The Science of Plyo

Have you guys heard about plyometric training? You probably have as it’s been around for quite some time. Even if you haven’t you have probably been doing some variations of it without knowing! Crossfit style workouts are usually plyometric and unless you are hiding under the fitness world rock, you have got to have heard of that.

But do you really know much about it? I have been doing plyometrics for quite some time, long enough to know that there are some definite cons as well as the pros if you aren’t cautious. It’s how I tore my quad! So I thought I’d share the answers to a couple of questions I have had about this style of training:

What makes something plyometric or not?

Plyometrics are movements that allow you to exert the maximum amount of force in the shortest amount of time. They are often described as explosive movements or jump training. There are technically 2 types of plyometrics training:

1 – The shock method, which is the original method designed for track and field athletes. This involved things like jumping from a heights and immediately jumping as high as possible as soon as you hit the ground. This improved the athlete’s ability to explode off of the ground and decrease the foot to ground contact. The less time a sprinters foot in on the ground, the more time they are moving forward. This is very specialised and probably not helpful to 99% of the population.

2 – Jump training – this is any form of jumping/explosive movement that is done without regard for timing. This means that if you are doing a box jump, the time between landing and jumping is not the focus, the actual jump and exertion is the focus. This is not technically plyometric because the whole point is to increase you ability to switch from an eccentric motion to a concentric motion with involves a lot of central nervous system activation. BUT it is great for weight loss!

Why should I bother with plyometrics?

Personally I find cardio boring unless it’s constantly varied. The advantage of either type of plyometrics is that they are very high intensity and can have similar benefits to interval training for cardio without the treadmill. So, don’t want to run today? Would rather jump around like a goof? Do it!

Plyometrics have been shown to rapidly increase your heart rate and get your central nervous system firing very quickly. Both of these things allow your body to mobilize it’s fat stores and use it for fuel… but only once you rest. That’s kind of a whole different topic to take on, but the short version is this:

When you are performing a high intensity movement your body uses glycogen for energy, which is stored in the muscle. While that is happening your body starts releasing energy stores (assuming you haven’t just eating a huge plate of pasta thereby giving your body unlimited sources of carbs) to replenish the glycogen. When you are in the midst of the exercise your body is focusing really hard on supplying enough energy to the muscles to keep going. When you stop (even for 30 seconds) your body (nervous system and enzymes and all those good things) can switch gears and start using the aerobic systems (oxygen) to replenish the energy and start the next bout of anaerobic (high intensity work). By doing this repeatedly, you will deplete the glycogen stores in your muscles, and your body will have to replenish these stores. As long as you don’t consume more carbs than you used, some of that will have to come from your own body… your fat!

*** please don’t yell at me for that being a terrible explanation, I am trying to keep it simple. I didn’t want to explain the whole Kreb’s Cycle!***

English: Citric acid cycle Français : Vue géné...

English: Citric acid cycle Français : Vue générale sur le cycle de Krebs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Plyometrics are also very useful in athletics. They specifically train explosive movements, agility and reaction times which are all applicable to sports.

Similar to HIITs, plyometrics can torch a tonne of calories in a small amount of time thanks to their high energy requirements and the fact that they employ both aerobic and anaerobic systems.

What are the risks with Plyometrics?

The main risk is injury. They aren’t really a beginner move, but because of the popularity of things like crossfit and vague talk of burning more calories and a shorter time, a lot of beginners are trying it. There are 3 really important things to remember if you want to avoid injury with plyometrics:

1 – warm up! Please do as a say! This is particularly important if you are using the shock method because it requires your muscle to stop momentum in progress. I’m sure your been asked to compare your muscles to elastic bands before… cold elastic bands break… warm ones don’t, and that’s under normal conditions. I will use my injury as an example (excuse my terrible stick figures)Plyo

You are performing jumping lunges which means you start in a lunge position, explode up high enough to switch legs mid-air and land on the opposite legs in a lunge position again. Then, as quickly as you can you do the same thing, trying to allow little time between jumps.

So what is happening here? When you land, your muscles are stretching to allow you to get into a lunge position, but those same muscles are contracting in order to reverse the motion and jump again. So you are applying force to a muscle in a stretched position that is attempting to contract and reverse the motion. Yup, sounds hard to me too! But this is what activates your nervous system so well!

When you contract your muscles, the middle of the muscle bunches which looks great when you flex. But the ends of those muscles are connected to bone and are being stretched, so all that force is being applied to an immovable connection. If your muscles are not able to stretch enough to accommodate the movement and the shortened muscle due to the contracting they are likely to tear are one of the 3 places I have shown in my terrible diagram. Your hip (either your quad or hip flexor) at the ilioc ridge, your glute at the glute-hamstring tie-in or you hamstring at the glute-hamstring tie-in.

2 – make sure you can do the range of motion comfortably. If you feel a stretch in your quad doing a normal lunge, do not attempt a jumping lunge because the muscle will be stretching under tension as I explain above. Work increasing your flexibility before attempting these movements.

3 – keep really good form. Plyometrics aren’t really something that should be done to failure because failing in the middle of a jump leads to broken ankles and such. Instead, do as many of the exercise as you can with good form and then, do the same motion without the jump right after to completely exhaust the muscle safely.

So what are some plyometric moves I can do and how should I incorporate them?

Some moves are:

–          Jumping alternating lunges – start in a lunge, jump and switch your legs mid-air, land in a lunge and repeat

–          Jump squats – start in a squat and explode up, land low and continue to squat then explode up again

–          Box jumps – find a stable surface between knee and hip height (something that you would be comfortable jumping on and off of), stand about 2 feet away and bend slightly at the knee, jump onto the box landing in a squat position, stand up fully and squat back down, jump back into starting position and repeat (jump immediately after landing for the shock method)

–          Kettlebell swings – get a heavy-ish kettlebell and hold it between your legs in a wide stance squat, use your glutes to thrust your hips forward and propel the kettlebell to shoulder height or higher than let it swing back down and into the starting position and repeat.

–          Burpees – I know you know what these are… don’t pretend!

–          Clap push ups – do a regular push up, but push off the ground hard enough to enable to you clap your hands and then catch yourself – this is one of the only true upper body plyometric movements.

I like to incorporate these into by circuit training days when I don’t have time for (or don’t want to do) cardio. They will get your heart rate up super high very quickly so I wouldn’t do a whole circuit of these. Try doing a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio of normal exercises and plyos.

Since I’ve been talking about this I am going to do this tonight! So here is the workout I have planned using a 1:1 ratio.

Warm up with 5 minutes of running and some dynamic stretching

Strength – do 3 sets of squats at a heavy weight

Exercise (30 seconds rest between exercises) Circuit 1 (rest 2 mins) Circuit 2 (rest 2 mins) Circuit 3
Jump Squats 10 reps 10 reps 10 reps
Bulgarian split squats 15  reps each leg 15  reps each leg 15  reps each leg
Jumping alternating lunges 16 reps 16 reps 16 reps
Glute bridges 40 lbs/10 reps 40 lbs/10 reps 40 lbs/10 reps
Kettlebell swings 16 kg/20 reps 16 kg/20 reps 16 kg/20 reps
Leg extensions 90 lbs/10 reps 105 lbs/10 reps 120 lbs/10 reps

Stretch really really well!

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9 thoughts on “The Science of Plyo

  1. Pingback: Plyometric Training for Sprinters « pinoyathletics.com

  2. Pingback: Video: Shallow to Deep Jumps

  3. Pingback: Plyometric Training for Sprinters | pinoyathletics.com

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