When plotting out a well-rounded fitness routine, you likely know to include a mix of cardio and strength-building exercises in order to hit your goals. But if you’re looking to build your athletic prowess, you’ll do well to include another training style in your schedule: Plyometrics.
To learn all there is to know about the workout method, turn to this plyometric training guide, which explains "what is plyometrics?" and breaks down some of the biggest benefits of plyometrics. Plus, you'll find a round-up of plyometric workouts that will leave you feeling powerful AF.
What Is Plyometrics?
Essentially, plyometrics (aka plyos) are explosive exercises that involve producing the maximum amount of force in the shortest amount of time, says Chris Ryan, C.S.C.S., a certified personal trainer with MIRROR and a lululemon ambassador. To do just that, you’ll utilize the stretch-shortening cycle, in which your muscles are lengthened to build up potential energy (the eccentric phase), then rapidly shortened to release it (the concentric phase), research shows. “This contraction phase is the secret sauce for producing the maximum power for an athlete,” says Ryan.
Most often, plyometric exercises entail jumping, leaping, bounding, and changing directions rapidly, adds Lydia Howard, M.S.W., R.Y.T.-200, a personal trainer and movement coach at Current Wellness in Raleigh, North Carolina. The staples? Jump squats, jump lunges, box jumps, skaters, plank jacks, clapping push-ups, depth jumps, lateral jumps, tuck jumps, and broad jumps, according to the experts. These exercises are typically bodyweight-only, says Howard, but you can amp up the intensity by utilizing resistance bands or weights, adds Ryan. (BTW, Howard recommends holding off on increasing the load during plyometric exercises unless you’re advanced and injury-free.)
Given all the jumping involved, plyometrics is generally high-impact and high-intensity, so you’ll want to limit these workouts to just once or twice a week, with a few recovery days in between, says Howard. “Plyometrics overall can be hard on the joints, so doing it every day is not a good idea,” she explains. There’s also an increased risk of injury due to the significant amount of force you’re generating to perform the movements, as well as the impact of them, adds Ryan. “Good levels of physical strength, flexibility, and proprioception should be achieved [before] major plyometric training to avoid injury,” he says. Still, folks dealing with ankle, knee, hip, or low back pain, as well as cardiovascular or balance issues, should chat with their healthcare provider before giving plyometric training a shot, says Howard.
The Benefits of Plyometrics
By tackling plyometric training regularly, you'll learn how to move your muscles from an extended to a contracted position in an explosive manner, which over time, helps you build speed and power, says Ryan. Consequently, plyometric exercises "are there to help assist you to run faster and jump higher or farther," he says. And that's not the only benefit plyometrics has to offer.
While plyometrics doesn't have too many functional benefits, aside from increasing your ability to jump over or dodge objects, practicing the training style can be particularly useful for athletes, says Howard. Just think of a baseball player: During each play, they'll squat down to the ground to catch the ball, then they'll rapidly stand back up and throw it to their teammate, she explains. "Think about the contraction and lengthening of the muscles that's happening over and over and over again for a short duration of time," says Howard.
In this baseball scenario, sticking with plyometric training can improve the speed at which the athlete pops back up to standing. But it’s not just for the folks in the outfield. “Athletes involved with martial arts, sprinting and running, jumping events in track and field, basketball, volleyball, soccer and football players, and even golfers can benefit greatly from plyometric work,” adds Ryan. Regardless of the sport, plyometrics will improve how high and far you can jump, how quickly you can do those two things, plus your agility and balance, says Howard.
And research backs this up: Studies have found that plyometric training improves jumping performance in basketball, soccer, handball, and volleyball, according to the Journal of Human Kinetics. And doing just two to three sessions of plyometric training a week for four to 16 weeks has been found to improve jump height, sprint, and agility performances in team sports players, according to the JHK information.
May Improve Bone Mineral Density
Not only do plyometric workouts put your muscles to the test, but thanks to all the jumps, they also challenge your bones, which may help improve bone mineral density, says Howard. ICYDK, bone mineral density refers to the level of minerals contained in your bones. The higher your bone mineral content, the denser your bones are, and, in turn, the stronger they are — and less likely to break, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Jumping is one of the best things you can do to add impact into your life so that your bones are feeling stress and they react to it in a positive way,” says Howard. In fact, a study of 60 premenopausal women found that jumping just 10 to 20 times, with 30 seconds in between each rep, twice daily can improve hip bone mineral density. Translation: Tackling plyometric exercises — when performed properly, of course — could keep a broken bone at bay.
Can Be Utilized Throughout Your Workout
When you're ready to add plyometrics into your training regimen, you have options. For a quick and sweaty session, you can opt for a workout that features just plyometric exercises, which will typically be shorter in length so you can consistently produce as much power as possible, says Ryan. To train multiple aspects of your fitness at once, you can also sprinkle plyometric exercises throughout your longer strength-training workouts, adds Howard. "For example, you can do depth jumps after doing a heavy hex bar deadlift or squat, as your central nervous system [will be] primed and ready to go," says Ryan. Or, you can end your workout with five minutes of plyometric exercises for a final cardio burst, says Howard.
The Best Plyometric Workouts
To take your power up a notch and feel like a serious athlete — even if you're just on a recreational kickball league — consider incorporating these plyometric workouts into your routine. Whether you want to focus on particular muscle groups or break a sweat just like the celebs, these workouts will surely work up a sweat.