Incline Plyometrics – The Best Thing You’ve Never Heard Of?

 

Power is king in the sporting world, increase power and performance will normally follow. Plyometrics are one of the well-established techniques utilised to improve power production but now research is looking into idea of performing these exercises on an inclined surface to see if we can further augment these gains.

Incline Plyo’s – What Are They?

To be honest the name pretty much says it all; plyometric exercises performed on an inclined surface. Remember that the term plyometric infers that the exercise must elicit a rapid lengthening and shortening of the muscle. Variations need not be different from ‘regular’ plyometrics and you are really only limited by your imagination. Having said that, don’t overcomplicate things or progress when you’re not ready to. The key must always be keeping the ground contact time to a minimum.

Performing Incline Plyo’s

Performing drills outside on a slope or hill would allow for the greatest range of incline drills to be performed, this gives you the freedom for horizontal and/or lateral emphasised movements, but I do appreciate that it’s not always possible to work outside. Whilst the gym may not be an environment completely conducive to incline drills, that is unless it has been very poorly built, there may well be ways around it.

Note: The following are suggestions that may work in principle. Please use some common sense if you’re using equipment not for its intended purpose.

A solid and well-secured incline board, the sort you would use for calf stretches or decline squats, would allow you to perform various hopping drills in place. A robust treadmill should also work well.

 

Performing plyo’s on a incline puts the ankle into a dorsiflexed position.

Why Incline Plyo’s Should Work              

There are two factors that may contribute here:

1)    Favourable Length-Tension Relationship

The primary plantar flexor is the gastrocnemius. Previous research has suggested that dorsiflexion of the ankle facilitates a more optimal sarcomere length for the gastroc. and would therefore be advantageous to force production1-2. Performing plyo’s on an inclined surface means that the ankle is in a dorsiflexed position during the propulsion phase.

2)    Increased Energy Return from the Tendon

Dorsiflexion causes the Achilles tendon to lengthen. This additional elongation during incline plyo’s should result in a greater energy return from the tendon3.

The Acute Response

Acutely, Kannas et al.4 reported a 10% increase in hopping height when performing the exercise on an inclined surface (15o). The researchers found that the activity of both the soleus and tibialis anterior were significantly greater during the propulsion phase. Leg stiffness was not significantly higher, perhaps surprising given the increase in muscle activity, although was 3.9% greater on average.

The Training Response

Kannas et al5 compared groups of 10 athletes (all young males but no training history given) performing plyo drills on an incline (15o) or flat surface. Athletes performed 8 sets of 10 consecutive jumps on 4 days a week and for 4 weeks. The incline group showed significant improvements in fast depth jump performance (17% from a 20cm drop, 14% from 40cm) with activity of the gastroc. during the propulsion phase also increased during these jumps. Whilst the incline group demonstrated a tendency for slight increases in squat, countermovement and slow depth jump performances, these were not significant. Fast depth jumps were classified by <50o of knee flexion, slow depth jumps by >60o of flexion.

Recommendations

Incline plyometrics show great promise as a potential technique for improving explosive plantar flexion. Of course, further research is necessary to determine their effectiveness in different subject populations, over a longer time course and over different exercise variations. We also do not know how the extent of the incline may or may not affect the training adaptations.

Personally, I would suggest that incline variations may warrant consideration for athletes competing in typically ‘plyometric’ sports. These exercises, however, should only be implemented at an advanced level and when an appropriate plyometric base has been achieved.

 

References:

  1. 1.    Kawakami, Y, Ichinose Y, and Fukunaga, T. Architectural and functional features of human triceps surae muscles during contraction. J. Appl. Physiol. 85(2): 398–404, 1998.
  2. 2.    Maganaris, CN. Force-length characteristics of the in vivo human gastrocnemius muscle. Clin. Anat. 16(3): 215–223, 2003.
  3. 3.    Lichtwark, GA, and Wilson, AM. Interactions between the humangastrocnemius muscle and the Achilles tendon during incline, level and decline locomotion. J Exp. Biol. 209(21): 4379–4388, 2006.
  4. 4.    Kannas, TM, Kellis, E, and Amiridis, IG. Biomechanical differences between incline and plane hopping. J. Strength Cond. Res. 25(12): 3334–3341, 2011.
  5. 5.    Kannas, TM, Kellis, E, and Amiridis, IG. Incline plyometrics-induced improvement of jumping performance. Eur. J. App. Phys. October 2011, published ahead of print.
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10 comments


  1. Ted

    I had never heard of the term “incline plyometrics” before. Special thanks for listing the references at the bottom of the article, will be a pleasure to research these training concepts.

