by J. ERIK LITTLE
Erik Little, (Bsc., M.A. Coach Education) has been a fixture in performance development, consulting, coaching, and sport resource development for decades. Following many years of high level athletics, Erik moved into coaching, working with a range of athletes and coaches from grassroots to professional and Olympic levels.
Erik has a special interest in Preparation Conditioning as a parallel component to Training and Competition readiness. His specialties include the use of Plyometrics, MedBall, and Dynamic Posture applications to ensure that performance enhancement is matched with injury prevention. Erik is also the innovator of Polymetrics®, a dynamic posture enhancement method for reducing instability and imbalances.
Erik brings his experience and programming perspectives to Plus Plyos in a unique collaboration that will bring Preparation Conditioning to a wide range of coaches and athletes.
WHAT ARE THEY?
Polymetrics® are a form of dynamic posture work developed by J. Erik Little for enhancing performance and reducing injury.
In collaboration with Plus Plyos the exercise selections have been organised into the Polymetric Tension System (PTS). The framework for PTS is anchored in Preparation Conditioning and the various levels of preparation and pre-preparation that play a role in performance development and injury prevention.
The PTS method is one of using anchoring and bracing to create high levels of muscular tension while moving through a range of motion. This has the advantage of strengthening the musculature and enhancing tendon elasticity for the movement chains and stability networks in a parallel manner. The result is a reduction of imbalanced and unstable sport skills, higher quality training efforts, and consistent competitive experiences. The use of PTS is woven into the resources and programming available to Plus Plyos subscribers and members and represents a unique collaboration between plyometric progressions and background conditioning.
Watch Matt and Erik delve into the concepts of Polymetrics® and discuss how to implement them into your programs and bridge the gap between strength training and speed.
PREPARE WITH POLYMETRICS
Polymetrics. A new word…and a new set of tools for the coaching and training toolbox. The use of Polymetric exercises is a reworking of older ideas. Essentially, when you use Polymetric tensions you are involving stabilising and resistive muscles at high levels as the prime movers extend and flex through a range of motion. Take a look at a familiar exercise to uncover some differences: an air squat. Depending on fitness levels and history, athletes are able to easily perform air squats through a good range of motion without balance issues. With a bit of attention, a couple of sets can become a dozen with little strain, and quickly result in decreasing benefits to athletic goals. Switch to a unilateral (one-legged) squat and those bilateral air squat abilities almost vanish. Performing a unilateral squat without a wobbling base of support and a shifting of body mass over onto the grounded leg becomes quite difficult and the numbers of ‘clean’ reps and range of motion will be severely limited. Further, right-left imbalances that were not apparent in the bilateral variation are now glaringly obvious.
Enter Polymetrics. Applying Polymetric tension at 70-80% voluntary effort to the bilateral air squat suddenly limits the number of technically sound reps to about 10 or so. It is hard work. We tend to forget that a complex joint region such as the hips must control both the leg actions and stabilise the torso and head during the postural shift. The hips have over twenty muscle groups and complex connective tissues surrounding and influencing the motions and the stability required. With a Polymetric application many more of those muscle groups are engaged at high tensions to anchor the legs and stabilise the body. The short-term benefits will be seen with the unilateral squat… Within a short time, the improved ability to raise and lower the hips without sway and having a stable base of support will be obvious.
The connection between Polymetrics and the world of sport and athletic development is primarily two-fold: performance and prevention. Enhance performance through improved mobility-stability and prevent injury and compensatory motions through dynamic postural integrity at each joint system along a chain of movement. A familiar example can be seen with ankle stability. Ankle sprain histories are common, and imbalances between right and left sides are almost universal. With a unilateral landing or placement, any wobble or uncertainty will feed forwards to the nervous system and result in a limited force application with additional co-contraction throughout the body. This can lead to plateaus in performance and training capacities. Attempts to break through the plateau involve compensation patterns, overreaching and overtraining; all of which slide towards ‘niggles’ and then chronic injury. The injury patterns are most often felt at the knees and hips-lower back and will persist until the ankle stability issue is resolved. Polymetrics are about strength and stability at the same time, and with the ankle example will enhance the resistive-stability of the lower leg to manage the higher forces of landings and stop-start placements.
The world of Plyometric training has been around for a number of decades now, beginning as an exploration into somewhat vague notions of secret training methods and depth jumps from unreasonable heights. Today, most of the exercises that come under the banner of Plyometrics are from the locomotive skills that include hopping, leaping, and bounding, with a few depth jumps included. This group of exercises can be applied in a variety of ways using different postures, pathways, speeds, and air times. The benefits are also far-reaching depending on the application, with the typical objectives relating to improving higher force-velocity skills such as sprinting and jumping.
