BOOK REVIEW: July 2015

Title: High Powered Plyometrics 2nd Edition
Authors: James Radcliffe, Robert Farentinos
Publisher: Human Kinetics Australia 2015, ISBN:13: 9781450498135
Details: Paperback, 216pp
RRP: $30.95 OR $26.31 for Network Members when buying online HERE and entering the Promo Code network2015.

Review by Peter Lawler

It has been a long, long time since the first edition of High Powered Plyometrics was published. It was last century, 1999, in fact. Why so long? This second edition joins the extended family of Human Kinetics already rich in plyometric texts: Plyometrics by Donald Chu, Training for Speed Agility and Quickness by Ferrigno and Brown, Developing Agility and Quickness by NSCA; all are recent publications. Obviously, this plethora of books reflects the popularity of Stretch- Shortening- Cycle (SSC) training for a vast array of sports. Such popularity is warranted.

Jim Radcliffe has vast experience in strength and conditioning for multiple sports over decades, especially while living in Oregon. He has been certified by USA Weight Lifting, the NSCA, the CSCC and he has a masters degree in Biomechanics. Bob Farentinos holds a PhD in Biology and he too has accrued decades’ long involvement in training cyclists, runners, and triathlon, Nordic skiing, weight lifting, climbing and mountaineering. He is a lifelong athlete who took up rowing at the age of 62. Prior to this career change he was a 50km cross country skier! Bob is one fit man.

There are two approaches to utilising High-Powered Plyometrics. The first is to read and digest the science of how and why plyometrics function. This can be a difficult task. Do I really need to know this? The second is to be aware of exercises and drills that have been devised and what equipment is required for effective training. The ideal marriage would be the coach knows both theory and practice and the athlete implements and perfects the chosen plyometric drills most apposite for a specific sport and athlete competence.

Part 1, Chapter 1 is the heavy stuff. The plyometric process is lavishly described in this demanding chapter. It's all here, elasticity, amortisation and its cousins potentiation and proprioception. Essentially, all you need to know is whatever plyometric activity you pursue, there must be an initial stretching phase (eccentric) of the muscle under work before a shortening (concentric). The transition from one to the other is called the coupling time. The quicker the transition the better.

Chapter 3 covers the preparatory mechanics essential for effective, safe, execution. To avoid injury from constant jumping in particular, athletes must be conscious of postural alignment, foot strike, breathing, stress of landings, volume and density of training, suitable shoes and type of surface.

Over the ensuing decades, controversy has been aroused concerning plyometrics. The first is age. This resource recommends children may do plyometrics at 12 to 14 years. Some experts suggest plyometrics are an entree prior to commencing a strength program. Others adhere to the reverse. The Soviets once advised a back squat of 1.5 to 2.0 bodyweight was an essential prerequisite before undertaking SSC work. No one believes this anymore. Finally, surface and shoes. The conservative establishment recommends SSC must be performed on grass with thick shock-absorbent shoes. The more radical advise a firm surface and thinner sole shoes are the ideal to cater for the ballistic shock of SSC. This contention is obviously for mature-aged experienced sport participants.

Whatever the answers that continue to blow in the wind, this text offers an excellent battery of preliminary strength work. Ironically, at least half the program offered is plyometric: vertical jump reach, depth jump reach, single leg pogo jumps and Wilf Paish's famous Jumps Decathlon. I am confused! Best move the caravan on to Part 2, 'Plyometric Exercises.'

We are now in the athletes' domain, with 79 exercises on offer. The upper body power exercises are med ball throws, weight 3 to 7 kilos. Olympic lifts of push press and split jerk are advocated. Core work is dominated by swinging motions while holding the med ball. The piece de resistance has always been jumping variants. They dominate the program. Of the 79 exercises presented, 45 are for the legs. While the selection is standard stock, it is smoothly sequenced: runs/ jumps/bounds across lush grass, then box jumps, utilising a stairwell, lateral jumps and hurdle hops. The selection has two great strengths: every exercise is clearly described via a format of introductory purpose, starting position and 'action sequence.' The second strength is, each is demonstrated by partial sequences depicting excellent models completing superb repetitions.

The co-authors have included a slim chapter on 'Complex Training'. Once again there is a confusing array of definitions. Simply put, complex training is the alternate completion of a base strength exercise, e.g. the squat followed immediately by a ballistic set, e.g. squat jump. For coaches requiring clarification on linking two suitable exercises, this chapter is helpful.

The text concludes with sport-specific plyometric training. The selected sports are 20 in number (some sports share an identical program). An interesting inclusion is AFL. Each of the 20 carries a 12-week program. Each lists the exercise and the volume. Speaking of volume, every program has very few sets per exercise, usually 2 to 3 sets of 4 to 10 repetitions. However, the number of exercises is high. Within a single session, there are 8 to 10 different exercises to be completed.

So, after a hiatus of 15 years, High Powered Plyometrics is back in town. Welcome back to the neighbourhood.