Tom Beach from GymSmarts caught up with Mas Watanabe for this interview to discuss portions of his Developing Strength:Plyometrics DVD. This interview covers the basic ideas of plyometric training, and how and when to apply plyometric exercises for maximum benefits for the gymnast.
GS: Your view of plyometrics seems different than a lot of information Iâ€™ve seen. You appear to be careful with how much plyometric exercise the gymnasts do.
Mas Watanabe: Thatâ€™s true, because basically in gymnastics training, you are actually doing lots of plyometrics exercises with many drills and in the training itself.Â So if you are training, say five hours a day, what percentage of those five hours are you spending with that plyometric type of exercise. It is an amazing amount, but you just donâ€™t realize it.Â
GS: So you are looking at every time you punch while tumbling or vaulting, or run or block?
Mas Watanabe: Actually yes, because almost any dynamic movement is plyometric in its nature.Â Whenever you apply a plyometric type of power itâ€™s, the speed that is essential.Â How you can get up high or how strong your can punch is, all based on the plyometric strength or power. So all the skills you do, you canâ€™t even think about without the plyometric strength. So gymnastics as a sport in general, plyometric is the essential power that you are looking for. So when you take up that certain area of plyometric type of exercise and you pound on the your body, you must be extremely careful. You are breaking the body down so quickly and so much in a particular area.Â
GS: Because plyometrics by nature breaks down your body.
Mas Watanabe: Right.
GS: So when youâ€™re doing plyometric training the goal is to break down your body so that it can recover and be stronger.
Mas Watanabe: Right. Well, at the end of the process of recovering, thatâ€™s when you actually gain more strength. So, that process of, breaking down is necessary but when the body breaks down, obviously the rest of the body is also affected. That affects learning, it will affect on executing the skill, whatever you did before you may not be able to do it the same way. So there are many things that could happen by increasing the volume or the intensity you put into the plyometric exercises. That is why you must be very careful and you have to look at the total balance of exercises.Â
GS: You talked in terms of 150 maximum exercises. Iâ€™m still not real clear on that.
Mas Watanabe Obviously, there are so many different levels of intensity for each exercise. Even if youâ€™re doing the very simple exercises, by adding the ankle weights or wearing a weight vest, things like that would make the difference in intensity of the exercise. I said that in the video that the high intensity exercises, the repetition shouldbe less than 150; because that high intensity repetition would be lots of pounding on your body. If you are doing a simple jumping exercise, for instance jumping rope, 150times is very, very simple. Itâ€™s not that taxing on her legs so you can do more. However,high intensity punching type of drills, you need to be careful and you have to limit those numbers. It doesnâ€™t have to be 150 but I think around the ballpark of that number might be a good number to keep in mind.Â Â
GS: So youâ€™re talking more about like the jumping over the balance beam is a higher intensity exercise.
Mas Watanabe: Sort of like that, but that is a medium intensity exercise. Â Again, I am talking about a higher intensity, which is requiring close to your maximum push or punching power on each jump or each punch. You are using almost your maximum, when youâ€™re asking your leg to put out in all the effort into doing the punch.Â That is the type of high intensity punch I am talking about. Â
GS: So that would be more like when youâ€™re adding weights.
Mas Watanabe: Yes, something like that.Â
GS: So youâ€™re looking at 150 punches.
Mas Watanabe: Yes, punches.Â
GS: Not drills. 150 punches.
Mas Watanabe: No, no, no.Â
GS: OK, thatâ€™s a lot clearer to me. And you also talked about how much gymnastics isin the legs.
Mas Watanabe: Yes.Â
GS: So even though youâ€™re doing plyometric exercises, you need to do something for your upper body.
