Let’s talk about plyometric exercises. You have probably heard the term but you are not really sure what is all about.
Every training method has been developed in order to achieve a certain result and specific goals.
Weight training and bodybuilding are developed to build primarily lean muscle. Cardio training is meant to improve your cardiovascular system and stamina.
Plyometric training is used to improve both your power which is your strength and speed combined, as well as your general strength which translates to being able to jump higher, sprint faster, be more agile and explosive.
The most important aspect of this training method is achieving power.
History of plyometrics.
Plyometrics is a word of a Greek origin and the method was developed from the ‘’father’’ of plyometrics, Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky.
Back in the ’70s, Verkhoshansky perfected the method and called it the ‘’shock method’’.
Athletes of the Soviet Bloc countries dominated the Olympics in the ’70s due to this method and later was adopted by an American track & field coach named Fred Wilt.
Wilt started investigating this method and how Soviets were training in detail.
He then returned to the US and started implementing the method with his athletes.
Plyometric exercises are widely incorporated in numerous training routines to help athletes achieve explosiveness, speed, and extra power.
What it consists of?
As we mentioned every training method has been developed for a specific reason.
It all depends on what you want to achieve as an athlete. Unlike strength training, that involve long movements concentrating in muscle hypertrophy, plyometrics focus on quick, explosive movements that aim to increase power and speed.
For this reason, specific exercises have been developed, targeting in teaching the body and brain to engage more muscles and muscle fibers quicker in order to maximize our efficiency and speed of our muscle contractions.
The more muscle fibers are activated, the faster and more explosive we become.
These two elements determine how powerful you are. The essence of plyometric exercises is the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC).
When we are working out, we stretch a specific muscle and then we contract it.
Muscles that stretch prior to contraction will generate speed and force. The stretching movement is called eccentric and the contraction is called concentric.
The combination of the eccentric-concentric movement produces a more powerful contraction than the one resulting solely from a concentric action.
Plyometric exercises focus on making the stretch-shortening cycle happen as fast as possible. This is only achievable by increasing muscular power and explosiveness.
Before we dive into the exercise’s details, it worth mentioning that plyometrics are not a form of cardio exercise thus you are not supposed to perform them at a fast pace.
Plyometric exercises are meant to help you utilize maximum force in minimum time.
Let’s see the main most effective exercises you can adopt in your workout routine.
1. Front Box Jump
Without a doubt, front box jumps are the most known plyometric exercises. This because it is highly efficient at increasing your vertical jump and makes your leg muscles stronger.
To start, place a box in front of you, and make sure it is secure on the ground.
Start by performing a squat position. Then, try and jump up as fast as you can, utilizing your arms as well generating more momentum.
Try to land as soft as you can on the balls of your feet.
Repeat the movement as many times as you want. Typically, 3 sets of 10 reps are enough.
2. Lateral Box Jump
The idea behind this exercise is almost the same as the classic front box jump.
The only difference is that your leg muscles contract in a slightly different way. Jumping is not a movement that incorporates only one movement back and forth, but side jumping as well.
3. Broad Jumps
This exercise is ideal for building leg strength. It is perfect for making the muscle fibers stronger as you do not get a first jump or start by running. You need to try and generate as much power and explosiveness as possible starting from a deep squat position.
Using your arms as a force generating propellant, explode forward utilizing your quads, and glutes. Thrust yourself forward and repeat the movement using your arms to build momentum. Finish the movement by landing softly on the balls of your feet. A three set of 15 reps is a good start for getting used to this exercise.
4. Skater Jumps
This plyometric exercise is excellent for building strength in the quads and glute muscles. By placing your entire weight in one leg and balancing your body before you jump on the other leg, help you reduce the tendency to favor your stronger side during the two-legged jumps.
Start by getting again into a deep squat position and placing the weight of your body on one leg. Push yourself using your right leg to the opposite side using your arms as well.
Lan as soft as possible bending your knees and move your right leg behind it like you are doing a curtsy lunge. Repeat altering legs.
A good start is doing a 3 set of 10 reps.
Skater jumps can be performed in many ways. Start by performing the easiest for you and once you master your balance, move on to the more challenging ones.
5. Scissor-style Jumps
Imagine you are doing lunge exercise but incorporating a jumping movement into it. This would be the best explanation for this exercise. The scissor jumps strengthen your adductor muscles as well as glute muscles.
Start with a lunge position keeping core tight and back as straight as possible. Your knee should be bent in 90 degrees angle before you explode upwards.
Switch legs in the air before landing and perform the same movement for 10 reps. Try to complete 3 sets.
6. Dot Drills
Dot drills are a very fun and effective exercise to increase your speed and build strength in your calves and ankles.
Use a mat that has five dots marked on it like a dice pattern. Start with both feet at the two dots on the edges and hop off the ground landing with both feet on the middle dot.
Jump again landing with two feet on each dot on the right and left corner on the upper side of the mat.
