Q: How do you assign and organize a basic plyometric workout?
Well technically except for isometrics all work requires some amount of reactive contribution so virtually everything is a plyometric workout to a certain extent. To illustrate this yourself all you have to do is see how much you can squat from the regular down and up position vs how much you can squat when starting with the bar down in the low position in a rack. Climb under and squat it. The difference between the 2 represents how much additional strength you're getting from the plyometric effect. Anyway, to keep it simple I'll just describe how I classify unloaded movements for the lower body. What I do is classifly plyometric work based on the speed and magnitude of the muscular contraction and whether that contraction is voluntary or reflexive.
short response plyometric movements- The emphasis here is on turning the muscles off an on as fast as possible with an emphasis on speed and relaxation. Examples are agility footwork drills with an emphasis on speed, tapping the feet as quickly as possible in place, getting in a squat position and running in place, and sprinting at full speed are all examples of exercises in this category.
low intensity- These usually serve as a general warm-up. They include exercises like ankle bounces, slalom jumps, and bent over donkey calf jumps.
general reactive exercises- These are typically the types of exercises people think of when they hear “plyometrics”. They include exercises like tuck jumps, rim jumps, low depth jumps, and barrier jumps.
explosive or "up"- These exercises are characterized by less focus on the prestretch and negative, rather the focus is on generating as much voluntary force as possible and usually focus on going "up", like jumping "on" a box from the ground, rather then "down and up" like a depth jump. Exercises in this category also work to spare the joints and connective tissues from the high landing stress of other types of plyometrics. They include exercises like star jumps, broad jumps, on-box jumps, box squat jumps, and sprints out to 20 yards.
high intensity reactive- Exercises in this category are more intense variations of exercises in the "general" reactive category. They include high intensity depth jumps and drop jumps, also known as shock jumps, altitude drops, or landings.
full range reactive- Exercises in this category work the muscle through a full range of motion. These tend to be characterized by a deeper knee bend so you develop reactivity and power through a full range of motion. By being powerful in the stretch range, the point in the range of motion where the natural tendency is to be weak, you will tend to advance performance across the board in all categories. Exercises in this category also tend to involve the muscles of the hips and hamstrings to a very large extent, which is something that is neglected with most plyometric type exercises. They include exercises like lunge jumps, lunge depth jumps, full squat jumps, full squat bounces, and depth drops into a squat.
uni-lateral- These exercises are one legged varieties and include exercises like power skipping, one-legged bounding, bounding, standing triple jump, and sprinting in the mid acceleration phase.
what I like to do is mix exercises from each category with a gradual advancement to the more demanding versions of each.
Here is an example of how a workout might be structured for a novice athlete:
Slalom jump- (hop back and forth across an imaginary line) 3x50
Star jump (grab your ankles and then jump up as high as possible - pause before each jump) 4x10
Power skipping 3x 40 yards
Side to side box jump- (step off one side of the box, and bounce back up at impact, then drop off to the other side - use a box around 12-18 inches) 3x8 (each ground contact = 1 rep)
Rhythmic jumping lunges in place 3x8 (per leg) (drop down into a deep lunge position and explode up pushing off both feet - land in the same position and repeat without pausing)
Low squat sprints- (get down in a full squat position, on your toes, and sprint in place) 4 x 10 seconds
Q: Since the olympic lifts like the clean and snatch involve a jump and quick triple extension of the ankle, knee and hip joints and this motion is also involved in the vertical jump will these lifts help me develop more power at toe-off when I jump?
Maybe but not always. You see, even though both movements approximate each other one requires more force and one requires more speed. One is loaded and one is unloaded. The rate that force is developed is fairly specific to the task, so you might get really good at jumping holding weight in your hands like you do with the olympic lifts and that will definitely make you better when jumping with weights, but it won't necessarily make you better in an unloaded movement because in the vertical jump the velocity during the triple extension or toe off is greater then what you can approach with loaded movements. This can also work the other way. You might have a great vertical jump but not be able to get very high with a load on you.
One study has shown that olympic lifts increase the height of loaded jumps but don't do much for increasing unloaded jumps. It really depends on the type of athlete.
Consider vertical jump equivalent to power. Power=Force x Velocity
There is a difference between power where force is greater and power where velocity is greater. The o-lifts require less velocity and more force at the triple extension or toe off point - and inherently the more loading the slower that movement must be performed. In the VJ the total power output might be the same but there is more velocity. The O-lifts, although being quicker then just about any other weight room movements you do, still don't approach the speed at toe off in a vertical jump.
So, they might not do a whole lot for you especially if velocity and speed are your limiting factors. If velocity is your limiting factor at the toe off point then plyometric movements like depth jumps and unloaded movements would be your best bet.
Now, if you took some really fast and plyometric dominant guy then his limiting factor will be the force he exerts at toe off and not necessarily his velocity. So, something like the o-lifts would be more effective. So it's an optimal amount of force and velocity that you're after.
What you want to do is build up as much power at toe off as possible which requires 1/2 force and 1/2 speed. Everything builds at that point culminating with what should be a huge peak in velocity and force at that instant as you learn to both relax and drive your feet through the floor at the same time. That will require different approaches over time. It could be that o-lifts might not do a whole lot for you right now but in the future that might change because it's very possible to take what is your weakness today and turn it into your strength tomorrow and what is your strength today becomes your weakness tomorrow.
Now here's a little test you can do to help determine if o-lifts will help you or not. Compare your regular standing vertical jump to a depth jump performed by stepping or hopping off an 18 inch bench (standard bench press height). At ground contact immediately jump up as high as possible. If your depth jump height is lower than your regular jump you probably won't get much out of o-lifts until you build up your reactive capacities. If, however your depth jump is higher then you could probably benefit from more force and o-lifts and the like will likely benefit you. If this is the case I would prefer you use jump squats though. Pick a weight around 30-40% 1rm, put it on your back, squat down, and jump as high as possible really trying to build up a peak of force as effortlessly as possible right at the moment you leave the ground. Do about 5 reps per set for 6-8 sets once or twice per week.
Q:What do you think of weight belts?
Weight belts are a great thing because they make your shoulders look broader and your waist look smaller which is a real benefit when you're trying to impress the opposite sex in the gym. Unfortunately, unless you're a powerlifter that's about the only benefit they have. What they do is replace your natural support. They do allow you to lift heavier loads so if you want to impress yourself or someone else with the weight you can lift then have at it. Just make sure you get a real powerlifting belt and not one of those velcro knockoffs like you see everybody wearing in wal-mart!
In all seriousness weight belts do offer some advantages but most of the time I'd save their use for maximum attempts. What weight belts do is allow you to artificially strengthen the core so that you improve leverage in your core and lower back. You can brace hard pushing your abs out against the belt while holding your breath (vasalva maneuver). This allows more internal leverage so that you can lift more weight. The drawback is that your core can be trained to rely on the belt. One advantage may be that if your lower back tends to be your limiting factor in the squat or deadlift you can bypass this weak link and thus transfer more force into your legs.