Plyometrics: What are they and how can they be useful to you?
It’s that time of year where everything slows down, especially our motivation. It’s busier, colder and all the comfort foods emerge. Most of us tend to hit a plateau around this time of year, but you can clear it with some properly applied plyometric exercises!
I believe a lot of people avoid Plyometrics because they think it’s a training style only meant for athletes. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Explosive movement is applied in all walks of life. From Grandpa jumping out of his seat to catch a falling grandchild, to the middle aged woman leaping over a rain puddle. All people should have the ability to produce powerful movement to maintain overall fitness and independence. Not to mention all the other amazing benefits, but we’ll get to those in a moment.
So what exactly is Plyometrics training? “Plyometrics can be thought of as exercises that train the fast muscle fibers and the nerves that activate them, as well as reflexes, and include a variety of hopping, jumping, and bounding movements” (William P. Ebben)
These types of exercises are designed to improve speed, power, and function of the nervous system. In the definition alone one can see these exercises are meant for everyone, not just athletes. Anyway would benefit from improvement with their power, reflexes and a higher functioning nervous system.
Is it Cardio?
Quite simply; no. Plyometrics are not cardiovascular exercises. This is a common misunderstanding. It’s understandably confusing considering jumping and bounding exercises significantly elevate heart rate. However, the energy pathways and purpose between cardio and plyo’s are different.
Plyometrics work off of two energy pathways, the Creatine Phosphate system and the Lactic Acid system - both of these being anaerobic. Then you have cardiovascular training which works within the aerobic system.
The main purpose of cardio training is to strengthen the muscles involved with respiration and the heart, while the main purpose of Plyometrics is to improve power and speed. There is also a difference in muscle fibers being trained. Plyometrics is working with improving strength and efficiency of fast twitch, while cardio leans towards slow twitch endurance fibers.
Supplementing your cardio routine with plyo’s can be a good idea, but not completely replacing it. There are many health benefits found in true cardio workouts that cannot be attained through Plyometrics.
The Do’s and the Don’ts
I believe that occasionally individuals will underestimate their physical ability for fear of hurting themselves. This is reasonable and all of us do it from time to time. But, Plyometrics can be such a great addition to your routine if applied appropriately.
I know I am currently preaching the universal accessibility of these exercises, but they do come with their own set of prerequisites. I would never suggest a 90 year old do box jumps when they are still working to easily move themselves out of chair. However, if you have a foundational knowledge and fitness level, why not give plyos a try!
Benefits of Plyometrics for non-athletes
1) Improves coordination
2) Improves nervous system functionality
3) Supports bone and joint health
4) Greater intensity in less time, more effective training sessions
5) Stimulates metabolism 24-48 hours after workout, supports weight loss!
6) Plyos improve strength and efficiency of fast twitch fibers, meaning a greater recruitment of the body’s strongest fibers during resistance training
7) Plyometric training may enhance neuromuscular function and prevent knee injuries by increasing dynamic stability
8) Improves all over fitness and boosts confidence (Everyone feels like a boss after a really tough plyo workout!)
1) 1-2 days between plyo training sessions
2) Work with non-fatigued muscles, beginning of session
3) 50-80 total reps for beginners, up to 150 total reps for more advanced clients
4) Low reps, high intensity. No more than 10 reps per set
5) Looking for quality not quantity
1) High intensity Plyo circuits like Tabatas. Plyometrics are meant to be done with maximal effort and force in the least amount of time. Performing plyos in this manner leans more towards general conditioning and increased risk of injury
2) Working on uneven surfaces, especially with beginners
3) Too long of sessions. For general public keep a plyo training session under 30 minutes. Plyometric training is largely neurologic, you shouldn’t be left gasping for air.
Okay, but what are these Exercises?
- Box Jumps
- Depth Jumps
- Single Leg hops
- Hop Scotch Ladder
- Tuck Jumps
These are just to name a few.
Now I wouldn’t suggest starting with an entire Plyometrics session. It would be best to have the first 10-15 minutes focusing on 2-3 different plyo exercises and then finishing the remaining time with resistance training. Resistance training is an incredible counterpart to Plyo training. It will prepare the muscles for the rapid impact loading of the jumps and bounds.
Another great way to incorporate Plyos into your workout is with contrast sets. The one I am currently most fond of is the Back Squat to Squat Jump. You will perform 8-10 Back Squats at an 85-90% RM and then immediately perform 8-10 Squat Jumps. This pairing will trick the body, and during the jumps the muscle fibers will fire as if they are still supporting the resistance load. Another one is Bench Press to Plyo Pushups. You would be looking at a similar structure. 8-10 Bench Press reps in an 85-90% RM range followed by 8-10 Plyo Pushups.
You don’t have to leave Plyos to the athletes, boost your next session with some of these previously mentioned methods.
1) “Trainer Q&A: What are the benefits of plyometrics?”, Men's Fitness, https://www.mensfitness.com/training/pro-tips/trainer-qa-what-are-benefits-plyometrics
2) Chimera, Nicole J. et al. “Effects of Plyometric Training on Muscle-Activation Strategies and Performance in Female Athletes.” Journal of Athletic Training 39.1 (2004): 24–31. Print.
3) “Plyometrics: The Best Combo Of Cardio And Strength Training?”, The Huffington Post, March 19, 2013, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/19/plyometrics-fitness-cardio-exercise-strength-training_n_2900911.html
4) “Plyometrics: Using Plyometrics with Other Training”, human-kinetics, http://www.humankinetics.com/news-and-excerpts/news-and-excerpts/using-plyometrics-with-other-training
5) William P. Ebben, PhD, CSCS,*D, “Practical Guidelines for Plyometric Intensity”, NSCA’s Performance Training Journal
Alex has her A.S in Exercise Science and is a certified Personal Trainer with the National Council on Strength and Fitness (NSCF) and the National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT). In June of 2016 she traveled to India to gain her 200 hr Yoga Teacher Certification. In Rishikesh she studied the ancient practice at its origins. Alex has spent time teaching yoga in Spain while volunteering at a yoga retreat, as well as teaching weekly classes in her hometown Sheridan, WY. She is currently practicing at PURENERGY Fitness where she also teaches a H.I.T.T inspired class three times a week. Alex wants to share with her clients and students the mental, physical and emotionally healing qualities of exercise and movement. She believes everyone should have a healthy relationship with their bodies and strives to thread that concept throughout her career.