Polar ambassador and personal trainer Lucy Young gives you the lowdown on plyometric exercises and their benefits.
Arguably one of the most misunderstood and misused training methods out there; plyometrics was invented to improve athlete power and explosiveness. Discovered by sport scientist and track coach, Yuri Verkhoshansky, it can be best described as a training method that forces muscles to undergo significant tension as quickly as possible. The muscle is in a relaxed state before it undergoes this great muscle contraction, which means that a plyometric jump, for example, is not preceded by a running start, but from standing with two feet planted on the ground.
If you are thinking ‘Why does this matter?’ or ‘I’m no Olympian, so why do I need plyometrics?’, the answer is simple. If you are a runner who is looking to improve your speed, a gym-member looking to shed weight fast or just someone looking to get the most out of a short gym session, then plyometrics is for you.
1. Get more bang for your buck: Plyometric workouts do not take long
The foundation of this training method stems from the fact that the quality of each plyometric exercise should be high, but the volume must be low.
For example, plyometric box jumps should not be performed without end, or to the point of complete physical fatigue. Instead, they should be used as a way of stimulating the nervous system – enabling the body to jump as high and quickly as possible from a relaxed state.
‘What about the 3×30 box jumps that are in my workout’ you say? Perform these with caution! This type of training will work your cardio fitness but it does not qualify as plyometric training. The nervous and physical energy required to perform an exercise such as box jumps is high, which means that performing a large number of them can mean you become overly fatigued and injury is more likely.
2. Plyometric exercises can be a full-body workout: Plyo isn’t just a leg workout!
Using plyometrics to increase the power of your upper body is important if you have hit a plateau in your training and are looking to experience a different style of training. If you are a basketball player, baseball player, or football player, it will also improve the power of your throws and hits (as if having perfectly sculpted arms wasn’t reason enough!)
It is understandable that, for the majority of the population, the idea of performing a plyometric move, such as a clapping push-up, sounds scary and close to impossible. However rest assured there are more plyometric moves that incorporate your upper body (keep reading to find some great examples!)
3. Take your training to the next level: Run faster!
Our body is composed of fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers that can be fine-tuned and adapted to our lifestyle. A long distance runner utilizes mainly their slow-twitch muscle fibers that help them tackle endurance workouts. Alternatively, sprinters, or any athlete requiring bursts in speed, will master their fast-twitch muscle fibers as these help them exert maximal force in a short span of time (the downside being that they fatigue quickly). This is important to understand as plyometrics concentrates on your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which can improve power and keep you at the top of your game.
Plyometrics concentrates on your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which can improve power and keep you at the top of your game.
To get started with plyometric training have a go at some of the creative and challenging exercises below. Remember that each exercise can be modified to suit every fitness level, and that if an exercise appears too difficult at first, there are ways to build up your strength so that you will eventually be able to tackle it with ease. It is also suggested that you perform plyometrics when your muscles and nervous system are fresh, i.e. at the beginning of your workout, in order to prevent injury.
UPPER BODY PLYOMETRICS EXERCISE
Challenge: TRY 3×6–8 resistance band plyo pushups
Build the strength: TRY 3×8–10 plyo pushups on knees
Arguably, a plyometric push-up in itself is challenging, but the added resistance band takes this move to a whole new level. The best way to build up the strength to accomplish this move, is to begin with regular pushups on your knees, then on your feet, then regular pushups with the resistance band, and finally plyometric push-ups with the band.
Challenge: TRY 3×4–5 push-up to bench hop
Build the strength: TRY 3×6–8 bench walks
This is another creative plyometric challenge that your upper body will thank you for. It is not essential you release from the box and into another push-up, you can always walk your hands back to the floor before you try again. In order to build the basic strength necessary to master this exercise, walk your hands onto and off the bench and finish with a push-up. Alternatively, you can walk your hands onto the bench and release off the bench into a push-up.
LEG BURN PLYOMETRICS EXERCISE
Challenge: TRY 5–6 mat jump-ups
Build the strength: TRY 8–10 vertical jump squats
This exercise is designed to build up the power in your glutes, hamstrings and quads by having your body jump into a squat from a sitting position. The return can either be completed by coming back down on your knees one-by-one, or (as seen in the video) jumping back down to a seated position in one swift movement. The return is just as important as the jump because if you are unable to control the return, and are unable to absorb the returning jump (i.e. land lightly on your shins). It is advised that you build up your glute strength by completing regular jump squats where you try to jump as high as possible with both feet beginning flat on the floor. Once you have mastered this, then give 1x mat jump-ups a try when seated on a cushioned mat, and work your way up to 5.
FULL BODY SWEAT PLYOMETRICS EXERCISE
Challenge: TRY 6–8 burpee to box jump
Build the strength: 6–8 box jumps (low box to start)
Box jumps are exciting, but burpee to box jumps are extra exciting. Be advised that this is a difficult move for your cardiovascular system and will have you out of breath. The plyometric component of this exercise comes from the fact that your burpee ends with you standing with flat-feet (and your body in a relaxed state) and you then exert maximum force in a short span of time in order to jump onto the box. If you are having trouble getting enough energy to make the box jump as powerful as possible because you are fatigued from the burpee, then concentrate on simply jumping onto the box with flat feet and drop the burpee.
In sum, plyometric training will improve your running, help you burn more calories, and will make you a more efficient exerciser – because it trains the body to produce more force for less energy expenditure. It’s not just for athletes, but any individual looking to take their training and fitness to new heights, so give it a try, prove to yourself that nothing, not even a high box, stands in your way.
Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals or physicians. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.