Plyometrics, by Donald A Chu & Gregory D Myer

Title: Plyometrics
Authors: Donald A Chu & Gregory D Myer
Publisher: Human Kinetics Australia 2013
Details: Paperback, 248 pages
RRP: $ 28.95 OR $24.61 for Network Memberswhen buying online HERE and entering the Promo Code FITAUS.

Review by Peter Lawler

In 1992, Donald Chu's Jumping into Plyometrics created a sensation in the coaching world. More than 140,000 copies have been sold. Plyometrics evolved in the domain of track and field, but this splendid isolation did not endure. They have moved from the mysterious to commonplace arenas of sport. There are thousands of coaches who are indebted to Donald A Chu.

What do we know of this great man? He is now 73 and a professor emeritus of kinesiology at the California State University where he taught for 20 years. He is the director and founder of Athercare Fitness and Rehabilitation in San Francisco. His specialty areas are sport rehab and fitness and conditioning. He is credited with popularising plyometrics in the West during the Cold War era. His colleague Fred Wilt is credited with naming this branch of exercises.

Gregory Myer, meanwhile, resides in Ohio in the sin city of Cincinnati. He is the director of research in the Human Performance Laboratory for the division of sports medicine at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital. He is a renowned researcher in the fields of paediatrics and orthopaedic surgery where he has developed advanced prevention methods to sustain knee health.

Confusion continues to prevail over the decades regarding names and terminology. Americans continue with Fred Wilt's ‘plyometrics’ while the Europeans prefer the ‘stretch-shortening cycle’ – the SSC. They are one and the same. Each plyometric exercise has the same sequence. The example is the jump-squat. During the loading phase the muscle under work lengthens. This is the eccentric phase. At the end of the descent there is a momentary pause (now labelled as the isometric phase.) The ascent to normalcy is therefore the concentric phase, for the muscle shortens. This tedious description has a purpose. In the 1960s yet another exercise philosophy emerged called isometrics. Participants were instructed to push with maximal force against an immovable object. This maximal exertion was to be held for five to eight seconds. In other words, there was no lengthening or shortening of muscle fibre. Clearly, Donald A Chu's usage of the term is vastly different.

Further differentiation is required for clarity's sake. Plyometrics were always intended to be a shock form of training – ballistic in fact. They were considered to be effective only when execution was maximal. Not any more:
‘On the other hand, plyometric exercises have also been described as any movement that involves the stretch-shortening cycle, whether the movement requires maximal or sub-maximal effort.’ (Page 14). Coaches are advised to follow the original ballistic definition.

This 2013 publication is a worthy successor to the vintage classic of 1992. I have no doubt it too will sell 140,000 copies. The structure is unusual. The eleven chapters are divided into three compartments. Firstly, there are three chapters entitled 'Knowledge'. These clarify the anatomy and physiology of plyometrics: in short, how and why they work. In the next, 'Considerations', the co-authors have identified three specific domains who will benefit from ballistic exercise: young athletes, female athletes and athletes requiring rehabilitation. Part III, 'Applications', possesses five very diverse chapters which highlight what every coach wants. They ask three questions: When is an athlete ready to do plyometrics? What are the essential exercises? How would I write a program for them? Dylan would say the answers are blowin' in the wind. Donald A Chu would disagree… little mystery will remain once you, the faithful reader, have read this book from cover to cover!

The first question demands a response: when is an athlete ready? Here, history was nonsensical! The European gurus stated explicitly that an athlete should not undertake plyometrics until he was capable of doing a 2.5 times bodyweight back squat. Such a creed would kill more than 90 per cent of unwilling athletes... These days, common sense has triumphed. Chu states that a 13-year-old male athlete should be capable of more advanced plyometrics if he can do a back squat with 75 per cent of bodyweight. The very young athlete is ready at the age of seven according to Donald, provided they take up foundation exercises that are non- or mildly-ballistic, such as the wall squat with Swiss Ball, gentle lunges, two-legged mini hops, skipping, med ball throws, bridging or planking.

Volume is a key consideration. This text offers a small chart of foot contact tallies. Beginners: 60-100 during the 'off season' and the Advanced: 150-250. During the pre-season the tally swells: Beginner: 100-250 and the Advanced: 150-450. As with all numbers, the suggested range is huge. In simpler terms, this is no guide at all!

And so to the exercises. Chapter 9 is ‘Essential Plyometric Exercises’. The essentials traverse the universe from page 109 to 187. The great beauty of ballistic exercises is their minimal cost due to the paucity of equipment required. Donald's regime is truly austere: a couple of med balls, some sturdy boxes, terra firma, cheap plastic hurdles, gravity and bodyweight. Plyometrics cannot be done on a trampoline, soft sand or in swimming pools. They require rigidity of surface with minimal ground contact time and explosive liftoff.

There are either one or two exercises identified and defined on each page. This vast array includes jumps-in-place, lateral jumps and multi-directional change variants.
To summate plyometrics:
• The lower body is trained by multiple jumps in multiple directions over multiple obstacles.
• The upper body is blitzed by medicine ball slings, twists, slams and throws against a wall or to a partner.

Every exercise in this book has highly competent junior athletes modelling the extensive plyometric family. Where required, photo-sequences are provided for visual clarification.

Unfortunately there is no DVD, but the text does conclude with a plethora of programs suited for either a comprehensive training program or for sport-specific demands.

To conclude this very wordy review, many publications on plyometrics have appeared since Jumping into Plyometrics appeared in 1992. There is little new to publish. What needs to be said is simple. Donald Chu remains the master of plyometrics and this is his masterful new text. It is long overdue.