Plyometrics: Not Just Jumping For The Legs
Right now I want offer you a complete a fully detailed progressive upper body plyometrics training system. For starters, plyometrics are any speed, speed-strength, and power based exercises that involves a rapid loading and unloading of your muscles and tendons to forcefully accelerate the body or another object.
Regardless of your training goal, upper body plyometrics should be a staple in your routine and their carryover value across all demographics is vast to say the least. I don’t care if you are a heavy powerlifter, bodybuilder, CrossFitter, team sport athlete, fat loss, or muscle building enthusiast, plyometric methods will give you a definite edge against your competition.
In this guide you are going to be provided 3 levels of upper body plyometrics that you can begin with if you are new to plyometric training, or re-visit and recycle through to either de-load from training, or address a number of patterns, planes of motions, muscular contractions, and fundamental skills to address any limitations in speed and power you might have, as well as enhance your overall athletic development training arsenal.
The criteria for progression for these plyometrics you are about to witness involve body position advancements, higher demands in coordination, and the potential for progressive overload in the form of more resistance and or speed. Each subsequent phase will increase the potential for all of these and make you more athletic in the process.
Level 1 Upper Body Plyometrics – Beginners
The purpose of this first level of upper body plyometrics is to really simplify the movements, ensure proper sequencing, while also developing supreme amounts of power, and prime and prepare all involved tissues for more advanced exercises involving greater impacts and muscle/joint loading in subsequent phases of upper body speed/power training.
I also want to point out, that the kneeling variations serve a strong purpose in that they remove the lower body and facilitate greater core activation which will only lend well to delivering more power from the extremities later on, and preventing possible injury. It’s more of a safeguard strategy to make sure that the core isn’t overlooked, and any deficiency here could manifest in reduce power once you return to a standing position.
#1 Kneeling Overhead Throw
Simplifying the position down in tall kneeling, as opposed to standing on two feet, allows an effective starting point for beginners to link up their shoulders, core and hips with proper sequencing that will lead to speed and coordination development. Extend the medicine ball up overhead and slam in front of the body.
#2 Kneeling Chest Pass
The kneeling overhead throw (Video #1) and kneeling chest pass (Video #2) are drills that serve as a great place to start when attempting to build more core and upper body power, as it naturally links the two by removing the lower body’s ability to contribute dynamically to the movement. We all know that working from the ground up is a great way to train the core directly, and you can apply this concept here with your initial phases of plyometric training to make sure your “Proximal to Distal” movement sequencing is on point!
#3 Battle Ropes
I know we have all seen and participated in a standing rope battle, but I can’t think of an easier and more effective way to get the ball rolling with proper upper body plyometric training. What’s great is that it teaches you to disassociate your arms from the rest of your body in an explosive athletic attempt. This is a skill that often goes unnoticed and it’s something that an athlete needs to learn.
Level 2 Plyometrics – Intermediates
After you have spent some time from the floor and ensured better pattern timing and sequencing the next step would be to expand your plyometric arsenal and move to a standing position, while also adding in a greater training variety that includes exercises in all three directions, and greater power promotion.
#4 Standing Overhead Slam
The overhead slam is the first exercise in the “intermediate phase” of upper body plyometric training. Overhead slams develop tremendous anterior core power, and concentric power and strength through all of the shoulder extensors (latissimus dorsi, pectorals, etc.), along with improved decelerative capabilities of the rotator cuff muscles. Another underrated benefit of slams is the increased eccentric overload that you are applying to the legs. This will result in faster loading times and an offset reaction resulting in greater power and speed. Recall that for ever action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and this drills allows you to take advantage of this essential movement principle.
#5 Static Chest Pass
The static chest pass is a progression from the kneeling variation and allows you to develop upper body power in a very safe and functional manner. Being that the exercise is exclusive to just concentric muscle action, it will be very easy to recover from and remove any risk of injury, while still building explosive speed and power.
#6 Underhand Throws
Underhand Throws are next on the list and could arguable be labeled a whole body exercise. The drill works on improving speed and power in all of the flexors at the shoulder, responsible forward arm drive in jumping, sprinting, and change of direction patterns of athletic movement. Plus the nature of having to throw the ball as high as you can overhead is a somewhat sneaky way to work on triple extension too which is essential to lower body plyometric function.
#7 Overhead Throw Into Power Rotation
The next drill in phase two combines the overhead throw with an element of rotation through the hips. Improving coordination and again disassociation upper body from the lower body is the main emphasis here. Being able to do so will create greater loading through the legs and hips allowing for quicker escapes and acceleration through your first steps. This exercise is also great for injury prevention purposes since it trains the body eccentrically in multiple planes of motion where injury is most likely to occur in sport.
