Applied Plyometrics 101

Posted: October 19, 2011 in Gym
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A few years ago when I started this whole healthy living business, I acquainted myself pretty proficiently at the whole strength training-slash-weights ‘thang’, and then this year I upped that ante and became more proficient with the core ‘thang’.  Now, that’s not to say that I’ve mastered them 100% or anything, but I did significantly learn how to effectively develop myself through these basic conditioning principles as well learning what benefits they provided my body performance wise and that knowledge has served me very well indeed.  However, Ironman is a completely different beast altogether, so I’m if going to be successful in obtaining my lofty fitness goals this years, basically, I need to ramp up this conditioning significantly; so enter something called ‘plyometrics’.

Yeah, I know, plyometrics instantly sounds like something that I might have attended in summer school after failing miserably in high school; “Mom, I got an F in plyometrics again this semester.”   But, actually, Plyometric training was developed in Russia back in the 1960’s.  So that’s what those Commies were up to behind their Red Curtain for so long?  Hmm.

The term “plyometric” comes from two Greek words meaning “longer” and “to measure or compare”…two words synonymous with endurance training if you ask me.  The point of plyometric training is to train the nervous system to react quickly to the lengthening of the muscle by rapidly shortening the same muscle with maximum force.  This is process is typically referred to as the “stretch-shortening cycle” (wait, doesn’t that have something to do with laundry?), in which a muscle is loaded and then contracted in rapid sequence.  Plyometrics use the strength, elasticity and innervations of muscle and surrounding tissues to jump higher, run faster, throw farther, or hit harder, depending on the desired training goal (in my case, to swim, bike and run like a demon possessed).  Plyometric drills, then, is used to increase the speed or force of muscular contractions, providing that explosiveness for a variety of sport-specific activities.

Specifically, plyometric training develops power in the lower extremities through various jumping movements and bounding, so the relevance to sports such as basketball and high jumping is pretty clear enough. But even distance running is a form of repeated jumping when you think about it, so it’s no surprise that plyometric training has been proven to boost running performance and, so, assist me towards my 1:45 half marathon goal this year. But what about cycling and swimming where the feet never even touch the ground? Well, muscle power in the legs would clearly be beneficial in cycling – that goes without saying – as it would with my kicking drills in the pool I’m sure, so how can I loose?  Besides, there are lots of upper body plyometric exercises to consider to boot.

So with this new training strategy firmly implanted in my brain pan, I contacted my little brother – a certified personal trainer – to design for me a few recommended plyometrics routines that I could launch myself into.  I even Googled a few exercises myself on YouTube, of course, and thanks to Lance Armstrong there seem to be, oh, about a zillion suggested exercises for triathletes and cyclists alike.  So maybe I’ll just stick with my brothers few suggestions to begin with.

These recommended exercises came with some pretty unusual names: ‘the scorpion’, ‘planks’, ‘hockey stride jumps’, ‘lateral box jumps’, ‘squat jumps’, ‘pike jumps’, ‘sled pushes’ and ‘bunny hops’.  Really?  Besides the ‘scorpion’, which is a little intimidating, these exercises all sound a little too, well, sissy.  I mean it’s hard to get serious about something referred to as ‘bunny hops’, right?  But, in reality, these exercises are fucking killer.  I damn near had a massive coronary during my first workout and I was only having these exercises explained to me.  The good news is that I can also incorporate my favorite gym trick into this routine as well: medicine ball push-ups.  So, now, I can also pursue that unique challenge I set for myself earlier this year.

I am hoping then that over the next three months or so, these types of workouts are not only going to develop my upper and lower body muscle systems as well as my core, but also help me shed a l’il extra poundage in the meantime leading into my serious endurance training come the New Year.  That’s the plan anyway…

However, I have also researched that the risk to injury during these plyometric-type drills is also pretty high and, Lord knows, I don’t want to go there.  So before beginning, here are a few recommendations prior to launching into your own plyometric routines:

  • Prepare your muscles, tendons and joints with at least six to eight weeks of resistance training before engaging in plyometrics to reduce the likelihood of injury. (Check!)
  • Warm-up thoroughly prior to these exercises. (Check!)
  • Plyometrics should also not be performed on excessively fatigued muscles. (Check!)
  • Limit workouts to twice a week to minimize injury risk without compromising benefits. (Check!)
  • Count ground contacts and limit them to 80-100 for beginners, 100-120 for intermediates and 120-140 for advanced athletes. (Will do!)
  1. Rebecca Main says:

    You can download the P90X plyo video- it’s a great workout!

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