Health and wellness
Fitsmart: October 2013
By Brad Lawrence
Plyometric training is a technique in which your muscles are driven to maximal exertion in a short period of time.
By Brad Lawrence
Plyometric training is a technique in which your muscles are driven to maximal exertion in a short period of time. What makes plyometric training different is the way the exercises are designed: the goal is to make the delay between the eccentric movement and the concentric movement as short as possible. Take a push-up for example; lowering your chest down to the ground is the eccentric phase. The slight delay as you shift from lowering your body to pressing upward is called the amortization period. The powerful press you apply to thrust yourself back to your upright position is called the concentric period. When the delay between these phases is minimal, your body starts to reap the rewards of plyometric training.
Plyometric exercises incorporate several large muscles, including your core, in almost every movement. The goal is to improve the speed, power and explosiveness of the muscle movements in your body. While some of the movements may require a bit of co-ordination, being a high-level athlete isn’t a prerequisite. Almost everyone is capable of performing the exercises. With careful attention and the proper technique, plyometric workouts can be a fun, safe and challenging way to fast-track your results.
Plyometric exercises originally were designed with Olympic athletes in mind; however, many of these techniques have been proven effective for average people. The exercises are a great way to increase your overall fitness level, strength, muscle endurance and lean mass, and also an effective way to break through stubborn plateaus.
Naturally, the added impact of plyometrics causes a greater risk of injury. However, for those who are prepared and mindful of your task, plyometric exercises have been proven to be safe and natural movements. While plyometric workouts aren’t inherently dangerous, it is important to understand the demands on your muscles. As with any challenge you add to your training, it’s very important to have a strong foundation before pushing yourself. Plyometric exercises require a competent muscle base and should not be attempted without a semi-regular fitness routine already in place. Also, even with an adequate level of fitness, the amount of eccentric loads and impact on your muscles will cause more muscular soreness after your workout and will lengthen recovery time. I recommend at least 48 hours of rest for your working muscles after plyometric training, especially if you are just starting. I try to implement one plyometric training session per week into my normal routine. This offers me plenty of time to recover, and provides nice variety to break up the week. Eventually your body will adapt to the load, and recovery time will improve.
Integrating plyometric exercises
First and foremost, don’t abandon your old fitness routine. The plyometrics system works wonders when integrated into an established routine, not when used as a complete replacement. Again, in the first few sessions, give your body at least 48 hours to recover between plyometrics days. Remember: impact and eccentric muscle load is higher than normal.
Always ensure you complete a proper warmup before any plyometric exercise; dynamic stretching and a quick 10- to15-minute cardio session should prepare your body. Deem your body warm when your joints feel heated, loose and you are sweating or are just about to sweat. Joint protection is critical in plyometrics; as with every workout, your warmup releases synovial fluid into your joints, preparing them for training.
Perform exercises on properly cushioned flooring. Avoid surfaces such as concrete, and stick to padded surfaces such as matting. Plyometric training, in time, builds stronger joints, especially in your lower body. However, training on hard surfaces may prove to be harmful to your joints.
Always perform these exercises at a comfortable tempo. Never perform an exercise at full speed for the first time; start slowly and progress as your confidence grows.
Thousands of plyometric exercises have been developed by trainers over the last decade or two, but here are some of the better entry-level movements under the plyometrics label. If you are unsure of the proper execution of an exercise, a quick online search will reveal several how-to videos.
- Medicine-ball chest toss
- Bodyweight jump squats
- Box jumps/multiple power jumps
Once you are comfortable performing the beginner plyometrics movements, try increasing the difficulty with these exercises. Again, be sure to leave 48 hours between workouts to allow proper recovery for your muscles, and perform at a slow, comfortable pace until you are confident in any new movement. Again, these movements all have how-to videos available online.
- Depth jumps
- Clap/depth push-ups
- Lateral one-leg jumps
- Push-pull press
Plyometric exercises offer a plethora of new training opportunities. Be mindful of any existing injuries, and ease your body into the increased loads. Break up the monotony of your current routine, and become far more fit along the way. Happy training!
Brad Lawrence is a firefighter with the Calgary Fire Department and a certified personal trainer who specializes in training and nutrition for emergency responders. E-mail Brad at firstname.lastname@example.org