Turn Your Body into a Weapon With Reaction Training

People often don’t understand the difference between Force Production and Reaction, and nowhere is this distinction more significant than in martial arts and high contact sports. As we’ve discussed previously, any kind of training you use has two significant simultaneous effects:

  • Forces your body produces
  • Forces that act against your body as you produce force

Both are happening all the time, because every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Anything you push is pushing back. Anything you hit is hitting you back, sending shockwaves through your bones and connective tissues and muscles.
There’s at least three specific benefits to taking control of and training the reaction response:

Three Reasons Why You Should Include Reaction Training In Your Regimen (When You’re Ready)

#1: Less Injury - If you can produce 400 lbs of force, then you need to absorb at least 400 lbs of force, or something’s going to break. A few years ago, my Dad broke his hand trying to unlatch a dog that had its jaws around our dog’s neck. Why did that happen? Because his body was capable of producing greater forces that his hand was able to withstand.
#2: Improved Defense - In high contact sports, you’re not the only one producing force. You can hit, but you can also get hit. You can tackle, or you can be thrown to the ground yourself. The better you’re able to withstand those impacts, the better you perform. In fact, if you train with enough impact, many of those moments of contact can hurt your attacker more than they hurt you.
#3: More Power - Reaction training triggers powerful involuntary muscle contractions you wouldn’t otherwise be able to fire, and these contractions trigger adaptations that make you stronger, faster, more powerful, and more agile.

Reaction Training and the Soviet Dominance of the Olympics

When the Soviets were dominating the Olympics, they had a golden age of secretive research in elite sports fitness training of every kind. They developed something called the shock method[1] that strategically utilized reaction forces to make their athletes faster, stronger, and more resistant to injury.

It was a US Olympic distance runner by the name of Fred Wilt who observed the Russians warming up with explosive jumps and similar actions, while his American teammates, who were usually about to lose to them, were all doing static stretches. He didn’t understand the biomechanics at that point, but suspected that it was contributing to the Russians’ massive numbers of medals.[2]

Wilt later discovered Dr. Michael Yessis, who was busy translating and teaching the training methods of one of the Soviet’s best sports scientists, Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky. The two teamed up to teach the shock method and other reaction training techniques to Americans, calling it plyometrics.

Taking Advantage of the Ground Reaction Force with  Plyometrics

Plyometrics trains with the ground reaction force – which, simply put, is the energy the floor puts back into you when you land on it.

Unless you’re floating in an anti-gravity chamber, you are always receiving ground reaction forces of one kind or another. It may not feel like anything is happening when you’re standing, but that’s just because you’ve forgotten what it felt like when you were 1 year old and the combination of Earth’s gravity, uncoordinated muscles, and ground reaction forces were besting you at every wobbly step.

Because you’ve long since mastered walking, there’s no longer any training benefit from it, unless you’re in rehabilitation from injury or stroke. So, if you want to improve your impact resistance using ground reaction forces, you have to crank things up a notch. In plyometrics, this is achieved through a specific kind of repeated jumping pattern, that I'll explain in detail below. [6]

You won’t see this sort of stuff nearly as often in standard fitness regimens,[3] but it has significant performance enhancing benefits for any high contact athlete[4], including improvements in speed and power.[5]

6 Powerful Reaction Training Exercises

All plyometric exercises will have several things in common:

  1. A movement that includes sudden, explosive force
  2. The sudden interruption of that forceful movement from another object
  3. A reflexive action in the opposite direction. (Not all reaction training includes the use of an explosive movement in the opposite direction.)

NOTE: If you have known joint pain issues, or are recovering from an injury, reaction training may not be for you.

Exercises That Increase Your Jump, Reaction Time, and Agility

The Classic Plyometric Depth Jump

The initial shock jump technique that formed the basis of plyometric training goes like this:

  1. Stand on a platform, no higher than 2 feet. (You should start lower if you’re just beginning, and work up to 2 feet.)

NOTE: Going much higher than 30 inches increases your risk of injury without adding that much benefit, so it’s usually not worth it unless you have very specific goals, like intense urban ninja maneuvers, that require kind of shock absorption.

  1. Step off the platform.
  2. Plant both feet on the floor at the same time.
  3. Allow your knees to bend slightly, but not all the way down into a full squat.
  4. Reverse the force into an explosive upward jump as rapidly as you can.
  5. Repeat …

The goal is to train your tissues to effectively absorb a very sudden explosion of force. Right after your feet hit the ground, you want to interrupt the downward forces pulling on you. This sudden ground reaction force creates a shock which the body responds to reflexively with a powerful involuntary contraction. You use the power potential of that contraction to launch yourself back upward. The more quickly you can reverse the force, the more power you gain from the shock reflex.[7]

Variations on the Depth Jump

Depending on your needs, there’s lots of ways to riff on the depth jump. Because joint angles produce different muscle recruitment patterns, there will be unique training effects depending on what joint angle you choose to reverse on. You can land mostly straight legged and preserve the joint angle, so that the majority of reflexive force comes from your calves. You can plant it in a deeper squat position, and recruit more of the deep muscles in your upper leg.

