“How can I increase my vertical?”
I get this question all the time, typically at the beginning of class when all our physical education students are assembling in the gym prior to taking attendance. It’s usually the freshman boys, as they all take turns trying to jump up and touch a basketball rim.
There are some explosive kids in our gym, and there are some who I cringe watching as they run and jump. We started our new term about a month ago, and my Intro to Strength class students now have a solid foundation of training. I am comfortable with advancing their workouts as we move into the second half of our term.
One of my training staples is to utilize complex training, which is a system that combines a strength training exercise followed by a plyometric exercise that is similar in movement. An example is performing a set of back/front squats followed by a set of squat jumps.
What Is Complex Training?
The term itself is credited to Russian sport scientist, Yuri Verkhoshansky. The theory of how this training is beneficial is rooted in our understanding of potentiation. Post activation potentiation occurs as a nerve stimulus in the muscles.
By performing the set of back/front squats the athlete has activated the muscle fibers and has increased the stimulus response by recruiting motor neurons. By performing a squat jump while there is heightened recruitment and synchronization of these motor units the athlete is getting a heightened training effect.
The goal of complex training is to increase power production in the athlete, but the athlete must have a solid strength foundation before they can begin. Therefore, I wait until halfway through the term to introduce complex training to my beginning lifters.
Techniques and Repitions
This foundation of strength is important as complex training loads must be heavy to be effective. Research varies on specific loads but most tend to center closer to 3-6 repetitions of 60% – 80% of 1RM. However, I never have my beginners maxing out, so our percentages are approximate.
I utilize a rep range system of periodization and our workouts are now moving from 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions now to 4 sets of 5-6 repetitions. The beginning students have established proper technique and have built a solid foundation of strength so I feel confident in moving them on in our protocols.
Another factor to consider in complex training is timing. Again, research varies on the amount of time that should elapse in between these two exercises, but most research suggests 3-4 minutes of rest between the strength exercise and the plyometric exercise.
Introducing Complex Training into Routine
Time can be exponential to many beginning lifters. I spent the first half of the term keeping them active and busy and not wanting them to have much down time in between sets as that is typically when trouble breaks out with the new kids. But it is important to have the appropriate amount of rest time between the strength exercise and plyometric exercise for complex training to be beneficial.
By this part of the term we have established our protocols, so the students are beginning to settle into the routine and follow instructions. This is great timing as it is a change in the routines but keeping within our system.
I described our complex of a loaded squat movement followed by a squat jump, and the same theory can be applied to the upper body by performing a bench press followed by a medicine ball pass or throw. We began implementing our plyometric exercises 2 weeks ago, so those exercises are not new.
Our basic progression is 2 weeks of strength foundation, then implementation of plyometric movements alongside strength training for another 2 weeks. As you can see we are now 4 weeks into our 8-week term and the students have had 4 weeks of solid training leading up to this new routine.
The Progression Impression
I have found that my students really do well with this progression as we start the term off by describing the importance of strength in terms of producing power. They start to buy in when we add plyometrics because they get to start jumping and landing and mimicking what they want to get better at. Now, with our complex training they are starting to understand what a real training program feels like. The buy-in from them is great, and it gives coaches the opportunity to connect with them and educate them on the importance of taking a progressive approach to training. If the timing is right, and the kids are ready, give them a complex!
Start Your Complex Training!
More from Ryan Johnson: 4 Expert Tips to Develop Power in Your High School Weight Room
Johnson is a graduate of Normandale Community College, Augsburg College and the University of Minnesota, playing football at both NCC and Augsburg. “RJ” teaches physical education at Wayzata High School and is the Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for Wayzata Public Schools, a position he began in 2000. Wayzata Athletics have captured 52 team state titles in histenure; Johnson works directly with the three-time state champion football program as Director of Operations and Player Development. He is a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist as well as a Registered Strength and Conditioning Specialist – both certifications with Distinction and is the Minnesota NSCA State Director. NSCA awards include Minnesota High School Strength and Conditioning Professional of the Year 2010; State Director of the Year 2013; Strength of America Award 2015; and 2017 National High School Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year. In 2017 he became a founding Board Member of the National High School Strength Coaches Association (NHSSCA); and serves as a Regional Director for the organization. A former volunteer firefighter, he also received an Award of Merit from the Minnesota Department of Health and Safety for participation in a lifesaving CPR/AED effort to revive a player that suffered sudden cardiac arrest while at practice. Johnson is a frequent clinician, speaker, author and his Wayzata Trojan Power program has been visited by over 50 other high school and small college programs. He also volunteered his time in the Rockford School District where he and his wife and four children reside by serving as the Rockford Area Youth Athletic Association President and Youth Football Director.