Plyometric Exercises

Plyometrics are very valuable exercises for all of us (not just elite athletes) as they are specific to the more dynamic movements in life (i.e. running, jumping etc...) in terms of greater speed, range of motion, force and velocity. Their benefits include increased recruitment of the fast twitch fibres, greater elastic energy return from the tendons as well as entrenching new neuropathways for more optimal movement patterns (in other words help lay down the foundations for greater movement efficiency / economy). Plyometric training strengthens tendons as well as muscles. Plyometrics enhances the whole "muscle / tendon unit", which explains how this form of training can play the dual role of improving performance and reducing injury risks in training / exercise. The following video shows some examples of plyometric exercises (as well as outlines an adaptation routine)...

- Just click on the arrow [ > ] to play...

The whole of the soft tissue (muscle and tendon) adapts to the training and becomes more able to deal with strain and repetitive eccentric contractions (muscle / tendon unit undergoing elongation under loading stress), thus reducing the risk of injury. In addition, the tendon is able to store and release more elastic energy so that the likes of the Achilles and knee tendons can contribute greater mechanical power to running speed. Speed is still important for all types of running. It is known that all members of the Kenyan and Ethiopian distance running squads carry out drills and sprints on a weekly basis... and they have proven their ability to produce winning sprint finishes in international competition.

Another benefit of plyometric exercises is improved "lower limb stiffness" (i.e. leg recoil) and / or energy return of the leg tendons so that the individual / runner is more economical as well as more powerful. Better economy is important for distance runners as if you are able to improve the efficiency of each foot strike, think of how this can impact on performance over the marathon which involves thousands of foot strikes over the course of 42.2km.

The plyometric session should usually be performed on an easy running / workout day to start off with. If you have never done plyometric sessions then you will initially be sore after the first few workouts. Plyometrics should usually be performed immediately after a warm-up run, when you are feeling warm but not too fatigued. Once you are use to the exercises you can then incorporate into your regular training sessions i.e. as part of your cool down or even in the middle of an easy day run... which is a good way of doing it as you are then reinforcing the neuropathway development from the plyometrics via afterwards finishing off the 2nd half of your run.

♦ Types of Plyometrics:

Plyometric session – start off once a week (after an easy run). Aim to land on the ball of your foot. There are various ways to carry out a plyometric session. If you are new to plyometrics, you may just want to do a few of the following with a walk back recovery. However, the fitter, stronger and more experience you become you would benefit from having a jog back recovery followed by a sridethrough (up-tempo run through - not quite a sprint) as this helps hardwire our new muscle fibre recruitment into our running form (i.e. neuropathway development).

Another beneficial addition to a plyometric session is to do the workout in bare feet (on a safe grass surface - first check for potential harmful objects lying around)... or  in minimalist type footwear (i.e. Vibram FiveFinger type shoe).

Make sure you do a warm-down run after the plyometric session (distance pending on level of fitness).

• The following drills serves as a guide only as to the variety of plyometric exercises... as well as the length of distance and repetitions outlined in each (vary according to your own experience, strength and fitness):

1- High knee skip drill: try to bring your knee close to your chest in a skip like fashion - 2 x 50m – jog back.

2- Fast knees-up drill: concentrate higher knee lift as well as leg turnover rather than your speed across the ground - 2 x 25m – jog back.

3- Power skips: skip forward forcefully, aiming for height, a high knee and a straight back leg. Use your arms and be sure to direct most of your movement up, rather than forward - 2 x 50m – jog back.

4- Lunge walks: stand tall with your hands on your hips and your tailbone tucked. Take a wide lunge step, maintaining a tight core and hold for a second. Keeping your hips facing forward, twist at the waist to the right and then to the left, then step forward. Alternate legs continuously – 2 x 50m – jog back.

5- Vertical jumps: quick jumps for height - spend as little time on the ground as possible - 3 x 10-20 jumps - jog 50m between reps.

6- Bounding: exaggerated running style – higher knee lift with greater back leg extension for push off - 2 x 50m – jog back.

7- Ankle hops: hopping on one leg - focus on power through the ankle - 3 x 25m – jog back.

8- Butt Kicks: jogging like action but raise your heel to your butt while bringing your thighs in front of you, parallel to the ground – 3 x 50m – jog back.

9- High Knee Marches: standing tall, lift your right knee toward your chest as you go up on the toe of your left foot. Use your hands to pull your knee in a few extra degrees, being careful to keep the knee in line with your shoulder, release the knee and step forward. Alternate legs continuously – 3 x 50m – jog back.

10- Straight Leg Shuffle: keep your core tight and your legs straight, scissoring them forward in a quick shuffle. Aim for strong feet and quick ground contact – 3 x 50m – jog back.

11- Frog Jumps: Starting in a crouch position (on your feet) with hands in front between knees, leap forward whilst driving hands up above you for drive then landing back down in the crouch position before repeating in quick succession (as in the above video – at the 29 sec. point of video) – 3 x 25m – jog back.

12- Sprints: Sprint in a fast yet controlled manner – focussing on correct form / technique. Best to finish a plyometric session with sprints as the plyometric drills are reinforced in the act of running fast - 4 x 50m – jog or walk back recovery. 

••• Don't do plyometrics if you are recovering from muscle soreness & remember to gradually adapt them into your training program.

♦ I hope to add a video in the near future to help further explain the above drills. However, for starters, the following video (courtesy of Running Times) does a pretty good job...