Plyometric exercise also known as “jump training” or “reactive training,” is traditionally used to build explosive and powerful movement by increasing both the strength and speed of the muscle contractions. This type of training evolved in the Eastern bloc during the 1950’s and has since become very popular amongst athletes of all levels as the movements performed in plyometrics relate to the movements in sports such as tennis, football, hockey, etc.
Jump training conjures up images of muscular pro athletes or sweaty Crossfitters doing intimidating looking box jumps. Though if you look around today, you’ll see plyometrics being utilized by us regular folk, from kids jumping around to adults in bootcamps, and from people rehabilitating an injury to a 50 year old woman training for her first Everst Base Camp hike in Nepal.
How Plyometrics works
Plyometrics can be broken down into three main phases: (1) Eccentric (2) Amortization and (2) Concentric stages
The first phase is the eccentric or loading phase. In this phase the muscle is being stretched, quickly transforming energy within the muscle into potential elastic energy. The pre-stretch of the muscle will activate the muscles spindles, which are stretch receptors that lie paralleled to the muscle fibers. These receptors are important because they induce the stretch reflex.
The second phase or the amortization phase, is the time it takes to go from phase 1 (the eccentric phase) to phase 3 (the concentric phase), which is the commencement of a muscle contraction. The goal is to spend the least amount of time in phase 2. The shorter time allows the body to use more the stored elastic energy creating a more powerful movement. If you drive a standard car, it’s like minimizing the time spent shifting (or in neutral), when your car is not actually in a gear.
Longer amounts of time in phase 2 decreases the amount of energy available to the muscle, as it is lost to other forms of energy. This results in a decreased power output. This phase includes the time in which it takes the signals that were generated by the muscle spindles to travel to the spinal cord and the brain to have a signal relayed to the muscle for it to contract. With training, neuromuscular efficacy will increase allowing for a more rapid switch from eccentric loading to concentric contraction leads to a more powerful response.
The third phase, or the concentric stage, is the response to the eccentric and amortization phase (steps one and two). During this phase the muscle contracts to create an explosive movement, as the muscle contracts rapidly with the help of the stored elastic energy from the eccentric phase.
Benefits of Plyometrics
Most athletes are exposed to plyometric training at a young age, and in fact, any child that runs, hops, skips, jumps naturally engages in plyometrics. However as we age, some of us tend to become more sedentary due to work, scheduling and life in general, and as a result, stop engaging in this kind of activity.
We’ve noticed that when clients are introduce staged and appropriate plyometric training, they report the following:
- Better weight loss results
- Prevented serious injuries from slips and falls – likely due to strengthening of the lower body muscles and improved reaction time, balance and core strength
- Improved cardiovascular fitness
- Increased enjoyment of activity and keeping up, or out performing their friends and family
- They’ve tried and had a great time with new activities that weren’t previously on their radar
- Improved confidence in abilities
- Increased ability to keep up with kids that run jump and play
Before starting your plyometrics training
- Work with an experienced and qualified trainer to determine if you are ready to add plyometrics into your workout, as they require a certain level of fitness. Proper technique is important especially in the landing portion of the exercises to reduce the risk of injury.
- Always start easy and progress into the more challenging exercises. It’s always best to have a qualified trainer help you with your build a plyometric program with the proper progression of exercise to prevent the risk of injury.
- Proper equipment such as well cushioned shoes and a well-cushioned floor (ex. spring floors, shock absorbing mats, or a moist grass field) is extremely important when starting out. While you may see many people performing plyometrics on flooring such as cement, it is not recommended.
- This type of training requires a proper warm up routine which should include some dynamic stretching prior to commencement.
- Plyometrics might not be the best for people who have any type of bone or joint problems or certain types of injuries. Again, working with a qualified trainer to help determine how to start out is extremely important.
- Quality over quantity! Simply doing more reps can result in injury that might take you longer to recover from, than if you were to engage in a lower training volume, with excellent technique.
Hopefully we’ve convinced you to consider incorporating plyometrics into you workout routine, and reap the benefits in your every day life! Just remember to do a little research, ask lots of questions and if you need help, give us a shout! We’d love to help you out!