Sprints Better than Plyometrics in Every Way

Effects of sprint and plyometric training on muscle function and athletic performance. Markovic G, Jukic I, Milanovic D, Metikos J Strength Cond Res. 2007 May;21(2):543-9.

Abstract
The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of sprint training on muscle function and dynamic athletic performance and to compare them with the training effects induced by standard plyometric training. Male physical education students were assigned randomly to 1 of 3 groups: sprint group (SG; n = 30), plyometric group (PG; n = 30), or control group (CG; n = 33). Maximal isometric squat strength, squat- and countermovement jump (SJ and CMJ) height and power, drop jump performance from 30-cm height, and 3 athletic performance tests (standing long jump, 20-m sprint, and 20-yard shuttle run) were measured prior to and after 10 weeks of training. Both experimental groups trained 3 days a week; SG performed maximal sprints over distances of 10-50 m, whereas PG performed bounce-type hurdle jumps and drop jumps. Participants in the CG group maintained their daily physical activities for the duration of the study. Both SG and PG significantly improved drop jump performance (15.6 and 14.2%), SJ and CMJ height ( approximately 10 and 6%), and standing long jump distance (3.2 and 2.8%), whereas the respective effect sizes (ES) were moderate to high and ranged between 0.4 and 1.1. In addition, SG also improved isometric squat strength (10%; ES = 0.4) and SJ and CMJ power (4%; ES = 0.4, and 7%; ES = 0.4), as well as sprint (3.1%; ES = 0.9) and agility (4.3%; ES = 1.1) performance. We conclude that short-term sprint training produces similar or even greater training effects in muscle function and athletic performance than does conventional plyometric training. This study provides support for the use of sprint training as an applicable training method of improving explosive performance of athletes in general.

My comments:

I have to admit that I’m not a fan of plyometrics. When I was on the weightlifting team at NAU doing my undergraduate course work on exercise science I read the book Jumping into Plyometrics by Donald Chu and got the idea that adding drop jumps to my weightlifting program was a good idea. I remember my weightlifting coach at the time saying that was dumb, but I didn’t listen. My experience was that it didn’t help my weightlifting ability a single percent, but within a couple weeks I had a nasty case of patellar tendinitis that plagued me the rest of my weightlifting career. It did get me VERY interested in the treatment of tendinitis when in physical therapy school and my resultant tendinitis treatment protocol is stellar. So perhaps my reading Dr. Chu’s book was for the greater good. Unfortunately I didn’t figure out my protocol until well after I graduated so my knees pretty much just hurt, all the time, until I quit competitive weightlifting. I was still able clean and jerk 347 lb, which was pretty good, but I always felt that if my training wasn’t limited by the patellar tendinitis. I would have cleaned and jerked over 400 lb. Thanks plyometrics!

It was of interest to me when I read the above paper comparing plyometric hurdle jumps and drop jumps at 40 to 60 cm height to that of roughly equal time doing short sprints of 10-50 meters. The subjects were then tested on speed, jump ability and strength. One might expect a degree of specificity to come about with the sprint group being better at running type drills and the plyometric group being better at jumping drills. This, sort of, happened with the sprint group running away (haha) from the plyometric group with significant improvements in 20 meter sprint times by 3.1% and 20 yard shuttle runs of 4.3%, while the plyometric group was shy of significance with less than half the improvement of the sprinters. The sprint group improved in strength (squats) by 10%, while the plyometric group didn’t improve at all. When testing got to where the plyometrics should have the advantage, the plyometric group did improve, but the sprint group always edged them out.  Sprint training improving performance over the plyometric group on squat jumps (10% vs 6.5%), countermovement jumps (7.4% vs 6.3%), drop jumps (15.6% vs 14.2%) and standing long jump (3.2% vs 2.8%) for the sprint vs. plyometric groups respectively.

So to sum it up, sprinting made you faster and more agile in running related activities while the plyometric group didn’t. Sprinting increased squat strength while the plyometrics didn’t, and while both groups improved vertical and horizontal jumping ability the sprint group managed to do even that ever so slightly better. Plyometrics have become commonplace in sports and fitness training programs and while I think they are a higher risk with regards to overuse injuries I don’t think they deliver enough performance improvements to make that risk worth it. So if you ask me where plyometrics can best be implemented into a training program, I say nowhere, leave them out. Yes plyometrics “work” but I think I can always think of something that works better. As this study demonstrated, sprint training always works better.

