If you think strength training and aerobic exercise are the only two ways to sculpt a leaner physique and get stronger and more powerful, you’re missing out! There’s another type of fitness training you might already be doing. It’s called plyometrics and it has multiple fitness benefits, especially if you play sports.
Whether you play a sport like basketball, where vertical jump height is important, or sprint, plyometrics can make you better at your chosen sport. Plus, plyometric exercises add variety to a workout and burn significant calories at the same time. Let’s look at some of the benefits of plyometric exercises and some good plyometric, or plyo, exercises if you’re just starting out.
The Benefits of Plyometric Training
Plyometric exercises are movements where you stretch a muscle and then quickly contract the muscle. During the stretching phase, your muscle builds up stored energy, and when it contracts, the muscle releases that energy. Because of the energy you stored during the stretching phase, the muscle can contract faster and with more force.
The goal of this type of movement is to force your muscles and nervous system to adapt in a way that the muscle becomes more powerful. This allows the muscle to generate force in less time. Some people refer to the muscle power you gain from plyometric training as explosive strength.
When a muscle generates force in less time, it makes you a better jumper and gives you an advantage when doing explosive movements like sprinting. That’s why plyometric exercises are an essential part of many athletic training programs, but you don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy their benefits.
Plyometrics Builds Bone Density Too
Since plyometric movements often involve jumping, they’re a high-impact form of training where both feet leave the ground at the same time. High-impact movements are one of the best ways to build new bone mass in younger people and to preserve bone and lower the risk of osteoporosis in adults. The impact of jumping on a firm surface tells cells that build new bone, called osteoblasts, to lay down new bone tissue. Therefore, your bones become thicker. Check with your physician before doing high-impact exercise if you already have osteoporosis.
Another reason to do plyometric exercises is they build resistance to injury. Plyometric exercises that involve jumping, such as squat jumps, strengthen the quadriceps muscles that support and protect the knee against injury when you play sports. However, the biggest benefit is the power boost you get when you train your muscles in this manner.
Plyometric Exercises for the Lower Body
If you’re just starting out, it’s easiest to add a plyometric component to the exercises you already do. An example is the squat.
After you’ve mastered a basic squat, add a plyometric component to the exercise by doing squat jumps. Stand up and place your legs and feet together. Descend into a shallow squat position like you’re doing a shallow squat, but near the bottom of the movement, jump into the air. Land softly on your feet and repeat. Start by doing 10 seconds of squat jumps and work up to 30 seconds. Pause for 10 seconds and do 2 or 3 more sets.
Another easy plyo exercise for the lower body is lateral jumps. Place a dumbbell or other object on the floor to serve as a marker. Stand on one side of the dumbbell. Descend into a shallow squat and jump laterally over the dumbbell, landing in a squat position on the other side. Continue jumping back and forth over the dumbbell to the opposite side. Keep repeating. Start with 10 seconds and work up to 30 seconds of lateral jumps. Pause for 10 seconds and do 2 or 3 more sets.
Another easy one is plyometric lunges. With your hands on your hips, lower your body into a shallow lunge position. In this position, jump into the air as you switch your front leg for your back leg. Land in a lunge position with your front leg now in the back and your back leg in the front. Keep jumping into the air and alternating legs as you land in a lunge. Start with 10 seconds and work up to 30 seconds of lateral jumps. Pause for 10 seconds and do 2 or 3 more sets.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can progress to more advanced plyometric exercises, such as jumping onto a low bench. Start slow and work up to more advanced plyometric exercises.
Upper Body Plyometric Exercises
Most plyometric exercises make use of the large muscle groups in the lower body, but there are plyometric exercises you can do to develop upper body power too. One example is the medicine ball throws. Hold a medicine ball overhead with both hands and throw it against a wall. Catch it when it comes back to you and keep repeating. Another one is plyometric push-ups. This is an advanced variation on push-ups, so don’t try it until you can do 20 standard push-ups.
To do a plyometric push-up, lower your body into a standard push-up. When you reach the bottom, push your body up with enough force to lift the front of your body and your hands off the ground. Land again in a push-up position and repeat. It’s a difficult movement. If it’s too hard, place your knees on the floor when you do the movement.
The Bottom Line
Build up a baseline level of fitness before tackling plyometric training. Start with simple plyometric moves like squat jumps before progressing to a more advanced move, like platform jumps. If you do plyometric exercises incorrectly the risk of injury is high, especially if you use a platform. If you do them correctly, you’ll be rewarded with greater speed, explosive speed, and power.
Be sure to give your body a few days of rest between each plyometric session to avoid overtraining. Also, do a 5 to 10-minute warm-up to raise your body temperature before tackling plyometric movements. Good options are dynamic exercises, like jogging in place, jumping jacks, leg kicks, punches, and arm swings. Save the stretching for the cooldown.
- National Strength and Conditioning Association. Volume 27, Number 2, pages 78-80.
- Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2017 Sep; 10(3): 281-288. Published online 2017 Jun 27. doi: 10.1007/s12178-017-9416-5.
- ACE Fitness. “Plyometrics: Controlled Impact/Maximum Power”
- Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2017 Sep; 10(3): 281-288.