Use Med Ball Circuits, Plyos and Bounding Using Med Balls, plyometrics and bounding to replace most gym work for a period of time, particularly in tapering phases can have a huge effect on your athletes. There is a limit on the returns in the gym alone for Field Sports athletes in any case and we also have to be aware of the overall fatigue costs. That’s not to say we ignore the gym completely it’s just we bring a different focus and help transfer our new found strength onto the field by making our tendons more robust and better able to transfer force, our exercise movements faster (thus closer to game speed), enhance the short-stretch cycle (explanation here) and generally get more athletic.
It’s based on scientific evidence that shows that a concentric (shortening) muscular contraction is much stronger if it immediately follows an eccentric (lengthening) contraction of the same muscle – like the bending of the knees immediately prior to jumping, which uses stretch reflexes in the quads, hams and calf muscles.
Many coaches (particularly American) will argue people have to have certain strength standards before they perform Jumps and Bounds and Plyometrics. While a coach has to be careful with load, volume and type of exercise this idea is a poorly thought hangover from Powerlifting and Weightlifting circles. The main argument against jumping and plyometrics was that if you are not really strong then you can not absorb the force when landing and this can lead to injury. Unfortunately injuries are a lot more complex than that. Kids have been jumping and landing for 1000’s of years without injury and i have known some animals in the gym to rupture ligaments from very small drops.
Consider this table of ground contact times below
Sample Ground Contact Times based on Activity
Activity Time (sec)
Source: AM J Sports Med. 1986 Nov-Dec; 14(6): 501-10.
Also you will see above that simple running is 200ms, this is considered quick enough ground contact times to be called plyometrics. We consider quick plyos to be <250ms and slow plyos to be >250ms.
So lets say we consider running to be anything over 17 kmph, most club Gaelic Footballers will do 800-1500 M of running over 17 kmph in any game (estimated based on elite results from here). Based on this plyometrics should not be a problem, or bounding or Jumps for that matter. However, it is still very wise to layer them up appropriately and help and consultation or program writing and instruction from an S&C Coach is desirable. Done well though and the results can be spectacular.
If you look at this image from Derek Hansen you will see that Maximum strength and explosive power are only part of the continuum of speed, acceleration, Deceleration, change of direction and Max Speed. Our bodies ability to explode and to spend as little time on the ground as possible is determined by many factors and can be trained and manipulated through many means. In a very simple explanation the gym exercises build force and power to push off the ground, the jumps, hops, skips and bounds increase the pace at which your do that.
When done in an organized and layered fashion exercise methods like Plyometrics can have a distinct effect on our injury resilience and the strength and quality of tendons and ligaments.
In terms of where you put them in the session;
Warm Up (with some easy jumps & Plyos, low level of included). It’s important to have some game based activities also, keeping the game as close to all out efforts will help with transferability (in my opinion and experience)
Sprints or Bounds - pick one after warm up. No longer than 15-20M at the start with Bounds. Use speed bounds as well (bounds with a run in) Athletes should have some strength training done and up to recently shown decent relative strength levels. Because when you bound you are putting multiples of your own Bodyweight into the ground forcefully, being stronger decreases the possibility of injuries.
Plyometrics - These should be done after the Sprints or Bounds. A simple 2 to 4 exercise circuit would work well. I like hops to start with on a 10:10/15:15/20:20 work:rest basis. It depends on the level and training age of your team. Build slowly with 1 set of 10:10 working up to maybe 4 sets over a number of sessions. Generally strength training comes before plyo’s in a session. Sprinting is plyometric so technically everyone has performed them. However repetitive vertical jumps have to be built up slowly as there is a lot of force going through your lower limbs when doing exercises like pogo hops, multiples of your own Bodyweight.
Plyometrics are often confused with jumps as well, going by sports science standards plyometric movements involve displacement of the body off the ground and ground contact time to be <200 milliseconds
Then technical, tactical, game play and running conditioning could take place.
A simple circuit I use a lot is;
If doing multiple sets take a 1-2 minute rest in between (longer for longer reps). This is a variation of a circuit I learned from American Sprint & Jump Coach Boo Schexnayder. While always wary of just copying and pasting any coaches methods I read and watched articles and videos Boo was involved in and his approach made a lot of sense both practically and scientifically. And he has had great success with his methods at all levels. Coaches who are successful at varying levels always need investigation. It’s shows a wide berth of coaching skills and knowledge. Many coaches get lucky with a talented bunch, and then get asked to coach more talented bunches for a while. And then get found out. Not guys like Boo who has a serious set of principles but has clearly evolved over time as well.
