If you are not including plyometric training in your weekly routine, then you are missing out on some great benefits.
What Are Plyometrics?
This is a training method that helps to increase power. It is a very effective way to get your body in shape as fast as possible. The exercises are typically explosive movements that include jumping, hopping, pushing, leaping etc and are high intensity, which will improve cardiovascular function whilst increasing muscle power and speed. Plyometrics use natural movement patterns and this, in turn, improves functional movement such as gait (walking) and posture. Any exercises that can be performed explosively can be incorporated into your plyometric training. For example, burpees, jump lunges, mountain climbers, box jumps, squat jumps etc are all excellent whole body movements that require power, strength and agility.
Plyometric training boosts the neuromuscular system because it necessitates quick and powerful muscular contractions. It works using the Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC) which, simply put, stretches the muscle first (eccentric) before contracting it (concentric). In this way, any muscle that is stretched before contracting will always contract with more force and speed. The two models that are linked together within the SSC are the Mechanical Model and the Neurophysical Model.
When a concentric action (that’s the contraction) follows a quick eccentric action (that’s the stretch) the force generated is much more powerful due to stored elastic energy. The connective tissue is stretched during the short eccentric movement, which stores energy. This energy is then released during the concentric movement, which contributes to the contraction.
When you perform a quick stretch, you involuntarily recruit a protective response, which is generated to help prevent potential harm to the muscle. When you activate the muscle spindles within the muscle itself during a stretch, this sends a signal to the surrounding muscles to contract, since the spindle itself it sensitive to stretching. This then relieves the tension on the spindle and recruits muscular activity, enabling it to react with more force.
So What Are The Benefits Of Plyometric Training?
- Strengthens fast twitch muscle fibres – the stronger the muscle fibres, the faster the muscle contraction and therefore an increase in power.
- Boosts the neuromuscular system – the more efficient your neuromuscular system can transmit the message from the brain to the muscle spindles and surrounding muscles, the faster you can contract and therefore relax the muscles. This increases speed and power.
- Improves tendon strength – stronger tendons means fewer injuries. Plyometrics improve tendon elasticity and strength by placing stress on them within a controlled environment.
- Improves overall athletic performance – including plyometric training in your regular routine can have incredible benefits across all sports, particularly those that require explosive movements such as power lifting, basketball, football etc. Any sport that requires moving a heavy object quickly, such as Olympic Weightlifting, places stress on the tendons and requires a huge amount of power from the muscles – plyometrics provides exactly that. The benefits of plyo training directly translate to athletic performance, whether it’s height, speed or strength.
- Burn more fat – Since plyometrics are a high intensity activity, they help you burn more fat than moderately-paced exercise. Added to which, the after-burn effect of this HIIT style workout means you’ll be boosting your metabolism for the next 24-48 hours afterwards.
- Improve coordination – If you have an issue with balance, or are prone to tripping, plyometric training can really help. Jumping and hopping and moving quickly from the floor to your feet may feel awkward at first,but if you include it regularly in your workouts the result will be increased coordination.
- Get more done in less time – Traditional cardio can take an hour or more of your time – and often doesn’t reap many rewards. But plyometric and HIIT workouts can help you get fit in minutes if practiced regularly. Going all-out necessarily means that you will run out of energy sooner, but the results are also seen much more quickly! This type of training can be anywhere between 10-30 minutes. Shorter workouts also gives you much less of an excuse not to do it! (Although you need to really go for it when you do train!)
- Build strength – Because plyometric training really focuses on increasing the strength and efficiency of fast twitch muscle fibers, this means you will gain overall strength in the muscles. Performing plyometrics regularly can result in both strength and speed gains, without ever touching a weight.
- Improve the cardiovascular system – Plyometrics exercises will really raise your heart rate, and doing this regularly helps maintain a healthy heart for life. Plus, regulating your breathing to cope with the stress you are delivering to the lungs will help strengthen them and improve their capacity.