Just make sure that you pick an angle and stick with it. Don’t ease your way through your knee joint’s whole range of motion, which distributes the forces more evenly. In other words, don’t try and land gently—save that for all the normal jumping you do in the world. This is shock absorption training. If it hurts to stick it like that, you’re probably starting too high.

You can also plant it on one foot to challenge your stability or bring a weak leg up to snuff.

Lateral Jumps

In high contact sports, you and your opponents are moving, and often moving quickly and explosively. This means that your body weight has momentum in a certain direction. To be agile, you have to develop the ability to rapidly interrupt that momentum and change directions on a dime.

While the depth jump interrupts downward momentum, the real world will challenge you laterally as well. To build this mode of interruption, use plyometric lateral jumps:

  • Leap sideways from one leg with explosive power.
  • Catch your weight with the other foot with slightly bent knees
  • Explode back in the other direction.
  • Repeat …

Alternating Explosive Lunges

In most real life situations, your legs are not positioned in a uniform way, as they are in the depth jump. To capitalize on the foundation of the depth jump, it’s useful to train your legs in asymmetrical positions as well.

Explosive, alternating lunges help you train your legs with the asymmetry common to a running stride, front kicks, and leaps from a single leg. Here’s how to do them:

  1. Maintain an upright posture and extend your arms to the side.
  2. Step forward with your left leg into a deep lunge position. (You should feel tension in your left hamstring and glute, and tension in your right quadriceps and hip flexor.)
  3. Explode into the air.
  4. Fully switch the position of your legs while in the air.
  5. Land with your right leg forward and your left leg backward.
  6. The moment you land, reverse the force and explode back to the original position.
  7. Repeat …

Alternating Toe Touches

It’s extremely beneficial to produce agility in positions where you’ve altered your center of gravity. Sometimes, you might find yourself in a position where you’re on two feet, but not upright. Speed skaters spend a lot of time in this kind of position. Alternating toe touches capitalize on the same asymmetry of alternating lunges, but add to it an altered center of gravity, and a rotating trunk. Here’s how to do them.
Begin with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Extend your arms in front of you.

  1. Explosively fire your left foot backward and simultaneously touch your left hand to your right foot.
  2. Allow your right arm to fire sideways, to help emphasize trunk rotation. (This will feel natural.)
  3. The moment you touch, reverse the moment by explosively firing your right foot backward and rotating your trunk in the other direction so that your right hand touches your left foot.
  4. Repeat …

Plyometrics For Your Whole Body

Ground reaction forces aren’t just for your feet. Plenty of athletes experience significant amounts of ground reaction with their hands and arms as well. Here’s two excellent exercises that will move your center of gravity and build power and agility in your upper and lower body:

Hip Rotations with Ground Reaction Force

  • Start on all fours, in a pike position
  • Shoot your left foot into the space between your arms and your right foot as far as it will reach
  • Allow your trunk to rotate, but leave your hands and your right foot firmly planted
  • The moment your left foot lands, explode off on it, rotating back in the other direction
  • Mirror the motion: plant your left foot as the anchoring foot as you fire your right foot through the space between your left foot and your arms
  • Repeat …

This one might look a tiny bit like you’re trying to learn how to breakdance. But don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. This will whip your core into shape in short order and significantly enhance the musculature involved with trunk rotation, which is often under-trained and weak.

Plyometric Push Ups

To train the pushing movements of your upper body, convert a normal push up into a plyometric push up like this:

  1. Push hard and high enough for your hands to lose contact with the ground
  2. Choose an angle of reversal for your elbow joints – anywhere from slightly bent to near 90 degrees. Catch your bodyweight at that joint angle and don’t go further down.
  3. Use that involuntary contraction to thrust yourself back up in the air.
  4. Repeat …

If you can’t do full plyometric push-ups, start on your knees and work up from there.

Other Forms of Interrupted Force

Heavy Bags

Heavy bags are a tried and true method of impact training for high contact athletes. A combination of straight punches, hooks, upper cuts, and back fists on a heavy bag will provide a solid impact workout for your upper body.

An explosive combination of front kicks, side kicks, crescent kicks, and round houses will also train your lower body, your core, and your stability.

Bar Stops

Interrupting the force of pulling motions is more difficult to design with ground reaction force. For example, how would you do a plyometric chin up? Gravity pulls down, so what’s going to stop you on the way up?

If you have access to a gym that doesn’t mind the noise, some people get around this by using bar stops. If your gym has a smith machine with removable stops, you can train your pulling musculature with any pulling exercise, such as bent-over rows, that lifts explosively and hit the stops somewhere in the movement.

Iron Palm / Iron Body are Advanced Forms of Reaction Training

When your skin, muscles, connective tissues, and bones are pounding into bags increasingly denser materials with increasing amounts of force, the shock waves sent back through those tissues are far greater than merely lifting, throwing, or shoving the bags.

