored with force plates, the majority of strength coaches don’t have that technology with them in the field or facility, so developing the coaches eye and listening to the sound of the impacts will become a practice that needs to be constantly honed. If the landing and subsequent task placed on the body to respond is highly demanding, it will usually fall into the intensive category, think top 10% of plyometric movements. Everything else, according to the definitions above will fall into the extensive category.

Sounds pretty solid in its reasoning, but we all know that different types of athletes may respond differently to the same stimuli. Some athletes won’t respond well to the higher volume extensive plyometrics (even though they should be less taxing on the system overall), while other athletes will perform better bilaterally versus unilaterally and vice versa. In short, utilizing the intensive versus extensive categorizing of plyometrics can be a great place to start programming, but it usually will require constant tweaking and tailoring based on individual athlete response.

  • 2. The variety that exists within the extensive category is vast.

Based on the information above, the extensive category of plyometrics is incredibly large and diverse. If we stick to the definitions of Verkhoshansky, even some of the most complex and demanding movements in the plyometric continuum would still fall short of being “intense enough”. This becomes an issue when dealing with many different types and levels of athletes. What is intense to one, may not be to another and vice versa. Some athletes are more adept at vertical angle patterns (intensive in nature), but not in the horizontal force patterns. This also leads to my next point……..

  • 3. Extensive to Intensive focused programming.

When programming plyometrics, linear periodization typically does not produce the best results. It is not as easy as taking an athlete from the extensive plyometric continuum at the beginning of the year and gradually progressing to the intensive side of the continuum by the end of the year. Sure, it may work for some, but as I’ve discussed above, many athletes respond differently to similar stimuli, so you may be leaving performance gains on the table. Again, referring to the above points, there are some very intense movements that still fall into the extensive range of exercises, so proper exercise selection and implementation is crucial.

A helpful way to think of programming plyometrics is to treat them similarly to your sprinting and speed work programs. Many would agree that maximal (or at least very high) speed work should be dosed throughout the yearly program, even in season, rather than following a linear periodization model. Looking at GCT and GRF, sprinting can be(and is deemed by many) a plyometric exercise, so why program differently? Especially in sports with long seasons or with athletes playing multiple sports, there should be an interplay of intensive and extensive plyometrics throughout the yearly plan to better prepare the athlete for the demands of the sport as well as to improve their performance.

  • 4. Intent and/or Experience

The intent behind a movement can most assuredly change the desired stimulus imposed on the body. If an athlete is performing a depth jump with sloppy form, poor direction or just being lazy, the ground contact time will be much longer and the ground reaction force much lower. Now an exercise designed to be intensive will no longer produce the desired adaptation we are looking for. Similarly, an inexperienced athlete that has performed few reps of a movement may produce the same negative results. It is essential that your athlete is prepared for the movements you are programming. Any movement that is considered plyometric is highly dynamic and produces a lot of force on the body. For newer/less experienced athletes it is important to build a foundation of increased joint stiffening, which will improve GCT, more precise landing mechanics (foot placement), and a greater capacity to maintain velocity and/or use force.

Bottom line; it all comes down to short GCT and higher GRF, and the intent behind an exercise or the inability to perform the movement in the way it was programmed will both fail to create the adaptations the coach and athlete are looking for.

Final Thoughts

Programming for plyometrics needs to be well thought out; taking your athletes experience, strengths and weaknesses all into account in order to get the most out of your plan. Utilizing the extensive and intensive classification system for these exercises is not inherently wrong, but it also is not as black and white as it may at first seem. As with most coaching modalities, constant tweaks to a plan are the norm. As I mentioned above, to get the most out of your program, linear progressions of the plyometric continuum may be leaving some valuable adaptations and force production gains on the table. Thoughtful incorporation of intensive and extensive movements throughout the yearly plan will tend to produce the best and most repeatable results for your athletes.

A great resource that I have relied on for more detail on plyometrics is Matt McInnes Watson. He has extensive knowledge (both hands on and research oriented) in the field and always provides clarity and direction for programming and implementing plyometrics within a proven program. Look him up and at the very least, give him a follow.

I hope this helps with your future programming and spurs on continued learning and education possibilities, happy coaching!

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