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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When Catching an Edge – or a Cold – Takes You Down

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Picture this:  you’re a world-class alpine skier.  You’ve been diligently following your training plan with a blend of strength, cardio, plyometrics, and Pilates.  You eat right.  You feel amazing and unstoppable as you fly down the mountain!

 

Now imagine that as you fly down the mountain you have to also complete certain tasks. As you go whizzing by the trees you must reach up and grab the clean laundry hanging from the branches and stuff it into your knapsack.  Grab -whiz! – stuff-and-concentrate!  But you’ve been training hard, so this little extra diversion doesn’t interrupt your focus, it only fine-tunes it.  Your vision becomes narrower as you concentrate on the terrain and the laundry.

And now as the trees open up a little you can see that the terrain becomes a mogul field.  No problem for you!  You have trained hard just for these mounds of snow, using your Pilates abs to keep your pelvis lifted as your legs glide up and down beneath you.  You are beautiful to watch!  You are trailing a sled that is tied to your waist.  One more thing to tickle at your awareness! You are dragging the sled so that you can pick up the cans of food that are all over the mogul field.  There you go:  stoop – grab! – toss a can into your sled, then reach! – grab – stuff laundry into your knapsack.  Stay balanced!  Stay focused!  Keep it all together and watch that edge!

Isn’t that like life? And that’s probably how many of us go through our days.  Our physical training helps us our hone mental state and prowess, in and out of the gym.  We feel great when all of our training comes together and helps us get through tough spots physically and mentally, but we have to acknowledge that even the best training can’t help us when we  “catch an edge” and end up in a proverbial snowbank.  What do we do then?

If it’s an injury that’s got you sidelined, listen to your doctor and physical therapist.  Go slowly!  Nothing is worse than having to take three steps backward because you became too impatient for your recovery.  In addition to specific exercises your P.T. may give you, work on your internal visualization.  Picture yourself from the inside out successfully using your injured part, and doing the activities you love to do.  Studies with athletes have shown that this type of visualization can actually speed your recovery.

If you’re feeling unmotivated due to a cold, and there’s no fever, power through.  In most cases a gentler and/or shorter cardio routine will actually help open up your sinuses, at least temporarily.  Scale back a little on your strength training, too, but don’t use a cold as carte blanche to skip the gym.  However, Dr. Edward Laskowski of the Mayo Clinic notes that if you aren’t feeling so hot “below the neck,” with symptoms of extreme chest congestion, hacking cough, or an upset stomach, you should hang up those ski poles and consider giving yourself a rest day.  A day or two down will not affect your performance.

If that snowbank that you’ve plowed into is actually a fever, then give yourself an official time-out.  Your core temperature is already up!  You don’t want to add in activities to raise it more.  Your fever is your indication that your body is already hard at work fighting whatever needs fighting.  Keep up your movement visualization, and fuel yourself as healthily as possible.  Use the discipline you’ve been building to make yourself lay low and let your body recover.

One of the hardest places to be for someone who is fighting hard to be healthy is in bed.  For those who’ve changed their shape and ability through exercise, downtime is downright scary!  Fight off the demons of your old life.  A few days in bed is not going to turn you back into that old mound of mush.  Remind yourself that you know what steps to take once your body is strong enough, and take the time to picture yourself doing those very steps until that time comes. Remember?  You’re world class.  You have the power!  Use the self-will you’ve been developing in training for your recovery, too.  A little lull combined with a self-care focus will get you flying down the slopes again in no time. 🙂

 

 

Sources:

http://www.ehpl.uwo.ca/Publication%20PDFs/JSS%202006%20injured%20athletes%20qualitative%20paper.pdf

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise/AN01097

http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/features/exercising-when-sick

photo credit: © Duncan / http://www.fotosearch.com

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“Flyaway” from Self-Deception to Success!

I was recently fortunate to receive an advance copy of Helen Landalf’s anticipated teen novel, “Flyaway.”  It’s the story of fifteen year old Stevie, a girl used to her drug-addicted mother disappearing for days at a time.  Her Aunt Mindy is interested in taking care of Stevie, but Stevie stubbornly refuses to see the love behind the offer and delusionally insists she can take care of herself.

