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Friday, July 26, 2013
Incorporating Aquatic Plyometrics into a Running Program
 
by Kristen McWhorter 


As a former student athlete on West Virginia University’s Track and Field team, I know first-hand the wear and tear that can occur to a sprinter’s body.  The repetitive motions and day-to-day overuse of the same muscles in the lower extremity can become very problematic. During the pre-season period, the months before competitions begin, the main goal of training is attempting to re-establish the neural connections needed for proper speed and muscle contraction. The best way to improve this is through plyometric training.

Plyometric training is performed with the body in an upright vertical position, which is sport specific and beneficial for runners. “Plyometric exercises consist of hopping, skipping, bounding, and jumping to assist in developing lower-body strength, speed, and power” (Plyometrics for Speed and Power, 2006). The exercises are extremely beneficial to power athletes, but at the same time highly destructive to the body if overused during training. Between IT-band tightness, calf cramps, and tight Achilles tendons; much time is spent in athletic training rooms following practices for recovery and treatment during this phase of training.   

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to get the same quality training but in a less painful fashion? As aquatic specialists we know the answer to this question. By getting athletes into our pools one to two times per week, we could help them develop the same necessary fundamentals but at a lower physiologic expense to their bodies.

The aquatic environment has many enticing features for an athlete, especially a runner. The increase in hydrostatic pressure is helpful in increasing circulation, which assists in blood and lymph return to the heart, and thus reduces edema. For sprinters this is very useful because lactic acid buildup is detrimental to performance. During the pre-season if a coach has an athlete doing an intense running workout, spending the next day working out in the pool would be a great idea! It would help the athlete rid any lactic acid buildups from the previous day, therefore making them more efficient for the next day of training.

When it comes to running, the lower extremity is the driving force. The upper extremity plays a dramatically minute role in running when compared to the lower extremity. Off loading days for the lower extremity are therefore important for runners to maintain wellness. In the aquatic environment we can provide runners with a “softer” environment to protect their joints, while still maintaining a high-level intensity workout through plyometric training.

There have been many studies performed on the benefits of land verses aquatic plyometric work. Many of these studies have provided us with evidence that the pool just might be the place to go for plyometric training! One study performed at Oklahoma State University compared two different types of plyometric training groups over six weeks and made the following conclusion: “aquatic training resulted in similar training effects as land-based training, with a possible reduction in stress due to the reduction of impact afforded by the buoyancy and resistance of the water upon landing” (Stemm, 2007). The same positive adaptations were made and joint stress was reduced, a win for runners!

Reduction of impact is probably the most important benefitfor runners, but there are many other benefits that the aquatic environment can have for these athletes. If any part of the plyometric workout is done in chest depth water, pulmonary function is being strengthened due to hydrostatic pressure. As the lungs work harder to inhale (up to 60% harder), the athletes train their respiratory systems to work more efficiently, which is again beneficial to sport specific training (Sherlock, 2012).

Another small, but important benefit that the pool can have is that it improves self-concept, mood and decreased perceptions of pain (Bintzler, 2006). When an athlete is months away from a competition, it is easy for mental focus and mood to decline and work performance to suffer. By incorporating the pool into their training we can spark interest and fun backinto a workout.

Impressed with the numerous benefits of aquatic plyometric training, but unsure of where to begin? The first step towards working with any athletic group is to discuss the athletes’ training plan with running and strength and conditioning coaches. It is important that all three of you are on the same page so that the athletes are not overtrained in any way.

The next step is to evaluate when the athlete needs to peak in competition and identify at what point of training the athlete is at the current time. Neural adaptations dominate primarily during the first six to eight weeks of training, so we would never want to begin plyometric training an athlete six weeks before a qualifying meet because there would not be enough time for positive adaptations to occur (Baechle, 2008).

The third step is to set up a training program that is sport specific to that athlete. In explanation, a 100-meter sprinter is not necessarily going to perform the same workout that a high jumper would need to perform. The high jumper would focus on more single leg explosive height and power, while the sprinter would want to focus on power and moving the feet as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Below are example focus exercises for these two types of athletes.

SPRINTER - 100-meter Dash

Exercise

Sets

Repetitions

Jumping the Line

(forwards and backwards)

3

20

Jumping the Line

(side to side)

 

3

20

Running High Knee Drives

 

5

30-second intervals

Explosive Vertical Jumps

 

3

15

Quick Cross Country Skis

(2 long, 2 short)

3

20-second intervals

Jumping the Line with Tuck jump

(forward & backward)

3

20

Jumping the Line with Tuck jump

(side to side)

3

20

Partner Resisted Max Sprint

 

1

30 seconds

 

 

HIGH JUMPER

Exercise

Sets

Repetitions

Split Squat Vertical Jumps (alternating legs)

 

3

20

Running High Knee Drives

 

5

30-second intervals

Running Through Tires

 

3

10

Single Leg Explosive Vertical Jumps

 

5

20-second intervals

Moderate Tuck Jumps

 

3

15

Box Step Up and Jumps

(one leg at a time)

3

10

Explosive Vertical Jumps

 

1

30 seconds, Max Reps

 

 

In conclusion, plyometric work in an aquatic environment provides benefits for running athletes that land training simply cannot. It can improve pulmonary function, cardiovascular function, mood, and self-concept,all while decreasing the amount of stress on the skeletal system. It is a safe,fun, and effective way to improve athletic performance in addition to an athlete’s well being!

 

WORKS CITED

Bintzler, Stacy. "Research Update: Water Works Wonders." Parks & Recreation 41.11 (2006): 26-31. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Mar. 2013

Baechle, Thomas and Earle, Roger. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Human Kinetics Publishers, 2008. Print.

"Plyometrics For Speed And Power." Running &Fitness 24.2 (2006): 8-9. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Mar. 2013.

Sherlock, Lori. “The Aquatic Environment.” Morgantown, WV.30 August 2012. Lecture.

Stemm, John D., and Bert H. Jacobson. "Comparison Of Land- And Aquatic-Based Plyometric Training On Vertical Jump Performance."Journal Of Strength & Conditioning Research (Allen Press Publishing Services Inc.) 21.2 (2007): 568-571. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Mar. 2013.

___________________________________________

Kristen McWhorter, a native of Horner, WV, is a senior at West Virginia University where she studies Exercise Physiology with an emphasis in Aquatic Therapy. Her expected date of graduation is May 2014 and she plans to continue her education by earning a Doctorate in Physical Therapy.

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