Mas Watanabe: Right. Of the four events, vault, uneven bars, beam and floor, threeof those events you mainly have to rely on the leg strength. So those three events areheavily loaded with plyometric types of exercise in the training itself. Three quarters of the training is really based on leg strength. Then there is the swinging event, uneven bars that requires plyometrics in the arms and shoulders. Itâ€™s not as plyometric intensive in the arms and shoulders as it is in the legs of the other three events, but it does require some plyometric strength. Â
GS: I would imagine because by its nature, plyometrics breaks down your body, there is a strong psychological impact on the athlete. Is that a big concern for you?
Mas Watanabe: Yes, thatâ€™s why I think plyometric exercises in general need to be viewed in terms of a whole year cycle. Itâ€™s much more effective to do it off season. If you see that a certain area of legs, or punching power, need to be developed, that has to happen gradually over time. If this is the area that needs improvement, you need to work on it during the off season so that it does not affect on their performances, in the routine. So I think itâ€™s smart to think about that in the off season, which means after the competitions.Â
GS: You also talked working about plyometrics when theyâ€™re fresh, maybe at the beginning of practice. Doesnâ€™t that break you down for training too?Â
Mas Watanabe: Well, yes.Â But I was talking about if youâ€™re looking to develop power orstrength, it is most effective. I mentioned this in the strength exercise tape, when yourÂ body is fresh, you actually can put out more effort and more power, close to your 100% output. Plyometrics requires your body to break down, so that it can rebuild. So it is better to do before your body is fatigued already. That principle applies in the regular strength exercises or the plyometric exercises. Thatâ€™s why itâ€™s more effective to do it when your body is fresh. Of course I realize that doing the exercises in the beginning will affect the rest of the training. Yes it does. But you have to remember that gymnasts can also recover during the time period. So your body can adapt to do both, the exercise andthen the training session. When you change the set of conditioning exercises that youÂ are doing in the beginning, sometimes the new exercises will affect their body. So theirtraining is less efficient, but only for a while.Â As the body adapts to the new exercises, then the training efficiency comes back. That is the process of gaining strength. Thatâ€™s a part of the training so they need to get used to the pattern. When the coach is planning a training session, obviously, he should expect that to happen.
Â GS: You also talked about earlier in the week is better than later.
Mas Watanabe: Right. I think I would say the body is a little bit fresher and it will be more effective in terms of getting results.Â Â
GS: Since recovery is so important, you donâ€™t want to do plyometrics every day.
Mas Watanabe: Right, at maximum every other day. Of course, that means no more than three times a week. I meanÂ average plyometrics should be done probably two days, two to three days per week. That is plenty.Â Remember you are already doing plyometric exercise in the training itself. So many drills are based on the plyometric exercise. So you need to look at the entire program first and what type of training you are doing.Â Â
GS: How do you regulate that with your own gymnasts?
Mas Watanabe: Well, letâ€™s say you are preparing for the competition then itâ€™s easier for you to measure the volume of pounding that they are doing. Off season you are actually doing more drills and do more of the parts repeating that certain part of the skills or exercises. So that actually you need to break it down and look at what type of training you are asking the gymnasts to do. Thatâ€™s why I said you need to look at the entireÂ training from beginning to the end. During the exercises you should constantly beÂ looking at the balance of the training and where that heavy emphasis is. Â
GS: Can you tell with your athletes when theyâ€™re doing too much?
Mas Watanabe: Yes, if you are keying into it. Obviously you can tell who is putting out100% effort most of the time, or who does not put in much effort every time. You needto really observe the gymnast, their effort level in the training individually. There aresome gymnasts whose general tendency not to put the effort in every time. Howeverthere are certain individuals who put much more effort on every turn so you need to beaware their training pattern. Some gymnasts put less effort in the training and put a lotmore effort in the competition and are very successful that way. So you need to be aware that individual differences. This is why itâ€™s very difficult when you are working with a group of gymnasts and you come up with one plan for the group. When you apply one plan to a group of individuals, sometimes you need to be careful or you need to be aware that one thing works more for one individual than the others.Â Â
GS: So you create different plans for each athlete?
Mas Watanabe: Yes, well you have to make some adjustments by individual so each athlete is getting the maximum benefit from their training.Â