My 7th grade son has been working out for the past half year. It started with calisthenics towards the end of his baseball season. After the baseball season ended in early September, he also began a plyometrics program based on the book Progressive Plyometrics for Kids, as a way to step up his efforts to become fit in the baseball off season.
Though I already briefly mentioned plyometrics as part of my Strength and Conditioning guide, I’m ready to fully review the program now that he’s done as much of it as he’s going to do.
To summarize: On the one hand, the book is very well done. When followed with good faith effort the program produces impressive, measurable results. On the other hand my son was unable to stay motivated enough to complete all 6 weeks of the program.
What is Plyometrics?
Exercises designed to link strength and speed of movement to produce power is at the heart of what plyometrics is all about. Though many people associate plyometrics with various types of jumping to develop leg power, a plyometrics approach can be applied to any kind of explosive movement. Hopscotch, jumping off a swing, and difficult climbing are examples of plyometrics that naturally occur as part of ordinary play.
Running maximum speed (sprinting) is another maximum power output activity. A well-designed plyometrics program will improve that maximum speed.
Some forms of plyometrics training for adult athletes are intense to an extreme which can lead to injury for children or unfit adults. This has incorrectly caused some professional trainers to believe that no form of plyometrics is safe for kids. As the book repeatedly (and convincingly) argues, kids simply need to follow a program that is appropriate, safe, and effective for kids. That is exactly what the authors of the book set out to do. The three co-authors Donald A. Chu, Avery D. Faigenbaum, and Jeff E. Falkel have decades of experience, both academic and practical, so chances are pretty good that this program is appropriately designed.
The Book and Included DVD
The book is very clearly written, with introductory material related to youth athlete conditioning, and a very detailed and precise explanation for how to implement the program. For those who don’t care for philosophy and introductory remarks, the first 2 chapters can be skipped and half of chapter 3 can be skimmed. On page 42 of chapter 3 is where you need to start reading carefully as that is where the warm-ups are explained, followed by an overview of the heart of the program, and then the recovery.
Chapter 4 explains how to implement the program, including the all-important chart of exercises, while chapter 5 explains in great detail how to do each exercise. The included DVD does a very good job of explaining all the exercises very clearly and if you are not able to easily demo the exercises, I strongly recommend having the kids watch the videos first before doing the program (before week 1, just watch the Bronze level exercises).
Before my son started, I watched the videos but unfortunately he did not. He got bored and restless as I kept referring to the book in the first session. But after that he watched the videos, resulting in a very smooth second session.
My only minor nitpick with the DVD is that the bronze level exercises were performed by the least experienced of the three youth athletes. Several exercises were modeled slightly off. The two older youth athletes that modeled the silver and gold level exercises did a terrific job.
Overall the book and DVD were very well done.
On page 56 of Progressive Plyometrics for Kids, the program progression is outlined. The first two weeks of the chart are reproduced below:
|Exercise Type||Bronze Level Exercise|
|Sets x Reps||1 x 10 2 x 10|
|1. Strength||Medicine ball squat|
|2. Strength||A-B-C push-ups|
|3. Strength||Heel raise|
|4. Plyometric||Jump and freeze|
|5. Plyometric||Medicine ball crunch|
|6. Plyometric||Backward jump and freeze|
|7. Plyometric||Triple “X” jump|
|8. Plyometric||Medicine ball “stuffer” flutter|
|9. Plyometric||Standing jump and reach|
|10. Plyometric||Lateral taps on medicine ball|
|11. Plyometric||Medicine ball overhead throw|
|12. Plyometric||Medicine ball single-leg dip|
|13. Plyometric||Single-leg pops|
|14. Speed and Agility||Arrow cone drill|
|15. Speed and Agility||Figure “8” drill|
Twice per week is the workout frequency recommended by the authors, making sure to allow at least one rest day between sessions. As is typical for workout programs, sets and reps (repetitions) are clearly defined. In week 1, there is just one set with 15 exercises, each repeated 10 times. In week 2, there are 2 sets of the exact same exercises.
All workouts include warm-up exercises and recovery exercises. Including warm-up and recovery, even number weeks take a little over an hour, while the odd numbered weeks take about 45 minutes. This is because the first week of each level calls for one set, while the second week calls for two sets.
Weeks 1-2 are the bronze level, weeks 3-4 are silver, and weeks 5-6 are gold. As the exercises get more challenging, the number of reps drops to 8 for silver, and 6 for gold. So the workouts actually take a little less time to complete with advancement to the next level, though they are just as tiring.
Notice that of the 15 exercises in each set, the first 3 are strength-related, the next 10 are plyometrics related, and the last 2 are speed/agility. Furthermore, some of the plyometrics exercises are simply variations on strength-building calisthenics that require a little more power, so I tend to think of them as half way between strength and plyometrics exercises.
In other words, the program does not emphasize plyometrics alone. It is a general workout program applicable to most young athletes, which aims to develop a strong base level of fitness. It just has more of an emphasis on power and explosiveness than the typical youth fitness program. This makes it a very good fit for kids who play baseball.
So Did it Work for my Son?
My son thought the name “plyometrics” was hilarious. He started calling it “hydropedrics” with a couple of his friends, because that sounded even funnier.
It’s hard to tell looking at the sheet what it’s actually like for the athlete doing it. My son had already been doing squats, jumping, pushups, crunches, etc. for several months, so he found the Bronze level exercises 1 through 13 easy to master and even easier to perform.
