Why Are We Coaching Our Athletes Out Of This?

Attention sport and strength coaches!!!!

This is not the first but hopefully the last article on the plyo step.  I aim to debunk the myth that it is a step backwards and explain why it is an absolutely powerful action that enhances speed and performance.

In the past few weeks, I’ve had multiple conversations with athletes regarding the plyo step.  Coaches are spending precious practice time actively coaching these athletes out of good movement.  Yet, when it comes game time and they need to make a play, the plyo step is often the necessary first action in the playmaking process.  So here we go…

The myth: The plyo step is a step backwards.

In order to debunk this myth, we need to first define what a step is.  Simply put, a step is your center of mass moving forward, backward or side to side.  You can clearly see in the video; the athlete’s center of mass does not go back when their foot goes back to initiate the movement forward.

Some will “rear” their shoulders up when initiating the plyo step which might produce a backward movement.  This is a product of their own body’s movement abilities, posture and not a black mark on the plyo step itself.  This is a situation where you would take time to coach a better plyo step or implement the necessary fix versus trying to coach the athlete out of it altogether.

Let’s talk the WHYs now…

  • Leverage

If you’ve ever ran out of gas, had your car break down or got stuck in the snow then you know all about leverage.  When you have to push that car do you do so with your feet underneath your body?  Or are you leaning significantly with your feet behind you?  The more force you need to put into pushing the car the greater your body lean and the further behind you your feet are…to a degree (there may be a point where the angle is too great and the push into the ground is no longer at an optimal angle).

This is the same for accelerating.  If I want to move forward, faster, then I need to apply more force and our example shows us that getting our feet behind us and not underneath us gives us better leverage to do so.

  • Newton’s 3rd Law

Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion states for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  In the context of our plyo step, this simply means if I want to go forward then I need to push backwards.  The angle at which I push into the ground is the same angle that will force will come back out of the ground.  This will determine the direction of my movement.

  • Time to Produce Force

In most sports we do not have a lot of time available to us to make plays.  Think about how little time you have in volleyball when there is a tipped ball falling to the ground or a loose ball in basketball when the competition is scrambling toward it.  You have to get your body moving in the direction you want to go IMMEDIATELY.

Lucky for us humans, we have mechanisms in our body that allow us to do just that.  Most actions in sports require us to react in less than a second, and usually in the low tenths of a second.  Muscles can produce lots of force to get us going in a direction but usually it takes muscles alone too long to do so.

The longer the muscle has to produce force, the more it can produce.  However, we do not have a lot of time in sports to wait for that force production.  Think about a heavy squat.  It takes a while, relatively, for a heavy squat to be completed.  This is too slow in sports.

We then have to turn to another source of energy production in our body.  Elastic energy can be a powerful friend to athletes.  It allows us to produce large amounts of force in very little time.  You have seen those springy athletes that “pop” off the floor or seem to go from 0 to 60 in no time.  These athletes can take advantage of their elastic energy.

How is elastic energy used in the plyo step?

In order to fully understand the importance of the plyo step we need to explain how elastic energy is built up.

Above we went over how muscles alone producing force may be too slow.  Well the body has an amazingly effective strategy to speed up force production.  The plyo step is simply a repositioning of the feet for a better push off angle and allows the athlete to take use elastic energy to produce force.

During this repositioning, the muscles become taught thru a process called pre tensioning.  This pre tensioning occurs before the foot hits the ground next and allows the tendons to be stretched instead of the muscles at foot contact.  The tendons store elastic energy when being stretched that can be quickly used.

The use of elastic energy is how we can take action immediately and quickly make the plays we need to.

Conclusion

To summarize why the plyo step is an absolutely necessary part of multi directional speed and athletic performance…

  • The plyo step is not a step backwards or false step because your center of mass does not move if done correctly.
  • It is simply a repositioning of the feet to provide your body a better angle to push from.
  • The plyo step allows us to take advantage of elastic energy for force production which occurs more quickly than muscular force.

The plyo step is not something that is taught.  I have never once had to cue it in almost 10 years of teaching speed and agility.  All too often we try to outsmart the human body.  It has strategies in place for quick movements for a reason.  The plyo step has been in use since the beginning of man when we had to escape, avoid or chase.  It is a tool sparked by our fight or flight reaction.

If you are teaching your athletes not to use the plyo step and get frustrated because they continue to, maybe it is something so innate we cannot or should not change it.

Take a step back and watch your athletes play.  When a play needs to be made quickly, a plyo step will undoubtedly be utilized.

Posted by Tyler Terrell

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