The adaptations that occur in those tissues, over time, are what enable you to bring lead pipes to a whiffle bat fight.

We’ve got plenty of information available on this subject elsewhere.

Training Safely For Impact

You Must Build a Solid Foundation Before Doing Advanced Impact Training

Advanced impact training sends greater forces through your tissues than you might be able to generate voluntarily, so it’s essential to prepare your tissues for those shocks. The irony of impact training is that it has a greater risk of injury, but if you don’t get injured, it builds a significant safety net against injury, because it raises the threshold of what you can withstand before an injury is triggered.

So, to get to the point where you can safely train with high impact, you first have to build a sufficient strength and speed base. [8] Building a strength base is best done slowly. Any time you produce force to overcome resistance, you’re still getting a reaction, but you’re building it safely through stable and voluntary contractions. As you increase the resistance, the tissue stress increases. When the microtrauma heals, you can handle more impact, and when your nervous system adapts, you can produce more force.

How much strength do you need? Chu (1998) recommends that a participant be able to perform 50 repetitions of the squat exercise at 60% of his bodyweight before doing plyometric jumps.

Next Build Your Speed

Once you have enough foundational strength, you can start to increase your speed towards explosive movements. This will accommodate your tissues to the fast contractions and reversals that you will experience with advanced impact training. We’ll address speed training in an upcoming article.

With a solid strength base and some speed training under your belt, you’ll be ready to safely benefit from advanced impact training.

How To Design Your Plyometric Workout

Explosive training uses high octane fuel (ATP/CP), so you should expect your sets to last no longer than 30 seconds before a significant force decrement occurs. If you're new to it, a single set of various exercises will be enough to start. Add volume as you adapt.

I personally don't recommend doing this sort of thing more than 3x a week as a safe maximum. Even though the emphasis of impact training is on tissue stress, it is also a deeply neurological phenomenon, because the CNS has to manage those involuntary contractions. [9] Overstressing your CNS leads to systemic fatigue[10], which manifests with poor sleep, poor mood, and a general feeling of slowness and weakness.  Pay attention to new forms of pain and signs of systemic fatigue, and adjust accordingly.

Accelerate Your Development With Dit Da Jow

Because of its high degree of tissue stress and microtrauma, there’s no form of training that benefits more from the regular application of dit da jow than impact and reaction training.

Because jows are applied directly to the skin with powerful healing agents that have been time tested over the centuries, they provide a totally unique means of accelerating the healing process. Their alcohol base and their preparation methods help extract the active ingredients of each herb for optimal absorption through skin pores.

Ho Family Dit Da Jow – enhances both your conditioning and accelerate your healing and reduces soreness and pain.

Bruise Juice – if you’ve overdone it, use Bruise juice. Don’t let the name fool you, it’s useful for a lot more than just bruises. It’s powerfully anti-inflammatory, and it helps reduce swelling, soreness, pain, and it heals both bruising and traumatized tissue much more quickly.

Ancestors Advanced -- If you want to condition your bones and ligaments to withstand greater impact, this is your formula. Apply consistently before impact training to increase the strength of your bones and connective tissue. Also, this is the go-to formula for arthritis pain!


[1] Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky (1966). "Perspectives in the Improvement of Speed-Strength Preparation of Jumpers". Legkaya Atletika(Track and Field) 9. pp. 11–12.
[2] Dr. Yuri Verkhoshanski (1967). "Are Depth Jumps Useful?". Legkaya Atletika (Track and Field) 12. p. 9.
[3] Yessis, Michael. "Why is plyometrics so misunderstood and misapplied?". doctoryessis.com.
[4] Dr. Michael Yessis (2009). Explosive Plyometrics. Ultimate Athlete Concepts. ISBN 978-098171806-4.
[5] Dr. Yuri Verkhoshanski (1967). "Are Depth Jumps Useful?". Legkaya Atletika (Track and Field) 12. p. 9.
[6] Chu, Donald (1998). Jumping into plyometrics (2nd ed. ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. pp. 1–4. ISBN 0880118466.
[7] A.S. Medvedev, V.V. Marchenko, S.V. Fomichenko (1983). "Speed-Strength Structure of Vertical Jumps by Qualified Weightlifters in Different Take-off Conditions (Condensed)". Soviet Sports Review International-Teoriya I Praktika Fizicheskoi Kultury 19. pp. 164–167.
[8] Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky, Natalia Verkhoshansky (2011). Specilized Strength and Conditioning, Manual For Coaches. Verkhoshansky SSTM.
[9] N.A. Masalgin, Y.V. Verkhoshansky, L.L. Golovina, A.M. Naraliev (1987). "The Influence of the Shock Method of Training on the Electromyographic Parameters of Explosive Effort". Teoriya i Praktika Fizicheskoi Kultury (Theory and Practice of Physical Culture) 1. pp. 45–46.
[10] Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky, Natalia Verkhoshansky (2011). Specialized Strength and Conditioning, Manual For Coaches. Verkhoshansky SSTM.

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