By Kim Duke, NETA & AFAA Certified Trainer
Most of my clients have a desired goal of developing a sculpted body. Not too bulky, just lean and fit. They have come to me since they want a clear way to achieve this goal. I provide them with strength training to build their muscles, and with many of them we train aerobically and anaerobically with light to intense jumping-based exercises.
Commonly known as jump training, plyometrics (or plyos) train tissues to fire more explosively.
“Plyos are exercises that emphasize the elastic components of muscles and tendons to facilitate explosive movements,” says Justin Smith, co-director of Athletic Performance at the University of Vermont. “Developing coordination, balance, power, body control and reactivity – all of these can be gained through even the most basic plyometric exercises.”
Think of your muscles like springs. When you add force and compress the coil shape, it absorbs your potential energy. Remove the force and the energy is released, allowing the spring to return to its normal shape, but in a quick, explosive manner. Your muscles work the same way. The connective tissues store elastic energy during the loading phase, such as a squat, and then give you the power to jump as that energy is released.
Athletes rely on plyometric-based training to jump higher, be lightning fast on their feet and optimize total athletic performance. But, that does not mean jumping is just for those in the game.
On their own, plyometric exercises can help strengthen muscles and burn calories, and all in a relatively quick amount of time since the idea is to keep reps low and the intensity and effort high. The result can lead to a more toned and tighter you without spending all your time in the gym.
Start With the Basics
Proper technique is essential to eliminate unnecessary fatigue and prevent injury when adding plyometric exercises to your routine. Here are some tips for refining your form:
1. Ski jump stance: Begin in the ski jump alignment position, which involves a good hip hinge forward bend, with your butt back and knees just in front of your toes. Your power comes from your hips, so it’s important that they are properly loaded.
2. Add arms: Your arms help to generate momentum and keep the focus on an upward trajectory. Synchronize the arm swing with the drive off your legs to gain better height. If you are doing it wrong, it will feel awkward.
3. Land lightly: The emphasis of a soft landing is essential to protect your joints and lessen the strain on your body from repeated jumping. If you keep this in mind, you’ll be able to practice jumping and plyometrics without injury.
According to Smith, “Adding a dose of plyometrics to an exercise routine – even just one move – can activate neurotransmitters that reside in the feet. These signals help boost metabolism and activate otherwise dormant tissues.”
Smith’s advice for recreational athletes and plyo neophytes is twofold. One: warm up before working out; and two (in terms snowsports enthusiasts can relate): “start with green-circle exercises and work up to the more challenging black diamonds.”