Written by: Tom Wheatley. Published on: 20 January 2021
Tom Wheatley is a fitness writer, personal trainer and a big advocate of variety in training. Here, he explains why and how you should be adding plyometric training into your workouts and why it’s not just for Olympic athletes.
We all need variety in our training – either because you’ve hit a plateau or are stuck in a rut doing the same online workouts week after week. But that doesn’t mean you have to quit and start something completely new.
For many of us, just adding in some modifications to our workouts can have an enormous impact, both on our fitness levels and our ability to stay motivated in hitting training goals.
Whatever your workout situation, having the ability to easily modify your regime means you can keep things challenging, as well as prepare for whatever 2021 has in store.
So, what exactly is plyometric training?
Although the term plyometrics first appeared in 1975, the technique, often referred to as ‘jump training’, has been used by athletes and Olympians since long before. As the name suggests, it’s a method incorporating explosive jumps, combining both strength and speed to produce power – something that most athletes strive for in order to improve performance.
At its core is the concept that a muscular contraction is stronger if it follows an immediate opposite contraction. A simple way to explain this is a jumping squat. As you lower the body into the squat position the muscles are lengthened, when this is followed by an immediate shortening of the same muscles – or jumping upwards – the power exerted is more than from a stationary movement. This is known as the stretch-shortening cycle and can produce a range of benefits.
Plyometric modifications can be added to any exercise that allows an element of jumping. This can include squats, lunges, lateral jumps, and even press-ups.
What are the benefits?
For many sports, increasing power has enormous benefits, but it’s not only for elite athletes. Plyometric training is just as important for general fitness training, especially when compared to stationary exercises. Probably the most significant of those being the fact that it allows people to increase the difficulty of a workout without the need to use additional weights or equipment.
Plyometric movements also help improve balance, agility and flexibility. This not only has obvious advantages for sports but can play a big part in injury prevention, both in the gym and day-to-day activities.
And that’s not all. The addition of explosive movements means you can significantly increase your heart rate – benefiting your cardiovascular system and upping the number of calories you burn in each session.
Can anyone do plyometric training?
One of the big plus points of plyometric training is that it can be applied to a vast range of exercises and modified based on an individual’s fitness level. Because of this, it can be incorporated into most training plans and developed in a safe and controlled way.
As it’s a high-impact movement it should, however, be avoided by people who have arthritis, injuries or joint and bone problems. Also, due to the effect of weight distribution on balance, it shouldn’t be undertaken when pregnant.
Those incorporating plyometrics into a training plan should be able to perform the static variant of the exercises before adding in plyometric elements.
How can you safely incorporate it into your training?
Like all training, plyometrics should be built up over time. It may seem exciting to attempt a meter-high box jump, but without the necessary improvements in strength and balance, the risk of injury is significantly increased.
The initial focus for anyone including plyometrics into their workouts should be to work on correct form, especially when landing. The same way that you start on lighter weights when beginning a strength programme, work on smaller jumps, initially mixing a few reps into your current sets to allow your body to adjust to the added stress.
It’s also a good idea to ensure that you’re performing plyometric movements on a soft surface. If training outdoors, grass offers a safe option that helps to absorb the additional impact. If you’re training inside, especially on a hard floor, then it’s worth picking up a soft landing pad or exercise mat.
What should you be cautious about?
Most of the mistakes or injuries I see, especially when using equipment like boxes or steps, are due to tiredness or fatigue. Unlike stationary movements, where you can control the exercise, landing incorrectly can apply a great deal of force to joints in the wrong way.
Another focus for anyone performing jumping movements should be on form when landing. It may seem a simple movement and something we’ve all done since we were children, but landing safely from a jump is a common problem seen across gyms and studios. It can also be hard to view this yourself. That’s why it’s useful to have a professional trainer check your form to ensure you’re doing it correctly.
What results can you expect and when?
As with any type of training, the effects of incorporating plyometrics into a plan will vary depending on the level of exercise being undertaken, the frequency and the fitness of the individual. However, studies carried out on athletes have shown significant increases in explosive strength and agility in just six weeks.
If your training focus includes calories burned, and you’re tracking your heart rate during a workout, you’re likely to see a change in each workout in line with the amount of plyometric activity that has been added.
For those adding in plyometrics to mix up a training plan and keep things interesting, you’ll get those benefits straight away – either through the joy of pushing yourself further or because you’re covered in sweat and your muscles are ruing the day you ever read about jump training.
To read more about new ideas for your fitness, check out our article on the top fitness trends for 2021.
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