#8 Rotational Scoop Throws
The Rotational Scoop Throw is a tremendous way to help groove proper energy transfer in the frontal plane. Moroever, the scoop hand position lends itself well to building sound speed and power in the upper body since it’s suitable to higher frequency of throwing which will ignite the central nervous system.
#9 Overhead Throw with Single Leg Deadlift
This exercises takes your basic slam and integrates a unique finish; rapid splitting of the legs into flexion and extension, or leg scissoring! No matter the athletic movement there has to be reciprocal flexion and extension occurring at high levels to allow for explosive movement, and you are getting a lot of that with this exercise.
#10 Static Rotational Chest Pass
The Static Rotational Chest pass is setting the foundation for a lot more dynamic upper body speed and power action to take place here shortly. The key here with this drill is feeding the body into upper body rotation through the legs. Recall that EMG reports show an increased level of torque at the torso with greater glute activation in rotational patterns and you experience exactly that as the entire rear leg is set in triple extension at the release point of the throw.
Last but not least, the ability to keep the inside leg facing forward will create more internal rotation at the hip and afford you even more rotation as you drive the ball into the wall. One of the best drills for teaching proper rotational mechanics!
Level 3 Upper Body Plyometrics – Advanced
The final stage of upper body plyometric training introduces an even greater dynamic movement and coordination element to improve speed and power responses through more momentum and supportive reactive reflexes. You will also witness that the mechanical load on the body will be greater, but work in the previous stages will definitely support this increased demand along with your strength training protocols. These drills are some of the most fun, as you are able to unleash raw speed and power and develop more athleticism in the process.
#11 Overhead Throw with Step
The Overhead Throw With Step is the most basic drill in the third phase and is the most advanced of the overhead throw variations in terms of delivering more power, coordination, and progressive overload to the kinetic chain.
#12 Dynamic Rotational Chest Pass
The next drill on the list is the most advanced variations of chest passing that you can perform. The “understep” that you see in this drill requires rapid loading and stretching of the rotational system of your core and is most specific to various rotational movements. Once you are locked and loaded with this exercise you are ready to unleash the highest levels of speed and power into the wall.
#13 Overhead Throw with Crow Hop
If you were to pick the most advanced exercise in terms of coordination and complexity, The Overhead Throw with Crow Hop would undoubtedly be it. You get tremendous core and arm drive off of the large landing, and when carried out correctly, the rapid leg cycle action you witness feeds the core-upper body power response even further.
#14 Double Clap Push Ups
After you have established a strong base of upper body strength training, and gone through the previous phases and exercises you will finally be ready for some intensive eccentric loading in the form of one clap pushups.
#15 Whole Body Clap Push Ups
The final test of power in the clap progression is the whole body clap variation. This drill requires you to stay tight and as horizontal as possible as you explode off the ground and then clap back into an extremely tense and proper landing position.
#16 Banded Barbell Bench Press
And no upper body plyometric program would be complete without some unique variation to your classic barbell upper body lift; The Bench Press. As many of you know, we are providing accommodating resistance in this exercise and executing the movement with more weight and intensity at the strongest and most powerful positions to further increase speed and power potential. In other words, you are much stronger at the top of the lift so the stretch of the band will increase at this point and challenge the muscles more than the bottom of the movement.
#17 Switch Ups
And for those of you with highly functional, healthy, and resilient shoulders who are able to chin or pull up their bodyweight plus a 45 lbs. plate for 5-10 reps, The Switch Up is in order. Traditionally, muscle ups were your best test or challenge for upper body pulling power, however, the exercise can reinforce despicable shoulder mechanics and posture during the rollover period where you are trying to transition over the bar. The switch up, although very demanding on the shoulder, provides a much safer alternative to the muscle up, and demands the same level of speed and power output!
Smarter Plyometric Progressions
In closing, upper body plyometrics should be strategic, progressive, and intensive in order to derive full benefit. Don’t skip out on the progressions as these drills and sequences reflect movement principles and have been tested and modified to allow for more effective programming and results over the long-term. Upper body plyometric training can help improve every facet of your overall training program regardless of your training ambitions. The aforementioned drills are easy to use, easy to learn, and extremely safe and effective and nature. What more could you ask for?
About The Author
Travis Hansen has been involved in the field of human performance enhancement for over a decade, and has over 50,000 hours of hands-on training experience. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Fitness and Wellness, and holds three training certifications—from the ISSA, NASM, and NCSF. He was the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Reno Bighorns of the NBA D-League during their 2010 season, and The University of Nevada-Reno Men’s Golf team back in 2015. He is currently the Director of the Reno Speed School. He has worked with hundreds of athletes from almost all sports, ranging from the youth to the professional ranks. He is also the leading authority on speed development for the International Sports Sciences Association, and has authored 4 books and written nearly 200 published articles online, and on his website TravisHansenFit.com.