Fitness classes across the country are incorporating an advanced training technique called plyometrics. Typically, elite athletes have used this training to push themselves to the next level, such as jumping higher or exploding out of the starting blocks. Can recreational athletes use this training as well? If so, how should they modify it to fit their needs?
Elite athletes, including professional and Olympic athletes, have used plyometric training for decades to increase their sports performance. Recreational athletes may need to approach this technique with caution. This is because some jumping exercises involve heights up to 42 inches. If you are not prepared for this type of workout, it can result in injury. Plyometrics can improve performance in jumping and sprinting. Adding plyometrics to your workout requires dedication and commitment because it can take several weeks to see results. However, at this time there are no specific guidelines in place for this type of training.
So should you do plyometrics? It depends on your goals. If you are a recreational athlete who has no desire to compete or increase performance in any particular sport, you may not benefit from plyometrics. But if you have specific, sports-related goals, talk with a qualified trainer about adding plyometrics to your training. Before you do anything, though, understand the basics about plyometrics so that you stay safe and injury-free.
You may not know exactly what plyometrics is, but without knowing it, you have probably done plyometric moves. Plyometrics is defined as enabling a muscle to reach maximal force in the shortest possible time. Pretend, for example, that you are trying to reach a book on a top shelf. You are going to jump for it, so you squat down a little and then you leap up to reach the book. That is plyometrics.
In its simplest terms, plyometrics means moving from a grounded position and exploding. It can also be seen in everyday movements like hopscotch, jump rope, or jumping jacks. You could also begin from an elevated position, such as a box, and move to the ground, which is an even more advanced version of plyometrics. Athletes training with plyometrics will do such plyometric moves in repetition, much like strength training exercises.
The real story lies in the muscles. Imagine if you tried to jump for that book with straight legs. You could never do it. But if you drop into a preloaded position, bending the knees slightly almost like a squat, you can use the elasticity of the hip and leg muscles to propel you upward.
Skiers, basketball players, volleyball players, and soccer players typically use explosive movements in their sports. Plyometrics might help volleyball players increase their vertical leap or skiers become more adept at handling moguls. To train for that demand, a skier might do something like side-to-side hops, bounding from one leg to another.
To maximize the benefits, you should first understand some basics about plyometrics. Most importantly, before you begin doing plyometrics, you should have a base of muscular strength. Otherwise, you might injure yourself.
When to Do Plyometrics
Because plyometrics is an intense training technique that replicates the stress you will be under in the sport you are training for, it should not be done every day or all year, depending on your goals. Instead, do what elite athletes do and break your training into different periods, a technique called periodization.
If you are training for a specific sport, introduce plyometrics into your preseason. For example, if you are a downhill skier, you might start plyometric training about 2 or 3 months before you hit the slopes.
Keep It Sport-Specific
Then, make sure you are training correctly for your sport. Ask a friend to videotape you. Or watch professional athletes in that sport and note how they move. Do they move forward and backward? Side to side? In other words, if you are a golfer, you have no need to build a vertical leap and would therefore train differently than a basketball player.
Think Quality, Not Quantity
Remember that you are working your muscles at a high level of intensity. In this case, more does not mean better. In fact, if you feel fatigued, you have done too much. Instead, keep the repetitions low, possibly 5 to 10, and quit before you feel like you cannot be explosive in the movement.
Work Up to It
Remember that progression of intensity and volume should be slow, with enough rest time between sets. As you improve, then you can increase volume. Once volume is maximized, then ramp up the intensity. If you are new to plyometrics, it is advisable to have a trainer.
Focus on Posture and Form
Watch your body posture. Use the strength in your torso to keep your spine in neutral alignment. If you are jumping, try not to let your head bob from side to side. Learn how to land using your feet and muscles to soften the impact.
American Council on Exercise
President's Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition
Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology
Plyometrics: Controlled impact/maximum power. American Council on Exercise website. Available at: https://www.acefitness.org/fitfacts/pdfs/fitfacts/itemid_2658.pdf. Accessed January 19, 2017.
Plyometric training. National Council of Strength and Fitness website. Available at: https://www.ncsf.org/pdf/ceu/plyometrics_training.pdf. Accessed January 19, 2017.
Plyometric training section. Sports Fitness Advisor website. Available at: http://www.sport-fitness-advisor.com/plyometric.html. Accessed January 19, 2017.
The physiology of plyometrics. Sports Fitness Advisor website. Available at: http://www.sport-fitness-advisor.com/plyometrics.html. Accessed January 19, 2017.
Last reviewed January 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 1/19/2017