What is plyometrics?
This has to be one of the most demanding training techniques out there and one of the most difficult. This style is only for the advanced of you.
It requires you to “spring load” your muscle before immediately contracting it. The best example of this is actually found in the animal kingdom. The kangaroo would not be able to jump as far or for as long if it didn’t use plyometrics itself. If it had to use just contraction, in its muscles, each time for the jump it would be exhausted very quickly.
How is it done?
You can apply this style of training to any part of the body; it just takes an understanding of what is needed to be achieved. You need to use the muscle in the eccentric part of a movement immediately prior to a fast contraction of the same muscle. The eccentric stage of movement is probably explained best with a bicep curl. Brining the weight up to your shoulder is the contraction of the bicep muscle. The eccentric phase of the movement is a slow movement back down. You still use the bicep but it is lengthening in a controlled manner. It is the controlled lengthening that is the eccentric movement but it is not plyometrics until that movement becomes the “spring loading” stage prior to an explosive contraction of the same muscle.
As the example we shall keep it simple and copy the kangaroo. So our imitation of the kangaroo’s bounce is a two footed jump or for its proper name in the gym world “the squat jump”. To start the exercise we need to “spring load” our thigh muscles. We can do this by initiating a jump and landing; as soon as your feet hit the ground absorb the impact by bending at the knees and going into a squat (this is the “spring loading” portion of the movement – .). You have to be quick and explosive at this point, as soon as you have reached the bottom part of the squat so that your knees are at 90 degrees you need to power up through your legs to create a jump that will get you into the air. Guess what you have to do now? Yep you’ve guessed it, you need to drop right back down to the floor (thanks to our friend gravity – .) and repeat the whole lot again. When I do this I aim to do 20 in a row and then rest, however, if you are just starting your plyometric training then do slightly less and build up over time.
What is it good for?
Plyometric training helps to build muscle strength and endurance, but what it really works on is power. Power is the measure of the speed you can get the strength functioning and with plyometric training you can create very explosive power. This is very useful for sports people from all walks of life and because you can introduce it to almost any muscle group it can benefit a lot of sports. Boxing requires a lot of power and this is one of the more obvious ones, another sport is golf and being able to create power in a controlled swing. It’s not just the case of building up strength in the swing as I have seen many smaller framed people hit the ball further than larger people and their skill levels have been similar, it is all to do with the power in the swing and introducing the “spring loading” on the backswing. If your golf is anything like mine then just hitting the ball in the fairway is challenging enough but for those of you competent at golf this style of training could add yards to each shot. There are just a couple of examples but you could apply it to any sport that requires a power surge at some point.
This style of training is completely different to any other training style as you can’t really do plyometric training continuously on every training session. It needs to be added, at the most, as one day a week addition to your regular training or added as one or two exercises into your regular training days. It puts a lot of pressure into the body and any more than this could lead to injury and have the opposite affect you were looking for.
And a Warning…
This is a very extreme form of training and requires a lot of awareness (proprioception – .), co-ordination and concentration. You have to be at a certain level before you even consider taking this type of training on. The top sport scientists have also created a list of abilities you must possess and contraindications before taking on any form of plyometrics. These are listed below so please make sure you can answer positively to all these before you start.
Physically strong: as a guide if you are training your legs you should be able to squat at least 60% of your bodyweight.
Very good flexibility: this is important for injury prevention and to increase the effect of the exercise at the point where the eccentric movement becomes the concentric.
Very good proprioception (awareness of the space around you – .): this is required as it takes a good amount of balance, co-ordination and agility.
Good posture: by good posture I mean strong core muscles which give you good posture. If you have bad posture you can end up really hurting yourself.
Age: as a guide you should do low intensity and low volume of the exercises if you are under the age of 18 or over the age of 40.
Surface and footwear: always wear good cushioned and well supported trainers. Add to this a gym mat for extra protection from impact.
Bodyweight: your weight must be under 240lbs and in my opinion must register as a healthy weight on the body mass index scale and for men have less than 25% body fat and for women less than 35% body fat before you even consider doing this training.
Technique: your technique must be perfect and you must have a professional at hand to guide you to get every aspect just right.
Injury: You must be injury free, even if the injury is not related to the part of the body you are training.
If you can’t answer positively to these questions and you fall into the negative on one or more category then please do not attempt this type of training. If you feel you can perform plyometrics then please do so in front of a personal trainer, sports coach or other physical activity professional.
You are probably now dying to know more exercises that fall into this category. All in good time my friends, keep coming back and visiting and I will add exercises to the plyometric section over time.
Remember enjoy it but always be safe, do not try exercises that are beyond your capabilities as the injuries can be permanent.