The word “plyometrics” has been thrown around a lot since the creation of many new high-intensity fitness programs designed for fit individuals who just want to take things to the next level.
Plyometrics are a great way to increase athletic ability and speed, but before attempting these exercises, it’s important to have the proper preparation and instruction to carry them out. Plyometrics are not for everyone, but it can be a fun and effective way to train.
Generally speaking, plyometric exercises are quick in nature and require some sort of counteraction to perform. A simple example of this would be the jumping action when using a jump rope. The counteraction occurs when landing, as the calf becomes loaded by the weight of your body. Due to this loading, the calf muscle is quickly stretched, thereby immediately triggering a reflexive contraction action propelling the body upward again. This all happens within a fraction of a second. During this time, the elasticity of the muscle, as well as this stretch reflex, combine to produce a greater force. If the action is not performed immediately after the counteraction, the stored energy in the muscle will dissipate.
Examples of plyometric exercises include jumping rope, two-leg jumps, one-leg jumps, box jumps, skaters and many medicine-ball exercises. In the case of jumping, the counteraction is lowering your body just before the jump, which automatically loads all the muscles used for the jump itself. For medicine-ball exercises, the counteraction is decelerating the ball. An example of this is throwing the ball back and forth between partners. When the ball is thrown to one partner, he must catch it and then bend his elbows and shoulders to decelerate the ball. This is then followed by the immediate action, which is pushing the ball back away from the body.
Strength train first
Since plyometrics are more intense, a certain level of fitness should be obtained before attempting to perform these exercises. Those who are considered overweight should avoid doing higher-intensity plyometrics, such as jumping and leaping. Upper-body plyometrics, however, may be more appropriate in this case. Those who have poor balance or who have never used free weights should also avoid lower-body plyometric exercises.
In all cases, strength training should be done beforehand in order to properly strengthen the muscles. Basic functional exercises — lunges, squats, pushups, etc. — should all be mastered before attempting a plyometric program. Without this basic strength, plyometrics can be too much for the joints to handle.
Plyometric training doesn’t require high volumes because endless repetitions of the exercises can greatly harm the joints and muscles. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, beginners should start out at 80 to 100 ground contacts per workout. Plyometric workouts should also only be done one to three times per week. For example, if you are doing repetitive jumps to touch the backboard of a basketball hoop, you should only do a total of 100 jumps within that workout. Even this number can be a lot, depending on the intensity of the exercise. Lower-intensity exercises, such as jumping rope, can reach higher ground contacts with less risk, while higher-intensity exercises, such as one-leg jumps, should be done with less contacts.
A proper warm-up should also always be done before plyometrics. Drills such as marching, high knees, lunges, squats and shuffles will get the body ready for the higher-intensity exercise.
Plyometric training has been around for years but is widely misused. With proper instruction, these exercises can do wonders for your vertical leap and speed. They are also a great way to just get in better shape and prepare your body for the high impact of sports. With plyometric exercise, you can break away from the normal, everyday workouts and jump into something a little more fun.
Ted Santaniello, CSCS, is a certified personal trainer working at the Wellness Center at PARC, located at 295 New York Road (next to ARC) in Plattsburgh.
Original post date 5/11/2011.