We are constantly looking for ways to mix up our workouts, and to challenge both our minds and our bodies with new exercises, new drills, or even new sports! We recently attended an EXOS seminar, where Coach Nicole Rodriguez spoke of the importance of plyometrics and took us through a brief introduction and some simple drills. This got us both interested in finding out more, and discovering what the hell plyometrics really are!

So….what are plyometrics?

Definition of plyometrics: exercise involving repeated rapid stretching and contracting of muscles (as by jumping and rebounding) to increase muscle power.

Plyometrics are exercises designed to increase speed, power, and explosiveness. The National Strength and Conditioning Association defines them as activities that enable a muscle to reach maximal force in the shortest amount of time. Plyometrics are often used in sports specific training.

Plyometric exercises involve three phases. The first, the eccentric phase, is a rapid muscle lengthening movement. The second involves a brief rest period known as the amortization phase. Finally, the concentric phase, where the athlete engages in an explosive muscle shortening movement. The ultimate goal of plyometrics is to reduce the amount of time in between the eccentric and concentric movements, this in turn will create more power and speed. Plyometric training centres around boosting muscular power and explosiveness designed to speed up this process.

Benefits of Plyometric Training

Plyometric training enhances the capacities of your muscles, tendons and nerves, allowing you to run faster, jump higher and hit harder.

Benefits to muscles. Physical power requires you to transfer strength into speed as fast as possible. Therefore, to increase your power, you need to focus on strengthening the muscle fibres responsible for converting strength into speed. These fibres are also known as “fast-twitch fibres.” Plyometrics can boost and increase the amount of fast-twitch fibres in our muscles, which aids with faster muscle contractions and ultimately increases power.

Benefits to tendons. Your tendons can also play a role in increasing the power and speed of your muscles. More importantly, strengthening your tendons can also mean fewer injuries. Plyometric training reinforces your tendons and improves their elasticity by placing stress on then in a measured manner.

Benefits to nervous system. In addition to increasing your power output and reinforcing tendons, plyometrics can also boost the power and speed in your nervous system! When your muscles contract, your brain emits signals to your muscles through your neuromuscular system. Plyometric training can improve the efficiency of your neuromuscular system, which in turn can increase your athletic speed and power!

Improves your abilities in other exercises and sports. Improved power and speed translate into improved performance! This is particularly beneficial to sports that entail explosive movements.Think of the benefits that an increase in speed and power could mean for Olympic Weightlifting!

Plyometric Exercises: Where to get started!

There are many many different types of plyometric exercises. It is not possible to list them all in one article, so I wanted to include a few that everyone, beginners included, could try. For those of you who are complete beginners, it is best to hold off on plyometric training until you have built up some strength and flexibility through regular cardio, weight training and mobility. Plyometrics are by their nature intense and include heavy loading of the joints and tendons. Start slowly and concentrate on achieving the correct technique. Always do a warm up before beginning, and make sure to allow for sufficient rest time between plyometric workouts. I would recommend two plyometric sessions a week. The emphasis, particularly with beginners, should be on learning how to absorb force.

Sets, reps, and rest. Complete all the exercises listed below. Aim for 3 sets of 10-12 reps of each drill with 1-minute rest in-between sets. In-between exercises rest for 3 minutes. (Perhaps start with a lower number of reps and build up reps).

Squat Jumps. Start with your feet shoulder width apart. Squat down and jump as high as possible. As soon as you land, squat and immediately jump up again.

Lateral Jumps. Lateral jumps involve jumping laterally, or sideways, over an object. Stand next to a cone (or any object that you can jump over), jump sideways to the opposite side of the cone. When you land, jump back as quickly as possible to the other side of the cone.

Alternate Leg Bounding. Bounding is similar to running, but your steps are longer and higher. Drive off your right foot and bring your left knee up. The goal is to remain in the air as long as possible. Land on your left foot and repeat with the right foot.

Box Jumps. Stand in front of a box or any other suitable platform. Start with a low box, and as you get stronger, increase the height accordingly. Jump up onto the box and immediately back down to the same position, repeat the motion again immediately.

Vertical Depth Jump. Start by standing on the same box or platform as you did in the box jump. Hop off the box and land on both your feet. The second your feet hit the ground, jump as high as you possibly can. Get back on the box and repeat. Again, like with the box jump, increase the height of the box as your strength evolves.

Plyometric Push-up. Much like a normal push-up, you lower yourself to the floor.  The next step is to use explosive force to push off the floor with enough strength that your hands leave the floor. Repeat.

Safety and Plyometrics

There are limitless other exercises and specific plyometric exercises that you can add into your training routine, however we all need to start with the basics first. Plyometrics are the quickest way to develop speed and explosiveness, neverthless they are also extremely easy to mess up if you’re not cautious.

In order to perform plyometrics correctly and in the safest way possible, stick to these three simple rules:

1. Don’t do plyometrics every day!

The very man who invented plyometric training used to refer to it as the "Shock Method." The “shock” or stress is what plyometrics is based on. If we place the right amount of stress on our bodies, it has the ability to adapt to it and handle it, much like how we lift weights to increase strength. However, if you put too much stress on your body, you will likely see restricted improvements, and could even lead to injury. Your body needs between two to three full days to recover from plyometric work.

2. Limit your total reps

The goal of plyometric training is to use maximum power and speed. In order to achieve this, it is imperative that you do not overdo the reps. Go for quality over quantity and maintain a good intensity. Start with low numbers of reps and increase these reps over time as you feel stronger.

3. Take adequate rest between sets

The biggest problem with plyometrics is the tendency to turn them into conditioning workouts. A conditioning workout is typically intended to make you fatigued, which is the total opposite of what you should be aiming for in a plyometric workout. The goal with plyometrics is to perform each and every rep rapidly and powerfully. Fatigue will not allow for that. The only way to develop explosiveness is to let your body recover fully between sets. The perfect recovery time is three to five times longer than the duration of your set, gauge this recovery time based on the difficulty of the exercise.