So what does this have to with us?  Reading Landalf’s story of Stevie, I was struck over and over again how we tend to believe what is easy. It’s easy, familiar, and comforting for Stevie to believe that her mother will always come back, and that she may even quit drugs. It’s easy for Stevie to believe what other people have told her about Alan, a boy with a bad reputation.  Yet, stubbornly hanging on to these familiar beliefs  – the devils she knows – nearly costs Stevie the opportunity to be truly cared for and befriended in a way that she – and all of us – deserve.

Over and over I ask myself: what lies am I telling myself, and what truths am I refusing to hear?  In my senior year of college, I asked a male friend if he thought I was fat. (Mistake #1). He said no, I wasn’t, just out of shape.  He was right, of course, but all I heard was the “no,” and ignored the “out of shape” part. (Mistake #2).  I let myself be comfortable with the part that I wanted to hear.  Had I taken action then to take responsibility for my health I can only imagine how much happier I’d have been with myself.  Instead, I lived for years suppressing the other half of that statement, the “out of shape,” and it silently ate me up inside until I finally stared it in the face and did something about it.

I have a client who thought of herself as active and who considered that she ate “reasonably” well.  I had doubts on both counts.  I asked her to wear a pedometer, but she was resistant.  Wearing a pedometer would have shown her exactly how much movement she was lacking, and she wouldn’t do it.  Knowing deep down what she’d learn, she didn’t want to be shown how she was failing herself.  Happy ending:  I got her to take a hard look at herself, log her movement and her food choices, and take pride in the changes she is making.  It’s not easy, but it feels so much better to her.  She struggles, but she feels liberated from the self-lies.

Like Stevie in Landalf’s novel, there are times we have to take a hard look at ourselves and see what actions or beliefs are holding us back from being loved, and from loving and caring for ourselves.  When we let go then we, too, can “Flyaway!”

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Grey Days, Sunny Heart

I live in the Pacific Northwest, where we have a reputation for endless days of rain and grey skies. The joke around here is that the Seattle Rain Festival runs from January 1st to December 31st. While that is a bit extreme, we do get our fair share of not-so-enticing weather days, making us feel like we’d rather go back to bed. What’s a person to do?

Whip out a Team Beachbody DVD is the obvious answer! Any one of the collection is sure to lift your mood. And once you start moving, you might find that you’ve warmed up enough to actually go outside – in your proper rain attire. Think of adverse weather as a chance to see yourself as an exercise adventurer: how will you prepare? (Warm up!); what gear will you need? (Layers, especially a rain-proof one!); and how will you feel when you get through it? (Great, of course!).

So turn the grey doldrums into a chance to see how much YOU can bring it. You’ll start hoping for rain!

(Originally posted on my beachbodycoach.com/teammona blog on March 1, 2011)

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Live, Forgive, and Learn

A friend was beating herself up today for letting her emotions get the best of her brain.  This beautiful, amazing woman has been working so, so hard on her body for the past several months and making great gains.  Yet today, she had a slip-up.  Some bad news had her fighting with herself, until she gave in and ate the cookie dough.  Yup, cookie dough.

Now, what’s bad about that isn’t that she gave in.  What’s worse is that the whole time and afterward she felt ashamed and awful about herself for not being able to resist.  Sound familiar?  Many of us have been there.  We have to understand that we’re only human, forgive ourselves, mentally set a plan for next time, then set about rectifying the damage.  Which, bless her heart, she was able to do.  When she got over her self-loathing and took responsibility for her body she strapped on her running shoes and headed out the door.

I’m not saying eat what you want whenever you want and you’ll be saved by Chalean Extreme!  But if you hold on to your negativity you will continue to secrete cortisol which encourages fatty acid retention.  If you FORGIVE yourself for an OCCASIONAL slip, and remind yourself how you will handle it better the next time (turning a negative into a positive), then take your body and move it in a way that makes you happy, you CAN mitigate the effects of a backward step.

Don’t look back, baby.  Keep your eyes on the prize:  good health and a functional, fit body!

(This was originally posted on my beachbodycoach.com/teammona blog on April 30, 2010)

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Hello world! Welcome to the new blog home of TeamMona/Every Body Fitness!

For those of you who are finding me by accident, good to meet you!  And for you old friends who follow me on Twitter, are loyal clients and longtime classmembers, or are one of my fabulous colleagues, so very nice to have you here with me.  Together let’s continue to celebrate what we CAN do physically and mentally, and offer each other support and encouragement.  TeamMona and Every Body Fitness is all about one goal: simply the best you possible.  🙂

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