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Plyometrics for Dummies

Jul 13, 2012
Want a great way to boost your workout intensity and increase your athletic performance? Then incorporate plyometric training into your workouts. They may have started as Ruskie experiments, but you no longer need to be a Soviet star athlete to see the effects of plyos.

A Very Brief History

Plyometric training has been refined over the last 40 years since its origination as a Soviet method to increase athletic performance in Olympic contests. As we know them today, plyos are designed to increase three key areas of athletic performance--speed, quickness, and explosiveness or power. As such, they've become a staple in the workout regimens of the world's top athletes.

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How Do They Work?

Plyos are a compound exercise. Your muscles will go through two phases while performing them: eccentric contraction and concentric contraction. In order to achieve this, plyo exercises will cause your muscles to contract eccentrically (meaning they get longer under tension). This is usually achieved through jumping. When you land, your muscles are contracting eccentrically, acting like brakes on a car. Immediately after, plyo exercises will trigger concentric contraction (your muscles shorten up), as you push off to jump again. The time it takes to switch these muscle contractions is literally tenths of a second.

The goal of plyos is to help the athlete increase the power or strength of these contractions, as well as decrease the time between them. If done correctly, plyometric jumps can help increase your explosive power as well as your quickness in movements, which is great for that weekend tennis match or a game of pickup on the courts.

How Do I Use Them?

Incorporating plyos into your workout is a great idea if you want to add explosive power and quickness. However, you shouldn't jump right in (no pun intended). Once you have a solid base of strength, plyo workouts can only increase your results. Here are some recommended plyometric exercises to add into your normal routine:

1. Depth Jump

This is the O.G. of plyos. Use a box platform or aerobic steps and stand with toes on the edge. Let yourself fall off the edge of the box/steps. As you land, your eccentric contraction will stop you from landing butt down on the ground. As soon as your feet hit, immediately explode upwards by jumping as high as you can. Climb back on the box and repeat 7-10 times. That is one set. Complete 2-3 sets of Depth Jumps. The height of your platform should be no higher than 30 inches, unless you're a pro (as in the photo below)...anything over that could cause unnecessary injury.

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2. Explosive Movements

This isn't really a singular exercise, but the incorporation of explosive movements in other exercises. For example, you can add explosive movements into pushups by making them clap pushups: explode up, clap, return to push up position. Or squat jumps: perform a standard squat, but explode up as high as you can from the bottom position. Perform 10-12 reps of each for a set. Repeat for 2 to 3 sets. 

Ryan Barnhart, MS, PES, is a certified Performance Enhancement and Injury Prevention Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). He also holds a master's degree in exercise science, as well as a bachelor of sport management, both from California University of Pennsylvania. Ryan has worked with numerous collegiate and amateur athletes across many different fields. Ryan also has had the opportunity to work with several professional athletes. Recently he has worked with amateur and professional athletes within the emerging sport of Mixed Martial Arts.

Ryan is currently the director of fitness at a 700+ member gym near Pittsburgh, PA. He enjoys working with weekend warriors, athletes, and everyone in between. You can contact Ryan at rbbarnhart@gmail.com.





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