- Build joint and bone health – Any type of resistance training will help build and maintain joint and bone health. Plyometric exercises that include movements such as squat jumps, tuck jumps, burpees and plank jumps will help build lifelong healthy joints and bones. Including full body movements such as burpees, rollbacks and plyometric push ups will help not only the lower body but also wrist, elbow and shoulder joints.
Because plyometrics can also incorporate resistance training in the same session, in a high intensity style workout (HIIT), you will improve both strength and cardio function. One study showed that both weight lifting and plyometric training improved countermovement jump performance.
High intensity training using plyometrics can feel daunting at the start, and so it is important to listen to your body and not push too hard at first. You will become better, faster and stronger the more you do it and the more your body starts to adapt. Being comfortable with being uncomfortable may sound a bit strange, but getting into the headspace of telling yourself you can do this, and push through the difficulties will help your body get used to this type of training.
Interestingly, I was listening to a podcast recently where the speaker was talking about his father-in-law taking a fall in his eighties. The same week another elderly friend, also in his eighties took a fall. They both had very similar injuries. However, the father-in-law had been regularly going to the gym right up until the week before his fall, whereas the other gentleman had not done any kind of training. The father-in-law was up and about in about a week and then back to his regular workouts, whereas very sadly the other man never made it out of hospital – he died within 5 days!
Muscle mass is proving to be an important factor in health and longevity. Working with older people to improve muscle mass and muscle power can be challenging, however, due to the high impact nature of plyometric training. However one study used the innovative idea of implementing a trampoline to reduce the impact and found that it was an effective intervention, producing a rapid increase in muscle mass and power, with the authors stating “The training modality used in this study seems to particularly benefit the older population, targeting the morphological and functional effects of sarcopenia in human muscle”. Not to mention the fun they must have had!! Another study in older people demonstrated the benefits of plyometric training, improving explosive power, muscle contractility and electromechanical efficiency.
Physical inactivity affects the body, causing de-conditioning and muscle wasting, and with an increasingly sedentary global population this is a big concern for overall health. But what if you are struck down with a condition that requires significant bed rest? Is it possible to prevent serious muscle wasting and degeneration? In answer to this question, a group of researchers performed a really fascinating study taking a look at whether plyometric jump training could counter the effects of prolonged bed rest. Two groups of men were subjected to 60 days of bed rest, the control group without prior plyometric training and the test group performing training sessions prior to the bed rest. The results were astonishing – the plyometric jump group showed no significant changes in physical deterioration after the period of bed rest, whereas the control group “exhibited substantial deteriorations: an increased sway path was accompanied by increased co-contractions of antagonistic muscles encompassing the ankle and knee joint. A reduced locomotor speed was found concomitant with pathological gait rhythmicity, reduced joint excursions and an increased gait variability. Chair-rising was slowed with reduced peak power, and more time was needed to accomplish TUG (Timed Up and Go). The effects persisted for a period of 1 month after bed-rest”. The authors concluded “The JUMP effectively preserved the neuromuscular system’s ability to safely control postural equilibrium and perform complex locomotor movements, including fast bipedal gait with turns and rises. We therefore recommend JUMP as an appropriate strategy combatting functional de-conditioning”.
Plyometric training exerts a positive effect on jumping, sprint performance and lower body muscle strength, and can be an excellent addition to any program, improving endurance run time, sprint run time, countermovement jumping, drop jumps and, although not measured in this particular trial, likely improvements in VO2 max (oxygen usage) which would be advantageous during events such as marathons. And, as described above, being fit before an accident, illness or injury is likely to help you recover quicker – and without significant further deterioration.
Plyometric Exercises You Can Include In Your Training:
- Squat Jumps
- Tuck Jumps
- Lunge Jumps
- High Knees
- Plank Jumps
- Box Jumps
- Mountain Climbers
- Jump Rope
- Plyo Push Ups
Excited to get going? Jump start your workout today by doing this bodyweight plyometric workout at home:
And make sure to join the “Jump For Joy” July Challenge and post your pics and vids on Instagram!