This study shows that with plyometrics and strength training muscular performance and longer speed running improves, this is probably through efficiency as opposed to the development of strength or power. (Mike Young 2018)
Med Ball use
Medicine Balls are around a long time and have been under utilised for just as long. An unfortunate association through boxing of having them dropped from a height on your stomach may be one reason for this. However in recent years that has changed. Exactly how Med Ball work transfers to athleticism is not really completely understood, but their use certainly seem to illicit better movement patterns. Med ball circuits have multiple values and they can be put anywhere. They can even be used as a low Lactate finisher. Because they are light and the movements are simple yet global they are not likely to be an injury hazard. Then can be added to tempo running as active rests, put in between technical drills or Small Sided Games to break up a session and add a “fitness” or Cardiac Output Effect (Aerobic Capacity Builder). Med Balls can be used prior to weights to help warm up as a primer or to simply move through general compound movements.
I also use Countermovement throws as warm ups for Olympic lifts and in particularly the Snatch and its variations as the movements are quite similar and it is a good way over activating the musculature involved in overhead and torso extension movements.
Standard throws we use are
You can get very fancy with advanced athletes and them drop catching, depth jumping to throwing, catching distally, hopping, one legged etc etc. However for the vast majority of athletes and particularly in team settings keep it really simple.
Med Balls often can be fun for relays. Nobody will throw the med ball far enough that when they chase it they will get anywhere near top speed. One of the benefits though is that we get players accelerating out of various positions late in training. Emphasizing technique and good movement late in sessions is always a good thing. But these can be used to infuse a bit of fun at end of a warm up as well.
Method for relay;
Other exercises to develop endurance and aerobic power endurance is full length of the field team throws. Groups of 3 work best and the team do a particular throw in a continuous manner up the field in rotation.
Med Balls do not need to be heavy, it is a very rare athlete really needs anything over 8KG. The point of them or to ballistically throw the ball as hard and as far as possible, and then often chase after it. 2-4KG Balls are plaenty for the absolute vast majority of amateur athletes.
If facilities allow Med Ball Exercises act well as contrast exercises with other more traditional strength exercises, so you could do some work before training in little tri-sets which will bring us a broad range of particular movements. Generally i look at these tri-sets in 2 parameters, vertical and horizontal. There are rotational and single limb work that can be done as well but this can be put in other areas of a program.
As an example on a Tuesday gym session you could do a stability-mobility warm up for 5 mins and then follow with this:
On a Thursday
As little of 2 sets of above can be very effective both in a development sense but also as a great primer to pitch work. Afterwards players could come in and complete 2 exercises of Push-Pull Upper body work for 5-8 minutes and hey presto you have 2 strength sessions done for the week as well and handed your players 1-2 nights off*
*If players are willing to do one extra night and you have built in the strength work into the main sessions then i would encourage 2 things;
Bounding is probably next level training after basic plyo’s, sprinting and jumps. In fact bounding really is a combo of all 3 when done well. The forces we apply into the ground rival or even exceed depth jumps, we are try to spend as little time on the ground as possible like plyo’s and sprinting and we are moving horizontally as close as we can get in a dynamic fashion without actually sprinting.
It is important to start with double limb bounding. The body hits the ground with about 3-4 times force of its own weight when we sprint. This can raise to well over double that with bounding. So while single leg bounding may not reach those levels they will still be significant and it won’t be 50% because it’s one limb, it will be significantly higher.
Also remember sprints, bounds and plyometrics ARE methods of strength training. So we can seriously reduce the lower body strength training and even leave it out completely sometimes. If you maintain weight lifting volume while increasing sprints, plyo’s and bounds you are asking for trouble, particularly in-season.
In recent social media posts I have been bemoaning the over use of weightlifting for amateur field sport athletes and it causing injury and also significantly impacting the “repeatability” of plays by some players whose body shape has changed significantly over recent years as well as clearly losing mobility which was impacting skill (a common example is going down to pick up ball in traditional Gaelic football movement). One way of pulling these players back close to the real athleticism they need for field sport would be to take away the gym complete for a few weeks and work on sprinting, plyo’s and bounding and just add in some basic upper body push and pull strength work and low level power work. Keep volume really low though, this is a case for the minimal dose needed approach.
But this is the case with newbies as well, just doing a small number of well executed plyo’s, jumps, bounds and sprints can have a remarkable effect on an athlete. Volume is not the key, especially at the start. However the results can be spectacular.
This study here suggests what many other studies and coaches have suggested for a long time that both plyometrics and weight training work hand in hand:
At certain times of the season if you have brought your group to a decent level and increased some volume you can use combo’s really effectively, either in or out of the gym.
You can do plyo combos, jump combos, bounding combos. Or you could mix them all up with each other and even some sprinting to use the potentiation effect.
Here is a sample circuit:
30-60 seconds between exercises, 2-4 minutes between sets. 1-2 sets is plenty for most amateur teams and it’s placement in the week is critical
This kind of resting is minimum but it can drive field coaches mad. Active rests between sets is probably the middle ground here with (very) light technical work.
There is a huge amount of information in this article. I suggest if you are not familiar with this type of conditioning with your teams (or you are an athlete), get a local S&C Coach to work with you for a while at least. If thats not in the budget then i suggest picking 1 thing and adding it to your sessions. Get it right, add some volume, then deload it. Thats where you will see the results.