Plyometrics, often referred to as “jump training” or “plyos,” are a form of exercise that involves explosive movements such as jumps, bounds, and hops.
In this article we explore the underlying principles of plyometrics, outline their benefits, and highlight some key plyometric exercises you can implement into your training.
By Coach Hunter Bennett
What are Plyometrics?
The word “plyometrics” is derived from the Greek word “plyo,” which means “to increase,” and “metric,” which means “measurement.” As such, plyometrics increase your ability to produce force rapidly so you become more explosive.
Every time your muscles contract, they go through a process called the “stretch-shortening cycle” (or SSC for short). The SSC describes the three main phases of muscle contraction:
- Eccentric (muscle lengthening)
- Amortization (transition phase)
- Concentric (muscle shortening).
The way your muscles use the SSC can be thought of as a spring. When you land on the ground, your muscles compress (the eccentric phase), then pause slightly at the bottom (amortization phase), before exploding back up to produce movement (concentric phase).
Plyometric exercises improve your ability to use the SSC and generate force rapidly.
What adaptations to plyometrics cause?
Plyometric training triggers a range of physiological adaptations within the body.
Firstly, they enhance your ability to use the elastic energy stored during the SSC. They do this by reducing the amount of time you spend in the amortization phase, ensuring that more of the force created by your muscles is used by your muscles in the concentric phase.
Secondly, plyometric training enhances your ability to recruit fast-twitch muscle fibres. This means faster force generation and more explosive movement.
Thirdly, plyometrics can lead to stronger tendons and ligaments. This means a lower risk of injury, as well as more efficient force transfer.
Lastly, plyometrics have also been shown to promote the layering of new bony tissue. This means that they provide a potent method of increasing bone mineral density.
What are the benefits of plyometrics?
Because of the way plyometric exercises act on your body, they have some notable benefits.
1. Improved athletic performance.
It is well established that plyometric training can improve your ability to sprint faster and jump higher. This is of obvious importance for those who are training for sports or other athletic pursuits.
2. Greater endurance performance.
Because plyometrics improve your ability to use the elastic energy created through repeated muscular contraction, they make you more efficient. As a result, they provide an excellent method of improving endurance performance, particularly for runners.
3. Enhanced muscle growth.
Somewhat surprisingly, plyometrics also seem to promote significant muscle growth. In fact, a recent meta-analysis (a study that combines the results of multiple studies) found that plyometric training causes comparable increases in muscle size to weight training in recreationally trained individuals.
It is important to note that over time weight training will probably become a more potent stimulus for muscle growth. However, this does suggest that if you are without a gym for a few weeks plyometrics offer a great way to keep the gains rolling.
4. Better bone health.
As plyometrics increase bone mineral density, they likely reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis. They are also likely to reduce your risk of bone fractures and breaks.
5. Lower risk of injury.
Lastly, the tendon and ligament adaptations that occur in response to plyometric training will make those tissues mor resilient and less prone to injury. Moreover, if your plyometric routine includes single leg exercises, this is also likely to improve balance and coordination, which could further lower injury risk.
Best plyometric exercises
Given the broad benefits of plyometric exercises, we wanted to provide you with some of your favourite exercises for both the upper and lower body.
Best lower body plyometric exercises
- Pogo Hops: Pogo hops, also known as ankle hops, involve continuous, quick, and low intensity jumping off the ground, mimicking the motion of a pogo stick. This exercise helps improve lower leg strength and calf muscles while enhancing your ability to produce force rapidly. These are a great entry point to plyometrics.
- Depth Jumps: Depth jumps involve you stepping off a box or platform and immediately explode into a vertical jump as soon as you land. This exercise is particularly effective for enhancing your vertical leap and lower body power.
- Lateral Bounds: Lateral bounds are a lateral or side-to-side jumping exercise that focuses on developing power and agility in the lower body. They help improve lateral strength and stability.
- Squat Jumps: Squat jumps require you to start in a squat position and then explosively jump into the air, trying to get as high as possible.
- Single-Leg Hops: Single-leg hops involve hopping on one leg while maintaining balance and control. This exercise is excellent for improving unilateral leg power, balance, and agility.
Best upper body plyometric exercises
- Plyometric Push-Ups: Plyometric push-ups involve pushing off the ground with enough force to lift your hands off the floor. This exercise is an excellent way to increase upper body explosiveness, primarily targeting the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
- Repeated Medicine Ball Throws: Repeated medicine ball throws require explosively throwing a medicine ball (like a netball pass) against a wall or to a partner and quickly catching and throwing it again. This exercise targets various upper body muscles and improves upper body power.
- Medicine Ball Rotation Throws: Medicine ball rotation throws involve explosively twisting and throwing a medicine ball against a wall or to a partner while engaging the upper body and core. This exercise enhances rotational power.
How should I prescribe plyometric exercises?
Before we dive into specific plyometric prescription, it is important to note that plyometric exercises are broadly categorised into low or high intensity variations.
Low intensity plyometrics would be those that don’t involve high amounts of force, such as pogo hops, squat jumps, and short distance bounds. Conversely, high intensity plyometrics involve high amount of force, such as depth jumps, maximal intent single leg hops, and maximal intent single leg bounds.
It is important to note that when it comes to intensity, plyometrics really live on a continuum. While we can broadly categorise them as “low” and “high” intensity, many of them also fit somewhere in the middle.
Moreover, how you perform them can also play a role.
For example, if you do low effort single leg hops where you barely leave the ground, this would be considered a low intensity variation. However, if you perform them as explosively as possible, jumping as high as you can each hop, they would be considered high intensity.
Nonetheless, this general heuristic for plyometric intensity is important, because it provides insight into how we should prescribe them.
While most plyometric exercises are prescribed using sets and reps, they are also considered from the perspective of total ground contacts per session. In this manner, a ground contact could be considered a single repetition.
It is recommended that:
- Beginners: aim for 80 low intensity, or 40 high intensity, ground contacts per session.
- Intermediates: aim for 100 low intensity, or 60 high intensity, ground contacts per session.
- Advanced: aim for 140 low intensity, or 80 high intensity, ground contacts per session.
Within this we would generally prescribe 2-3 sets of 6-10 reps for low intensity exercises, and 2-3 sets of 4-6 reps of high intensity exercises.
How many times per week should I perform plyometric exercises?
If your goal was to absolutely maximise the benefits of plyometric exercises, 2-4 sessions per week is often recommended.
However, for most people, this may not be necessary.
If you have other training goals (irrespective of whether they are strength, athletic, or endurance focused), you will still benefit from incorporating one plyometric training session in your program per week – or simply performing 2-3 plyometric exercises at the start of your normal workouts.
What you need to know about plyometrics: take home message
Plyometrics are a fantastic type of exercise that can improve balance, coordination, bone health, endurance performance, speed, while also promoting muscle growth and reducing your risk of injuries. And by using the information in this article you can start integrating them into your own training today.
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