Did you enjoy following the Rio Olympics as much as I did? If you watched events like track and field or basketball you’ll have noticed how high athletes jump and how explosive their movements are. How do they do it? Chalk it up, partly, to plyometrics training!
What is it: Plyometrics (also called jump training), are a type of exercise which help develop muscular power. Power is the ability to combine muscular strength and speed.
How it works: It’s easiest to explain using an example; let’s use the quadriceps (front part of the upper leg muscle). If you were to jump off a surface to a lower surface and land in a half squat, your muscle would contract when it is lengthened. This is called an eccentric contraction. Nerves in the muscle and tendon notice the lengthening and make the subsequent contraction more powerful. This means, immediately jumping after landing creates a stronger muscle contraction than if you hadn’t jumped before.
Before you try it: Those with chronic health conditions, like high blood pressure and osteoporosis, should consult a doctor or exercise physiologist before trying plyometrics. If you have not been regularly active over the past few months, I recommend establishing your baseline fitness first. You must be able to land correctly from jumping (i.e. knees over feet), have baseline strength, aerobic training, good core stability, and be injury free.
How to do it: Start with a light-intensity aerobic exercise and progress to moderate-intensity over a 15-20 minute period. You should be breathing a bit harder and feeling warm and sweaty. This warm-up will get your joints ready, increase your body temperature and heart rate, and get your body and brain set to exercise. There are three phases to plyometrics: landing, amortization (transfer) and take off.
- Beginners should jump from a low height. Landing should be on a “soft surface” (gym mat, wood floor, grass, rubber track) and controlled (no wobbly knees).
- The amortization (transfer) phase is when your feet are in contact with the ground immediately after the landing. This phase only lasts a fraction of a second.
- The take-off phase is a maximal contraction (jumping as hard as you can) after the amortization phase.
For example, jump off a stair (phase 1), land in a controlled half squat on a mat (phase 2) and immediately re-jump forward once you land (phase 3).
After you are done a cycle (all three phases), take five seconds to reset on the jumping surface and start over. Beginners can start with two to three sets of four jumps, with two to three minutes between sets. After you are done, do at least 10 minutes of light-intensity aerobic exercise to cool down.
Although you may not “feel the burn”, plyometrics are stressful on the muscle, joints and nervous system, so don’t rush or overwork yourself. Stick to two non-consecutive sessions per week. A bit of plyometric training will make you jump higher for those rebounds at rec. league basketball games. Questions? Ask in the comments below!