Every exercise application has its limits and cautions, beyond which performance values show limited improvement and injury risks are amplified. In the case of plyometrics, the higher force-velocity landings require precision and quality neuromuscular capacities. There is a high requirement for tendon elasticity and if this factor becomes depleted or is poorly activated then the result is that the compensations will stress the ligaments and joints to a greater extent. This can be seen in plyometrics that emphasise height or braking landings – as fatigue sets in the landings become less elastic and more rigid (and begin to deteriorate). Injuries to the feet, ankles and knees are the predictable outcomes.
Both Polymetric and Plyometric exercise families are grouped as ‘Preparation’. The term preparation is used in its ‘make ready’ context. From personal and coaching experience, the feelings of not being ready for either training or competition demands are not pleasant. We may look at those competing or training at higher levels to compare the differences. ‘Not ready’ feelings often relate to movement, range of motion, or skill. But the real despair comes with the ‘How do I get there from here?’ questions that we ask of ourselves. Often, the answer ends up being ‘more of the same’ or ‘try harder’. This may work for a few, but most of us are carrying imbalances, technical anomalies, or injury histories forwards from earlier times. No matter how much training or competing you do, those faulty patterns will persist. Hence the need for preparation.
I remember working with a sponsored basketball outreach programme for elite high school athletes. Most of them had difficulty landing on their non-dominant leg at speed, and very few could reactively scramble to a non-dominant side from a prone position. Further, almost all had had ankle issues in the previous season. What was being done? Almost nothing due to time constraints and the need for tactical work…and these were the elites in a catchment area of over 5 million people. The postcard view of the situation was that the athletes were simply not prepared for the full range of demands and challenges of a high intensity sport. The BBall situation is an obvious one where Preparation using the range of Polymetric and Plyometric exercises would enhance performance and reduce injury layoffs or playing hurt.
To show how the two formats operate together towards being able to move, train, and compete at progressive levels, two exercises using the same basic postural stance are highlighted. They are Stagger Squats: one a stance, the other a leap. The stance, akin to a ‘ready position’, is a hybrid between a bilateral squat and split squat. The legs are spread slightly and also staggered roughly toe to heel. The arms are used minimally so that the focus is on the hips to control power. One selection is Polymetric and one is Plyometric.
The Polymetric Split Squat is a squeeze and push vector between the anchored feet…there are several variations and angles to explore here. The amount of force applied against the foot anchors is high…around 70-80% of a maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) across a 5-8 count for 5-8 reps. The beauty of using this sensory format is that, regardless of fitness levels and actual strength, 80% feels like 80%. One of the first surprises that athletes become aware of tends to be the amount of Core work being done. The resistive tension in the Core prevents twisting, tilting, and sway…as needs to happen during sport skills. It’s a great example of how integrating the strength challenges with a movement skill has a better carryover for sport performance than doing so-called ‘Core’ exercises in isolation.
The Plyometric Split Stance Leap is a high hip landing-takeoff (a variety of hip heights and variations can be explored depending on needs). The objective is to let the height achieved be a reactive response to a high velocity landing with minimal pause between eccentric and concentric phases. ‘Trying’ to leap higher by heaving or ‘muscling’ the body up inevitably slows the takeoff and uses compensations such as quad dominance or excessive lower leg use. Usually, this selection involves forward travel for about 5-8 landings with each leg position, noting that other pathways can be uncovered and discovered. The arms are used minimally here to emphasise hip involvement, with arm flailing as an indicator of depletion or faulty movement patterning. The athlete will pick up on right-left, and front-back imbalances, and can work to correct them during the sequences. A light MedBall held out in front can serve as an imbalance monitor should the athlete find that control is an ongoing issue.
The two examples, Polymetric and Plyometric, are grouped into Preparation aspects of a sound programme. They are used to adjust and minimise imbalances or compensatory moves away from actual training or competing. They do, however, look at different domains of Preparation. The Polymetric Split Squat is more focused on mobility-stability and the integrity of movement chains (dynamic posture). The Plyometric Split Stance Leap takes that resistive stability and uses it as part of the force-velocity management of ground contact. Polymetrics help prepare for Plyometrics. Together they create a developmental spiral, where enhancements in dynamic posture support greater force-velocity management. The demands for force-velocity feed the development of more resistive stability, and so on.
To summarise, taking time to look at Preparation and determine how work outside of more specific training and competitive readiness supports performance is both clever and time effective. If spending some of designated participation time helps to prevent injury and minimise imbalances or faulty patterns, then quality and efficiency remain in focus. Preparation provides a different option to more-of-the-same or work-harder pathways. Plyometrics are force-velocity focused and require extensive landing management skills. A big part of that landing management challenge relates to having stability at each joint along a movement chain and having optimal agonist-antagonist strengths through a range of motion. Polymetrics, by removing the force-velocity factors, enhances the ability to activate and stabilise the joints along the chains. Will the changes happen instantly? No, but there will be noticeable differences within a few weeks of attention. It does take time for the tendons and connective tissues to adapt to the new neuromuscular patterns. But it is important to note that this time invested is not detracting from total training time, rather it adds to it by enhancing the capability and capacity for more.