However, exercises 14 and 15 are agility drills with sprinting and rapid changes of direction. I insisted that he needed to do these at maximum effort level for full benefit. The agility drills were far more difficult and exhausting than any of the other exercises. Doing 10 reps of each agility drill at maximum intensity with little rest between repetitions was simply not feasible. At first he opted to do the agility drills slowly in order to conserve energy for all the repetitions. But I explained to him that less than full effort would train him to be slow, so he switched to doing far fewer reps at close to maximum effort.
My son’s difficulty with the agility drills could simply indicate a lack of endurance. I’m not really sure. But I was in communication with another parent, a FilterJoe reader who had also just started doing this program with his son and they had a similar experience. Perhaps someone who had recently played competitive soccer, basketball, or ultimate would have an easier time of it, but . . . I have seen basketball players do suicide drills. They did not typically do 10 suicide drills in a row with 10-15 seconds of rest in between repetitions. And they never did 20 in a row.
After a couple of sessions of going back and forth between the idea of doing fewer reps or not doing them with full effort, my son finally decided to spread them out, one or two reps at a time. So after the first couple exercises in the set, he would do 2 reps of an agility drill. Then another exercise or two, then another 1-2 reps of agility drill, and so on. This was much more manageable, though he never did do 20 reps each of the bronze level exercise 14 and 15 in one session, which the second week called for.
Apart from the agility drills, my son had no significant issues with any of the drills, though some took a few tries to get proper form. My son found the silver-level exercises more interesting than the bronze.
All was going well with the actual exercises, but he gradually lost interest. Shortly before completing the silver level, he said he no longer wanted to do plyometrics. Given that getting better at sprinting was the main point, he told me he’d rather just do sprints. He knew from many conversations we had that sprinting is really critical for baseball players, and not just to get faster at sprinting. It also helps strengthen leg muscles used in hitting and pitching. So he wanted to dispense with the time-consuming (and for him) boring plyometrics and instead just do timed sprints, perhaps twice per week.
I thought his idea seemed reasonable, and there was no point trying to make him continue a program he was no longer motivated to follow. So he started sprinting.
His first day sprinting is when we found out how effective the program was for him, despite doing only 3 1/2 weeks out of the full 6 weeks.
I had timed him running 50-yard dashes many times over the course of a few weeks before starting the program. Turned out there were issues with how I was doing the timing but I did use the same method every time so at least I could see how much he improved.
He improved by approximately 0.5 seconds. My subpar timing methods introduced measurement error, so the actual improvement was perhaps between 0.4 and 0.6 seconds. But even if it was only 0.4 seconds, that is a huge increase after doing the program for less than a month.
Before the plyometrics program, his best time was on the order of 8.3 seconds. After 3 1/2 weeks of plyometrics, his best time was approximately 7.8 seconds. He lopped 6% off his time after just 7 sessions of following the program. Wow.
Even understanding how much the program benefited him, he still did not want to finish it off. He continues to do sprints about twice/week, and we’ve learned how he can continue to improve sprint times even beyond what plyometrics can offer.
What I Could Have Done Better
I am just a dad who is happy to support his (one and only) son’s passions. I was never a professional athlete, professional trainer or really anything associated with a professionally run sports program. I was not even into baseball that much before my son was born. I’m just trying to support my son’s biggest passion in life, which happens to be baseball. So with everything I do, I’m learning as I go. Therefore . . .
I made a few mistakes in helping my son get started with this program.
Here’s a few things I would change if I were to do it again.
- Watch videos. Make sure that both the trainer and the athletes watch the exercises demonstrated in the video before the first session, perhaps even more than once.
- Do agility exercises differently. As mentioned above, the sprinting exercises (14 and 15) were too many repetitions in a row at the bronze and silver level. To get maximum effort, it’s helpful to either reduce the number of reps or spread them out throughout the session so there’s time to recover. I sent an email to one of the authors (Dr. Chu) to find out if this would harm the effectiveness of the program, but never heard back.
- Do it with a group. My son lost his motivation. He has since started doing a different but vaguely similar group program with one of his summer baseball coaches, and he’s fine with it. While many specific exercises are different, I think the main thing that makes it more appealing for him is that he gets to do it as part of group, and that group is his baseball team.
- Foster competition. Many of the exercises are a lot more exciting if timed individually or better yet as a competition with one or more friends. So even if you can’t get together a whole group, at least make sure to measure results and provide feedback to the athlete. This could involve timing, or perhaps measuring length/height of jump. It helps if the participating athletes are all at roughly the same level of starting fitness and ability.
- Start with energy. Lots of energy is needed to do these workouts. Scheduling multiple, physically demanding activities is always tricky with kids, so make sure the scheduling works out so that participants aren’t tired before starting.
- Don’t do it during the rainy season. While not a factor for us, the other parent I know doing this with his kid had most October sessions rained out, so they decided to stop doing it until spring. The program could be done in an indoor gym but for most families, access to a large, empty gym isn’t so easy to come by.
One Final Comment
Progressive Plyometrics for Kids and the included DVD were great, and the program was effective. But I suspect it would be an unusual kid who would do this program (or any comparable outdoor speed/agility/pylometrics program) alone for 6 weeks.
This book’s program is great for a coach to use in the off-season with his baseball team. Any player who has a coach that runs programs for his players in the off season like this should be very grateful.