Repeat this movement for 10 times and then move on to the next sequence. This will be almost the same as the first one except at the time that you reach the far end moving forward, you turn around and you keep moving forward instead of moving in reverse.
The last sequence is where you hop on each dot with one leg only.
7. Lateral Box Shuffles
This plyometric exercise is focusing on the lateral foot speed than on building strength.
You can start by using a plyo box that is secure on the ground and it should be at shin height. You stand on one leg and you keep the other one on the floor. Starting again by a squat position you lift your foot up on the box while at the same time placing your other foot on the floor on the other side of the plyo box.
This video shows in detail the exact movement.
8. Barbell Squat Jump
The barbell squat jump is simply the usual bodyweight squat jump except that you carry extra weight.
The barbell will make it more difficult for you to explode and when you go back to performing the normal bodyweight squat jump it will feel much lighter. Make sure that the weight you add is not so much that it compromises your form and increases your risk for injuries.
Start by setting up a squat rack as normal and add your weights. Lift the bar, and squat as normal with your hips rotated as wide as when you are performing a normal squat.
Go down and explode on your way up. Land softly and repeat the movement for 10 reps. Try to complete 3 sets
Burpees are a full body exercise that increases your overall strength and explosiveness. It is an excellent functional movement that will train your arms, quads, hamstrings, core, glutes, and chest.
In order to make the exercise more challenging you can use a bosu ball that will test your balance skills a bit more. Trying to balance on a moving object activate those tiny fiber muscles and ultimately make you stronger.
You can start by holding a bosu ball in front of you with the round side facing the ground. You then start a squat movement and you drop down to a push-up position. After completing one push up you then bring your knees to your chest and you explode up jumping as high as you can holding the bosu ball above your head.
Always land softly at the balls of your feet and repeat the movement keeping a smooth momentum.
You can start by doing 3 sets of 10 reps each.
All these exercises will help you strengthen your whole body and increase your explosiveness. Every day you will be becoming stronger and stronger as long as you are doing it properly and you are consistent. Make sure you rest enough between your sets and most importantly do not rush.
As we already mentioned plyometric exercises are not meant to be performed quickly. You need to be very careful of your form and always think about the movement thoroughly. Since plyometric exercises involve jumping, you need to learn how to land softly on the ground, bending your knees in order to absorb the shock.
Jumping might cause knee and back pain if not done properly.
Benefits of Plyometric Exercises
1. Increases overall strength of tendons which support muscles
The stronger your tendons are, the more supported your muscles are. This means by default that your chances of getting injured are minimized. Tendons can become stronger and more elastic and this will give you more strength and agility.
Many studies have proven that the effects of plyometric and balance training changes movement biomechanics and reduces ACL injury risk.
2. It improves the efficiency of your neuromuscular system
We already mentioned how muscles that stretch prior to contraction will generate speed and force. This is the stretch-shortening cycle. The shorter it gets the faster you will become. Every time that your muscle spindles contract this way, a signal is transmitted to your brain.
In simple words we could say that the ability to contract and relax your muscles the faster you can, the faster and more powerful you become overall.
The faster your neuromuscular system is transmitting the signal to your brain, the faster you contract and relax the muscle, and the faster you become.
3. Fast-twitch muscle fibers become stronger
Power is the result of fast muscle contraction. The plyometric exercises are focusing on maximizing the muscle contraction and as a result, developing power and speed.
The muscle fibers are responsible for converting strength into speed. So in order to become quicker, you need to train those muscle fibers.
Another name used for those muscle fibers is fast-twitch muscle fibers. Plyometrics are aiming in increasing the amount of those fast twitch muscle fibers in your body in comparison to the slow-twitch fibers.
The stronger your muscle fibers, the quicker the contraction, and the bigger the power and speed.
4. Plyometric exercises improve your overall fitness level.
Everybody wants to be faster, stronger, be more agile, have more energy and resistance.
Plyometric exercises help you achieve all these and improve your overall performance as an athlete.
Especially if you are involved in a sport that requires a lot of jumping, then plyometric exercises should be a staple in your workout routine.
Either you are a weightlifter, a powerlifter, a baseball player, a basketball player, all of these sports require you to be strong and fast.
Weightlifters need to move heavy weights faster, basketball players need to jump high, be quick. The same applies to all other athletes.
Sports that place big strain to your tendons hide the risk of injuries.
The only way to avoid them is by strengthening your tendons with plyometric exercises.
A study examined if changes in running performance resulting from plyometric exercises were related to alterations in lower leg stiffness.
Seventeen male runners were tested in this survey and the results showed that the 6-week plyometric program led to improvements in the 3 km running performance.
There are countless studies that prove that adopting plyometric exercises in your workout routine can have numerous benefits. Start incorporating the ones that will benefit you and combine them with stretching to maximize the results.
Be consistent and careful with your form and you will soon experience the changes in your overall performance.