The sprint group protocol was 3 sessions per week thusly: 

week 1 10-m sprint x 3 x 3
week 2 10-m sprint x 4 x 3
week 3 20-m sprint x 3 x 3
week 4 20-m sprint x 4 x 3
week 5 30-m sprint x 3 x 3
week 6 (rest)
week 7 30-m sprint x 4 x 3
week 8 40-m sprint x 3 x 3
week 9 40-m sprint x 4 x 3
week 10 50-m sprint x 3 x 3
week 11 50-m sprint x 4 x 3

The plyometric protocol was, eh who cares. 

Thanks for reading my blog. If you have any questions or comments (even hostile ones) please don’t hesitate to ask/share. If you’re reading one of my older blogs, perhaps unrelated to neck or back pain, and it helps you, please remember Spinal Flow Yoga for you or someone you know in the future.


Chad Reilly is a Physical Therapist, obtaining his Master’s in Physical Therapy from Northern Arizona University. He graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.S. Exercise Science also from NAU. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and holds a USA Weightlifting Club Coach Certification as well as a NASM Personal Training Certificate. Chad completed his Yoga Teacher Training at Sampoorna Yoga in Goa, India.

2 thoughts on “Sprints Better than Plyometrics in Every Way”

  1. Hi Reilly,
    I read this article awhile ago and it stuck with me partially because it has big implications, and partially because my lifting career was also ended by unjudicious programming and patellar tendonopathy. I recently read two articles that I wanted to bring up here because I feel they really add to discussion of plyometrics place in training (or lack there of) and their role in tendon pathology:

    Firstly – this article showed that, although plyometric loading is sufficient to cause muscular adaptations, its peak forces were not sufficient to cause tendon adaptation, where 80% 1 RM weight training was. This implies that plyo volume contributes to tendon breakdown without increasing long term resilience.

    Secondly – this article looked at muscle strength and tendon stiffness adaptations in elite youth volleyball players over the course of a year and found that both fluctuated with training volume and that muscle adaptation occurred much more quickly than tendon adaptation. This emphasizes the importance of extremely considered and progressive jumping programs that also (or primarily) use weight training. This seems especially true when considering the data showing that jumping athletes have much higher rates LE tendonopathy than other populations even after cessation of their sport.

    Two final thoughts: despite all the plyo-hate going on here part of me feels the specificity of plyos to sports like volley ball makes them an indispensable part of a Vball training program (emphasis on the word part). What do you think about that? Also, I would love to read your analysis of the second article if it interests you.

    Thanks for the great blog!

    Articles:
    -Effects of plyometric and weight training on muscle-tendon complex and jump performance.
    -Athletic training affects the uniformity of muscle and tendon adaptation during adolescence

    • Hi Nathan,

      I was unable to get access to the first article. If you have access to a PDF of it that you could email, I would happily read it. However, what you are saying about it sounds right. I do a fair amount of reading and blogging about tendinopathy and I think you are right about plyometrics not doing much good for strengthening tendons. Most of the research I have read, and my experience agrees, that you want a progressive combination of load and duration to cause both muscular and tendon adaptations. Plyometrics would be too sharp a load for too short a duration to have positive effects on tendons. I’m pretty sure that plyometrics aren’t as good as progressive resistance exercise for strength and hypertrophy either. Where plyometrics might have an edge would be in neurological adaptations, but I think you can get as good or better neurological adaptations with sprinting (as this paper might suggest) and sports practice.

      For volleyball in particular, I don’t think I would add plyometrics (at least not depth jumps) either. I would think that all the jumping done in practice would largely handle specificity of training and neurological adaptations making them good jumpers. Plus with patellar tendinitis being such a problem with jumping sports, less might be more. There might be research that says I’m wrong, but my instincts are to avoid depth jumps for any sport. For volleyball/basketball they might be way too much of what they are already getting too much of in practice, evidence thereof is the already high incidence of patellar tendinopathy in both sports. FYI, I recently answered a question at the bottom of this blog, which has some of my thoughts regarding the training of jumping athletes with patellar tendinopathy.

      There are some non-depth jump/agility drills that are sometimes considered plyometric which I may be sports specific and beneficial, so it might depend on what people are referring to when they are talking about plyometric drills.

      Your second paper I was able to read and it makes sense. In season, athletes training would likely cause muscle adaptation faster than tendon adaptation, which wouldn’t happen in the non-athlete control group. I doubt the subjects being adolescents has much to do with it however as I would expect adult athletes would have the similar training induced variability of muscle vs. tendon gains. It might even be worse for adults as anecdotally most young people with tendinopathy I treat seem to get better faster than average.

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