Do this to become instantly stronger and healthier!
You may have heard about plyometrics or ‘plyo exercises’ from a video or workout program, but what is it all about? For starters, it’s a form of training that far too many of us overlook. Being more explosive in nature, plyometrics typically involves activities like jumping and leaping. It is heavily utilized for sprinting, jumping, and weightlifting athletes, but it’s also extremely relevant for the ‘average joe’ as well.
Those who say that plyometrics are reserved for advanced athletes are flat-out wrong. You can take this principle and apply it to many populations. Yes, the intensity may vary greatly, but the benefits will remain.
Although there are some contraindications for beginning this type of training, the majority of individuals (both young and old) can find great benefit from adding plyo exercises into their programs. The key is to know how to modify the intensity for each person. Implementing plyometrics can ‘turn back the hands of time’ in several areas of fitness, including muscular power, joint stability, and coordination.
While plyometrics can be done with the upper body, it is primarily completed with lower-body movements. One of the best exercises is the depth jump. Below is a comprehensive guide on how to progress this movement to maximize your jump training and explosivity. Whether you’re a high-performance athlete or a gym casual… this is for you!
Why is plyometrics right for me?
The principle of plyometric exercises is that the maximal muscular contraction is stronger when preceded by an eccentric contraction of the same muscle, thus utilizing elastic energy stored from the eccentric contraction. In layman’s terms, the dynamic nature of plyo exercises allows you to increase muscular power (great force production over a short period of time). This has an immediate benefit for athletes, especially those involved in sprinting, jumping, leaping, kicking, swinging, fighting, and more.
The pros to plyometrics go far beyond athletes, however. If done correctly, this can be a fantastic way for older folks to regain strength, balance, functionality, and overall confidence with completing physical tasks. A key benefit of plyo exercise is its ability to increase or maintain bone mineral density. This is a powerful preventer of age-related conditions such as osteopenia and osteoporosis. Due to its explosive nature, plyometrics will often mirror a ‘HIIT’ style workout, leading to additional benefits in cardiovascular fitness, endurance, and weight loss.
“Although there are no definitive studies to support eccentric training as an absolute prerequisite before returning to athletic play, research is emerging to support [the use of plyometrics], particularly for the rehabilitation of microtrauma/overuse injuries.” — Reed & Bowen
Although it may seem counterintuitive, plyometrics are a key part of one’s rehab journey. To properly recover an injured joint or tissue, it’s essential to ‘overload’ that site in a safe manner. Take an ACL injury, for example. Yes, the first few months may involve very light exercise, but the later (and most important) stages must include elements of explosivity, balance, and coordination. Only by completing the strenuous activities of one’s sport or lifestyle, (running, jumping, leaping) will he or she be confident enough to safely return to regular activity.
Whether you’re a high-performance athlete, older adult, or even someone recovering from injury, plyometrics has a place in your training. There are, however, certain instances when this type of training is a no-go.
Contraindications for plyometric training.
If you’re a complete beginner to exercise, this form of training is not recommended. Due to its high intensity and explosivity, it’s likely to overwhelm a novice and cause poor adherence to training, and even injury.
Additionally, if you have an uncleared medical condition (such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, etc…), plyometrics may not be the right decision for you. It’s ideal to stay within a moderate intensity for those with comorbidities, as the upper thresholds of training may bring about unwanted symptoms. For those struggling with diagnosed joint pain of any kind, you’ll likely benefit from avoiding plyometrics and focusing on lower-impact strengthening options instead.
Other populations that may want to think twice include pregnant women, those diagnosed with balance issues, and individuals lacking proper equipment. If you don’t have access to a stable box or proper surface (artificial grass, pro-level gym flooring, etc…) plyometric training is not advisable. Please, please, please do not complete these movements on concrete or hardwood as you’re exposing yourself to unnecessary injury risk.
Your guide to depth jump training.
As mentioned above, plyometric training can involve a plethora of lower and upper-body movements. For sake of simplicity and clarity, let's unpack the cornerstone movement to all plyo exercises — the depth jump. Here is a progression overview to allow you to increase strength, stability, and explosivity in your own training. If you can’t go all the way, there are still many benefits to performing activities like jumping and skipping, so never feel discouraged about where you’re at.
Preparation for depth jumping (10 reps of each).
- Squats — weight through the entire foot, hinging from hips, knees over toes.
- Skipping — keep body low to the ground.
- Power skipping — focus on maximal height and forward distance.
- Double-leg jumps in place — legs stay relatively straight (slight knee bend), focusing on the action at the ankles.
- Single-leg jumps in place — ensure the other leg is slightly flexed so it doesn’t make contact with the ground at any point.
- Single-leg jumps with forward movement — be careful! Start with a small distance, and work your way up.
- Double-leg bounding — Brief pause in between each rep to allow for the eccentric phase to catch up.
How to perform the depth jump.
- Obtain a stable platform (8–12in for novice, up to 30–40in for pro).
- Stand on the platform with feet together and toes over the edge.
- Step off the platform and land toward the fore-foot.
- As feet hit the floor, immediately counteract the force with a maximal explosive vertical jump.
- The arms may be used to propel the body upwards.
- Perform 3–6 jumps initially, and stop immediately upon fatigue.
- Gradually build up to 2–3 sets of 10 jumps.
- Add height to the box.
- Increase the number of reps/sets.
- Add a vertical jump onto another box during the explosive phase.
- Depth jump to 90d turn (supervision is advised).
- Implement a single-leg adaptation (for experienced athletes only).
Note: Listen to your body, and only go as far as it will allow. If you’re experiencing any pain or discomfort beyond a 3 out of 10 on a pain scale, the cons to plyometric training will likely outweigh the pros. If you have any questions or concerns, seek help from a physical therapist, kinesiologist, or experienced personal trainer.
Know your limit and play within it!
Plyometrics is a valuable part of resistance training, due to its magnificent ability to improve power, strength, and stability without the need for heavy barbells. Whether you’re a pro athlete or a healthy older adult, the principles of plyo exercise have a place in your regime. It can be a fantastic warm-up tool to activate the nervous system, or it can be the entire focus of your session. The skies the limit!
Start small, gradually work your way up, and enjoy the physical and psychological benefits that come from stepping outside of your comfort zone. At the end of the day, everyone is an athlete.
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