Developing the Stretch Shortening Cycle to become more explosive, for athletes.

By: JP Fagan, Strength and Conditioning Coach

When talking about becoming more explosive, one needs to consider the mechanisms behind becoming more explosive. The mechanism that is in question is the stretch shortening cycle (SSC). The stretch shortening cycle is broken up into three phases. These phases consist of the eccentric phase (the lengthening of the muscle), amortization (the transition phase) and then finally the concentric phase (the shortening of the muscle). What does this essentially mean?

When working with athletes, this mechanism needs to be trained. The types of movements that require a stretch shortening cycle include running and jumping. Now, while reading this, I’m sure while you’re reading this, you’ll be thinking that one can jump really high or not, as well as sprint or jog. Does the SSC apply to both concepts?

Absolutely, there is such thing as a slow SSC (jogging) and fast SSC (sprinting). In saying that, if we are talking about becoming more explosive, then we want to improve the fast SSC. If one is able to develop a high rate of force, during the SSC the more then theoretically they’ll become more explosive.

If a strength and conditioning coach wants to develop an athlete’s SSC, one of the best ways to go about this is plyometric work. Plyometrics are movements that involve high SSC, which means that when doing this movement, the muscle is stretching and shortening at quite a rapid rate. Here is a list of some plyometric movements that can be performed. Just to name a few:

  • Squat jump
  • Bounding
  • Hurdle jumps
  • Medball chest pass
  • Broad jumps
  • Jumping lunges
  • Overhead toss

The next question would be, how would you incorporate plyometric work into your training?

Well to put it quite simply, one needs to understand that there is a process to developing the SSC. Which means that it needs to be introduced, then progressed over time, which in sort is that it needs to be apart of the strength and conditioning coach’s periodised plan for their athlete. To introduce plyometric work, we start of by doing non-countermovement work. This means that there is no SSC within the given movement. Once the athlete has learnt how to jump correctly and LAND correctly, then we can start progressing. I have highlighted the world land due to the fact that in many sports, the environment that the athlete will perform on is not controlled. Therefore, the athlete needs to learn how to land correctly, especially on uncontrolled environment/surfaces. Progressions can include introducing the countermovement, then continuous countermovement, following that; the strength and conditioning coach can introduce unilateral plyometric work. When doing plyometric work, just like everything else, needs to be multi-planar. An athlete never works in a single plane of motion when doing their sport; therefore we should train them accordingly.

Here is a basic understanding of how a strength and conditioning coach would incorporate plyometric work into an athlete’s periodised plan. When the athlete is in the ‘general prep’ microcycle, non-countermovement work, mostly landing mechanics will be done and progressed within different plans of motion. Once the athlete moves from general prep into specific prep microcycle, then the strength and conditioning coach will start doing more multi-planar, countermovement plyometric work, as well as continuous countermovement. As the athlete has moved into the competition phase of the macrocycle, this is when the strength and conditioning coach will have the athlete do maximal intensity plyometric work, but the volume is at an absolute minimum.

Due to plyometric work being extremely taxing on the body, the S&C coach will have to take into consideration that optimal recovery is needed. These athletes are using their central nervous system to its full capacity. To avoid injury, the athletes need to recover accordingly. When doing plyometric work in a session, try and optimize the rest between sets. The athlete should be resting from approximately 90 to 180 seconds between the sets. The frequency (amount of training days) of training will also depend on which part of the macrocycle the athlete is in. As mentioned before, maximal rest should be considered. Personally I would do plyometric work maybe three times a week. That would be the absolute most. Thus the athlete is able to recover not only from his/her field training but also from training done within the weight room.