Load and Explode! What Plyometrics Can Do for You

You may have seen people jumping up and down off of boxes at your gym, or maybe there’s that person doing side to side “skater” leaps across the running path, or perhaps you’ve noticed more folks attempting to clap in the middle of their push-ups.  What’s with all the propulsive movement?

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It’s called Plyometrics, and in simple scientific terms it’s the quick stretch then forceful activation of a muscle.  Respected fitness trainer Juan Carlos Santana refers to this as “explosive-reactive” power training. In a squat, for example, when lowering the pelvis, most of the quad is getting a stretch as is the glut and the gastroc-soleus (calves). The plyo part of the exercise is to energetically engage those muscles following a brief loaded stretch. Using the squat as an example, one would quickly lower the body into a squat then leap up into the air, landing again in a squat and then immediately leaping up again.  Basically, a giant hop with very little rest time on the ground!  Sounds too simple, so how could it be good for you?

Potential Benefits:

Power!  Plyometrics is loved by athletic trainers for the increase in power it produces in athletes from runners to golfers.   Even cyclists can produce more power on their bikes by practicing plyometric split lunges on the ground.

– Increased Muscle Reactive Time, a.k.a. Speed!  Plyometrics is great for increasing the speed of muscles reacting to changes. Think about sports that require athletes to cut back and forth with agility, like soccer and tennis.  “Skater” leaps can help those athletes increase their ability to move through those cutting motions. 

Buffer Bones!  A study published in the World Journal of Sport Sciences found that athletes who included plyometrics in their training regimen increased their bone density and had fewer bone injuries from breakage and fractures.

Leaner Look! Jumping for 30 seconds straight then resting for 30 seconds for multiple sets is an example of an interval workout.  Intervals shorten the distance between you and a faster metabolism as your body improves how it utilizes fat as fuel.

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Sounds great, yes? Just be sure to start from a base of good muscular strength with lower-degree propulsions. This means don’t “explode” quite so high or far in the beginning. A newbie might practice squatting then standing forcefully without locking knees, or, in a plank position practice shifting quickly from one hand to the other while keeping collarbones open. Plyometrics can be great as long as your form is tops.  Stop when you no longer have control of your limb and joint placement, and when you no longer can snap quickly into a movement.  Err on the side of caution and remember that good form is your friend in preventing injury.

Are there downsides? If you have spinal injuries, knee injuries, shoulder injuries, nerve damage, or chronic pain check with your doctor before adding in plyometrics.  Your doctor might refer you to a physical therapist who can help you stabilize your joints first by correctively strengthening the surrounding muscles. As a personal trainer, I have found that the biggest cause for injury is clients who go crazy on their own doing moves that are not right for their particular body in ways that put even more stress on their joints. When in doubt about the movement, ask your doctor, physical therapist, or at least a reputable personal trainer!

Want an idea of how to get started?  Here are two links that I like clearly showing plyometric moves:

http://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/jumping-workout 

http://myweb.wwu.edu/~chalmers/PDFs/Introduction%20to%20plyometrics.pdf

Remember, minimize the time you are on the ground.  You quickly load then explode into the movement. No resting on the ground, or in the case of ball catches, you want to get rid of that ball as quickly as possible. And again, be aware where your joints are. Form is king!  Master your movement’s form, and the benefit will be that you enjoy your physical form and performance even more. 🙂

 

Sources:

http://myweb.wwu.edu/~chalmers/PDFs/Introduction%20to%20plyometrics.pdf

http://idosi.org/wjss/3(S)10/1.pdf

http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/ss4.htm

http://www.acefitness.org/fitfacts/fitfacts_display.aspx?itemid=2658&category=11

http://www.ideafit.com/answers/what-are-the-benefits-of-plyometrics

Image credits:

Man in split lunge jump:  © Image Source / http://www.fotosearch.com

Woman in tuck jump: © Martin Sundberg / http://www.fotosearch.com

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