Plyometrics In The Pool

By Eddie Seese

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    Eddie Seese has appeared in these pages before. He competed at Penn State and describes himself as "a below-average pole vaulter and an average coach with above-average energy." He wishes to thank Cranston and Nick Hysong (2000 Olympic Champion), Mike Corn and the USATF Coaching Education instructors for their help and support.

    The word plyometric is derived from the Greek word pleythyein, meaning "to increase" or from the Greek roots plio and metric, meaning "more" and "measure." So ends the history lesson, but today plyometrics refers to exercises that enable a muscle to reach maximum strength in as short a time as possible. Plyometric exercises are important to track and field athletes in the events that require a high level of speed strength (ability to exert maximum force during high-speed activity).
    A mature athlete can make great gains in power and strength in a short period of time with a regimen of plyometrics properly integrated into the training program. The key words here are mature and proper. First, by mature I mean the athlete is finished with his/her growth spurt and is in what we can call the prime competitions phase of his/her career. I also mean that the athlete has not reached the masters part of the competition career.
    The proper integration of plyometrics into the athletics training program is necessary to keep the athlete from injury. The expression I've always heard is, "it's not if you are going to get injured by doing plyometrics, it's when." Therefore, caution must always be used when doing plyometrics no matter what the age of the athlete.
    Since my arrival in Arizona I've been fortunate enough to have Cranston and Nick Hysong available to assist me during my fall training. Their comments about my running mechanics and the drills they demonstrated taught this coach that there is still quite a bit for me to learn about training. One day Nick took the time to show me a series of simple bounding drills that are designed to strengthen the muscles that are responsible for stabilization of the legs. Just like many other exercises that an athlete does for the first time I acquired a bad case of sore legs in about 36 hours. This gave me the idea of doing those same drills in a swimming pool.

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    After practice each day I head to an indoor swimming pool that has an 84° swim area, a 91 ° therapy pool, and a Jacuzzi. After swimming every stroke I know I head to the therapy pool for some backward running. It was during one of the backward running sessions that it occurred to me that you could do modified plyometrics in the pool.

    When performing plyometrics in the pool there is, like many things in life, good news and bad news. The bad news is that you don't get the loading of your muscles when you hit the bottom of the pool with your feet. The good news is that you don't get the shock to your feet and legs when hitting the bottom of the pool.

    Additionally, when you jump you not only have to fight gravity but you also get the resistance of the water. For athletes who have not finished their growth spurt, for those recovering from injury, or for masters athletes, I believe that the positive effect on training and the reduced chance of injury far outweigh the reduced gains in strength and power. 

    Warming up for these exercises is important, just as in any exercise that an athlete does. Since these types of exercises will be integrated into a total training program they can be done after a track workout that is low in intensity or as separate workout. Unless the pool is at the track facility, warming up again will be necessary. For this warm-up I swim one stroke down the pool and then the backstroke with frog kick back up the pool. I do this using five different strokes down the pool and then the backstroke with frog kick for the return. This will give the athlete a good overall body warm-up to prepare him for the plyometrics in the pool.

    The plyometric workout starts with alternate-leg bounding down the pool and two-leg bounding backwards up the pool. In the beginning this should be done with about ten to fifteen foot contacts in about three feet of water. As your level of fitness, strength, and power improves you can do this bounding in deeper water and add more strides. Also, the number of sets done can increase over time.

    Depending on the focus of the workout the coach or the athlete can choose any of the following exercises: Double-leg bounding forward and backward; hopping on one foot forward and backward, then change to the other foot; hopping on one foot to the right and then to the left, then changing to the other foot. I haven't been brave enough to ask if I can put a plyo box on the bottom of the pool to do single-leg jumps by standing on one foot on the bottom of the pool with the other foot on the plyo box and then jumping up off the foot onto the box.

    Another type of exercise an athlete can do is to run the deep section of the pool wearing an aqua jogger. I don't consider this type of exercise as plyometric, but since you are already at the pool you might as well make use of the facility. This is what I call non-impact speed work. Since the coach or an athlete knows the number of strides it takes to run a certain distance, the same workout can be done wearing the aqua jogger. Horizontal jumpers can also practice their approach runs. If the managers of the pool allow, pole vaulters can also do pole runs using long poles or weighted shorter section of poles.

    I believe that coaches who integrate pool work into their athletes' training programs will find that good work can be done with less risk of injury and can effect a faster recovery from injury than from standard plyometrics. This does not mean that the coach should replace standard plyometrics with pool plyometrics but pool plyometrics should be used when appropriate.


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