Plyometric exercise is not new on the exercise scene. Professional and amateur athletes have used plyometrics for decades as a means of improving their athletic performance. Sometimes called “jump training”, plyometric exercise focuses on the stretch and contraction reflex of the muscles to produce maximum force very quickly.
As you might imagine, these explosive movements are very effective and building strength and power. They are particularly beneficial in sports requiring the athlete to rapidly change directions or transition from a stationary position to forceful movement. Examples of this are found in football, basketball, tennis, and sprinting. But plyometrics are not just for competitive athletes. The average fitness enthusiast can also benefit from these explosive movements.
As a certified personal trainer, I routinely incorporate plyometric movements into both my personal exercise regimen and the programs of my trainees.
A Personal Example of the Benefits of Plyometric Exercise
As a former competitive athlete, I used plyometric exercise in my sports-specific training. I am no longer active in competitive sports. My enthusiasm for physical challenges is now met by the demands of mountain hiking and rock climbing.
An illustration of the personal/practical benefits of plyometric training is my experience hiking the Mahoosuc Notch in September of 2012. The Mahoosuc Notch is a particularly challenging section of the Appalachian Trail in western Maine. It is essentially a canyon filled with boulders ranging in size from a small car to a house. To get through this mile long city of rocks, the hiker must crawl under, climb over, squeeze between, slide down, and jump among and over boulders of all shapes and sizes.
Some of the jumps from boulder to boulder were fairly sizable and intimidating. Making the jumps was made more difficult by the fact that I was wearing a 30-lb backpack. I am certain that I would not have been able to make some of those jumps had my then 55-year old legs not been conditioned by regular plyometric training.
I will continue to make plyometric training an integral part of my fitness program. You should do the same.
Basic and Essential Plyometric Movements
As I noted earlier, plyometric exercise consists of explosive movements designed to increase muscular strength, endurance and power. Here are a few important plyometric movements that I routinely incorporate into exercise programs for myself and my clients.
Squat Jumps: This is the fundamental plyometric exercise.
To perform squat jumps stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Keeping your eyes forward and your back straight, squat until your thighs are parallel with the ground, and then explode upward as high as you can. Land with your knees bent and repeat the exercise.
Multiple repetitions of this exercise will absolutely burn your legs down. I often increase the difficulty by wearing a weight vest or jumping onto or over a bench.
Leap Frogs: Use the same movement as squat jumps, except jump forward as far as possible with each explosive movement. I will often alternate sets of jump squats and leap frogs during my workout.
Lunge Jumps: This movement is a bit more advanced than squat jumps.
Position yourself as if you were performing a traditional lunge movement. Your right leg should be in front of you with knee bent and thigh parallel to the ground. Now push yourself into a jump. Scissor your legs while in the air to land in the lunge position with your left leg in front. Repeat the movement, alternating legs each repetition.
Plyometric Pushup: Plyometrics are not just for the legs. This is one of my favorite full body exercises. It recruits the muscles of the arms, shoulders, chest, back, and core.
Assume a classic pushup position. Arms should be slightly wide than shoulder width, your back straight and head in a neutral position.
Lower yourself into a pushup, and then explode on the upward motion, propelling your upper body into the air while keeping your feet on the floor. Repeat the movement as until exhaustion.
I try to clap my hands together at the top of each pushup movement. This ensures I am going for maximum force when I explode upward.
Medicine Ball Slams: Use a medicine ball with an appropriate weight (I use a 20 lb ball) for this exercise, which entails high repetitions of picking up and throwing a ball down. This is another movement that works the whole body, recruiting the muscles of the legs, back, core, arms and shoulders.
Standing with feet should width apart, place the ball between your feet. Lower yourself with a squatting motion. Pick up the ball and explode upward as high as possible, raising the ball over your head as you jump up. Throw it down when you reach the top of the movement. Land with knees bent and repeat immediately.
I perform 150 repetitions in five sets with declining reps (50-40-30-20-10) with one minute rest in between. To increase muscle confusion, I vary the number of cycles from two to four. I do max reps once every two weeks and it leaves me totally spent.