Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Remember the days of squealing with delight as you jumped around in puddles, hopped, and skipped? What if you could harness the same energy as an adult and use this motion to build a stronger body? That’s where plyometrics comes in.
Plyometrics is just the name used to describe the use of speed and force to build muscle power. It involves executing a series of high-impact exercises which place your muscles through phases of stretch and contract, which helps build robust muscles.
This beginner’s guide to plyometrics will help you understand how to incorporate them into your fitness routine.
What are plyometrics?
Plyometrics is the name given to intentional, repeated, and explosive movements. These movements include hopping, bouncing, and jumping. Think of the dreaded burpee; it’s a perfect example of a plyometric exercise. Another example of a less common plyometric exercise is hopping onto a step a set number of times.
You can adapt most bodyweight exercises into a plyometric format. For instance, the plyometric version of a squat would involve reaching the bottom and bursting up in a controlled jump instead of rising steadily.
During the landing stage of a plyometric exercise, your muscles stretch, and during the take-off phase, your muscles contract and exert power.
While a few plyometric exercises target the arms, ordinarily, the focus is on the glutes and legs.
The benefits of plyometrics
The strength-shortening cycle (SSC) is the muscle activity when the muscle lengthens and then immediately shortens the muscle. An efficient SSC leads to energy conservation in movement and enhanced propulsive forces. An effective SSC is associated with improved performance across most sporting disciplines.
Here’s the kicker: the only way to improve the SSC is through plyometrics.
Plyometrics are associated with an increase in flexibility and power. Unsurprising, given you’re leaping around! But a lesser-known benefit of plyometrics is injury rehabilitation. As an example, consider the achilles tendon. You want your achilles to be able to produce spring and rebound energy. Plyometrics can help increase the capacity of the achilles tendon while simultaneously shifting the load away from other areas vulnerable to injury, such as the knee.
3 tips on how to incorporate plyometrics into your fitness routine
Plyometrics can help strengthen and lengthen muscles, supporting muscles and preventing injury. Now you understand the benefits of plyometrics, you probably want to learn how to integrate them into your fitness routine.
Here are three ways to build plyometrics into your weekly fitness habits.
1. Build up gradually
Given the high-intensity aspect of plyometrics, it is essential to have a good fitness level first. With 12 weeks of consistent training, you should be ready to bounce, hop and jump.
Like with strength training, start by keeping the reps low and with just one or two sets. Pay attention to how your body feels during the activity and afterward. You can increase the reps and sets as long as your body responds positively.
Start with the simple exercises and focus on form. Once you master the moves, you can allow yourself to progress to the more advanced exercises.
2. Keep frequency and volume low
The National Strength and Conditioning Association recognizes plyometrics as an additional training aid for athletes. It acknowledges that the choice of plyometric exercise should be relevant and specific to the sporting discipline you practice.
The good news is you only need to churn out a few reps and sets of plyometric exercises to reap the benefits. Yep, you heard right. Plyometric exercises can be low frequency and low volume and still yield a high return.
This low frequency and volume translate to 3 – 6 sets of 2 – 5 repetitions a couple of times a week. While there are many plyometric exercises to choose from, it’s best to focus on 2 or 3 exercises per session. Here are eight exercises which are an excellent place to start.
3. Prepare your muscles
Given the high intensity of plyometrics, the risk of injury is high if your muscles aren’t warmed up properly.
To ensure your body is ready for the explosive motion of plyometrics, make sure you are properly warmed up first. Consider spending at least 10 minutes warming up your muscles. To get the best out of plyometrics, team them up with another anaerobic exercise. Strength training is a good option, even if you opt for a workout without heavy weights. You should also avoid pairing them with cardio, such as running or cycling.
Remember to be kind to your muscles and after your exercise session spend a few minutes on a gentle cool down and stretching routine.
Whatever your sport of choice, provided you use relevant exercises, plyometrics can help you improve your performance. Plyometrics will help you increase your flexibility and strength. It will also help prevent injury and serve as an injury rehabilitation option.
So what are you waiting for? Get jumping, bounding, skipping, and hopping; it’s time to engage with your inner child and add some explosive fun to your fitness routine.
Words by Ali Hall