By Jenevieve Roper PhD, CSCS (@JLynnFit)
Stuck in a training rut? Need to add more value or variety to your workouts? Trying to increase power and explosiveness? Well, whatever your reason, adding plyometrics to your workouts is something you should (and probably need) to do.
Plyometrics are simply exercises that include jumping, hopping, or leaping movements, and are meant to improve athletic performance by increasing speed and explosiveness. The results? Sharper cuts, greater breakaway speed, and higher jumps, to name a few, and adding them to your workout regimen is another way to increase your intensity and help you get shredded.
This is done by optimizing a certain phase of a movement called the pre-stretch. Imagine you are trying to measure your vertical jump. When preparing for the jump, you quickly lower yourself into a squat position before extending your legs and jumping as high as you can. The pre-stretch uses stored elastic energy from your tendons and muscles in addition to your stretch reflex to increase power in the subsequent movements.
Over the years, research has consistently shown the effectiveness of plyometrics in not ideal for beginners and work best when combined with resistance exercises. It’s still debated whether to do them in the same session or in a different session, but the bottom line is that both plyometric and resistance training should be included in your program. If you are going to do them in the same session, however, it’s best to do your plyometric exercises first since they are taxing on your neuromuscular system, which can put you at risk for injury when done later in the training session.
But plyometrics aren’t exercises you only do with your lower body. In fact, upper-body plyometrics are also very effective at improving throwing motions and strengthening the core. Most upper-body plyometrics use weighted medicine balls for resistance, while lower-body moves use your body weight.
Here are a few things to know about plyometric training before you get started, as well as some tips to ensure your safety.
1) Plyometrics are quick movements. Therefore, your jumping, hopping, or resisted throwing movements should be fast and explosive. You are using energy created in your pre-stretch, and you need to use it quickly (less than one second) before the energy is dissipated.
2) Try to do these exercises on grass or special flooring, especially for lower-body movements. Because these moves are so explosive, hard surfaces can be detrimental and put you at risk for injury.
3) Make sure you progress properly. Even the simplest plyometric movements are still effective as they prepare your body for harder, more complex movements. Start with double-support exercises before you progress to single-leg exercises. After all, better safe than sorry!
4) Be sure to keep your reps and sets low. I typically recommend around three or four sets of six to 10 reps. Again, plyometrics are very taxing on your neuromuscular system, so make sure you are in decent shape before you begin plyo training.