Strength training boosts strength and muscle size but it won’t help your muscles generate more power unless you lift at a fast, almost explosive, tempo. High-impact cardio enhances cardiovascular efficiency and heart health. It also upgrades bone health, as the pounding of your bones against the ground stimulates the laydown of new bone tissue.
But there’s one kind of training that builds explosive power, boosts bone health, and gets your heart rate up enough to offer cardiovascular benefits. What is this type of training with mega-benefits? It’s plyometric exercises, and it’s something you can easily add to your own fitness routine.
Plyometrics is a type of training that boosts the power capability of your muscles. When you do a plyometric move, you stretch a muscle before contracting it. The stretch creates elastic tension and stored energy you release when the muscle contracts. The lengthening or stretch phase of a plyometric movement is called the eccentric phase. It’s followed by a brief rest period called the amortization phase and then an explosive contraction, the concentric phase, where the muscle releases the energy stored in the eccentric phase.
There are other benefits to plyometric training. Plyometric movements force your muscles and nervous system to adapt in a way that improves vertical jump height and sprinting performance. In response to plyometrics, your muscles develop greater explosive power capabilities. That’s why so many coaches include plyometrics in athletic training programs.
Plyometric exercises are high-impact movements too. The high-impact nature of plyometrics makes it an ideal form of training for maximizing bone density. Although you build most of the bone you’ll have before the age of 20, studies show you can modestly increase bone density as an adult through high-impact exercise and heavy strength training. Plus, high-impact exercise helps maintain the density of the bone you have.
Jumping Stimulates Bone Growth
Many plyometric exercises, such as jump squats, box jumps, tuck jumps, involve jumping. Why is this important? The shock of your feet hitting the ground provides enough force to stimulate the laydown of new bone tissue. So, you’re developing explosive power with plyometric training, but you’re also stimulating your bones to lay down new bone tissue. That helps preserve bone health and ward off osteoporosis.
In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Health promotion found that even modest amounts of jumping are good for bone health. For the study, researchers recruited 60 young and middle-aged women to do a series of jumps twice daily for 4 months. They jumped 10 to 20 times two times per day with 30 seconds of rest between jumps. At the end of 4 months, their bone density had improved by 0.5%. Not bad!
Other Benefits of Plyometrics
Beyond boosting bone density and building explosive power, plyometric training may lower the risk of sports-related injuries. Plyometric training is especially important for people who play sports that require jumping, and the benefits extend beyond improved performance. Women are at higher risk of tearing an ACL when they land from a jump relative to men. Plyometric training, especially drills like box jumps, teaches proper body positioning when landing from a jump. That can mean the difference between a successful maneuver and an injury.
Plyometric movements are popular with physical therapists too. When you develop an injury, it can disrupt communication between your nervous system and muscles. Plyometrics helps retrain the injured muscle and get it ready for more intense movements again while lowering the risk of future injury. If you’re injured, don’t try this at home. It’s better to get a physical therapist or sports medicine professional trained in this area to guide you.
Types of Plyometric Exercises
Most plyometric movements involve the lower body. Examples include:
- Squat jumps
- Lateral jumps
- Tuck jumps
- Box jumps
- Depth jumps
- Scissor jumps
- Broad jumps
But there are also upper body plyometric movements such as:
- Plyometric and clap push-ups
- Medicine ball throw against a wall
- Power drops using a medicine ball
Tips for Getting the Most Out of Plyometrics
Start slowly with plyometrics. Don’t attempt more advanced plyo moves like box jumps or depth jumps until you’ve built up a baseline level of fitness and have mastered easier plyometric movements. The best beginner plyometric movements are squat jumps, lateral jumps, and lunge jumps. When you need more challenge, try tuck jumps and low box jumps. Build up the intensity gradually.
Once you’re comfortable doing plyometric movements, make them more challenging by doing unilateral plyo movements like single-leg hops. Doing this forces your body to stabilize and helps build greater overall stability. Plus, single leg hops are useful if you play sports. Many sport-related moves require you to pivot or bear weight on a single leg. In fact, a study found that single-leg movements improve power in that leg and jumping performance more than leg hops with two legs.
The Bottom Line
Plyometric training is a dynamic type of training that accomplishes several objectives. You develop explosive power in your muscles and stimulate your bones to lay down new bone tissue. If you do plyometrics quickly without pausing to rest, you’ll also elevate your heart rate enough to get cardiovascular benefits. You should also become a better jumper and sprinter.
It’s not just young people who can benefit. Older people lose muscle power at a faster rate than muscle strength. Plyometric drills help preserve this important functional component. If your muscles can’t generate enough power, you can’t even thrust yourself out of a chair. So, keep your training balanced and include some power and bone-building plyo movements in your routine. Start with the easiest movements, like jump squats, and work your way up to more advanced plyo moves.
- Sports and Exercise Medicine Institute. “Plyometrics in Rehabilitation”
- American Council on Exercise. “Explosive Plyometric Workout”
- Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2015 Nov; 10(6): 760–786.
- June 2015. “Explosive Plyometric Training”
- Makaruk, H et al. “Effects of Unilateral and Bilateral Plyometric Training on Power and Jumping Ability in Women.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011 Dec; 25(12):3311-3318.
- Bogdanis, GC et al. “Comparison Between Unilateral and Bilateral Plyometric Training on Single and Double Leg Jumping Performance and Strength”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2017.