    Merry Christmas, Sean, and to all of your blog readers. God bless!

    Ted

  2. Maloney Performance

    Thanks Ted! Hope you’ve had a great Christmas and enjoy the New Year.

    Sean

  3. Ted

    Thank you, this is very nice of you. The holidays have been great.

    May I ask you a question? Poliquin obviously is respected in the industry, but do you personally agree with the execution of the back squat as presented in this video?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnOw9hkXdmQ

  4. Maloney Performance

    I guess that you’d be referring mainly to the ‘start with the knees’ cue. There’s nothing particularly ‘wrong’ or dangerous with it, but for 99% of people I’m not a fan of it. I generally want to be reinforcing a hip dominant pattern so leading with a hip hinge. I’d go that way for quad dominant stuff. He seems to like cyclist squats with the heels elevated, so it’d be knees first there. Fronts squats too. What’s your thinking?

    Best wishes,
    Sean

  5. Ted

    I actually try to break at the knees and at the hips simultaneously when doing olympic style back or front squats.
    When doing or teaching zercher squats or low bar back squat variations, we obviously focus on breaking at the hips first and “sitting back” rather than “sitting down.”

    What I was actually referring to was the lower back arch, or lack of it. The female in the video goes really low, which is great, but the “tail tucked under” thing concerns me. Every respectable strength coach, and particularly every physio I have discussed this matter with in the past, emphasizes the importance of having an arch or at least neutral lumbar extension at all times.

    Do you see the same problem in the video I posted, or do you think she will be fine.

    Thank you for your reply, by the way, glad we can discuss this. Have a great evening, Sean!

    Ted

  6. Maloney Performance

    I think everyone appreciates that flexion under load isn’t good. Lifters tend to make the arch more pronounces when they put some weight on their back. At lot of the time what looks like flexion is actually just the lumbar coming back into a neutral position. The angle in the video isn’t great for showing this, but with that amount of lumbar movement I’d really want to take a closer look at it. Personally, I’ve never worried about a subtle tuck under at rock bottom, maybe I should do, but I’m yet to have any issues with it. Flexion parallel or above is when I worry, but you can never hammer home the mobility work enough with everyone. Pointing toes outwards helps a great deal as well.

    I’m sure there’s plenty of examples of lifters who’ve spent years squatting with flexion but, likewise, there’s plenty of horror stories too. It may interesting to ponder whether you can effectively train to squat with flexion safely? Bit of a tricky one to research though!

  7. Ted

    Thanks for your message, Sean.
    You raise a lot of interesting points.

    Personally, I always point my feet outwards around 35 degrees and really bring my knees out, which helps a great deal with depth and general stability.
    When I front squat, I most of the time have no rounding at all.

    I use this video as a “how to back squat”, best form I have ever seen:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_jxTc2ITA8

    By the way, does your facility have an official youtube channel?

    Great talking to you, all the best,
    Ted

  8. Maloney Performance

    I think I’ve used that video on an Olympic vs Powerlifiting squat post, some great squatting.

    We do, however, it’s got nothing on it at the moment! I’m hoping to dedicate some time to getting some content for it next year.

    Best wishes for the New Year,
    Sean

  9. eric

    I have a 20 degree slant board. Would this be alright to use for sloped plyometrics(is this too much of a slope)? I have had plenty experience with plyos and am in above average shape. What type of plyometrics should I do off my slant board?

    • Maloney Performance

      Hi Eric,

      I don’t think I’d start with a 20 degree board personally and I’d have it pretty much at the top end of what I’d consider. The drills will place quite a lot of stress on the ability to eccentrically control dorsiflexion at rapid velocity, the ankle is normally used to doing this over only a few degrees at most. The amount of dorsiflexion you have is also a factor, 20 degrees is pushing it for most people in mobility terms, let alone their ability to stabilise within that range. Hills or slopes would be good starting point. As with anything, ease into it gradually.

      Exercises don’t need to be too clever, it’s all really straight-legged hopping variations. We’re looking for explosive plantar flexion so just keep the focus on that ankle joint.

      Hope this helps. All the best.
      Sean

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