Plyometric training involves dynamic strength training exercises where there is minimal rest time between an initial movement, and the next repetition. It purposely manipulates the stresses on your muscles during different phases of contraction, using quick, explosive movements that load up the muscle while it stretches rapidly.
These exercises may involve activities such as jumping, leaping, hopping, skipping and bounding to help develop lower-body strength, speed, and power.
Plyometrics is considered ideal for both sprinters and marathoners alike because many of the exercises target muscles specific to running.
Research on plyometrics
A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning highlighted the importance of plyometrics for improving running performance.
Researchers divided distance runners to either a dynamic weight training program or a plyometric training program to compare the impact on the energy cost of running. The runners performed their relevant strength training exercises once a week (in addition to their usual running training) over an 8 week period.
It was found that the plyometric trained group improved the energy cost of running by 7%, compared to 4% for the weight training group.
This improvement in running economy may seem small, but it could take minutes off the time to complete an event for middle and long distance runners. According to the researchers, greater results may have occurred if the strength training regimes were undertaken more than once a week.
They also suggested that plyometric training has the potential to provide the most benefit to runners who have been identified as having a high energy cost of running. They conclude that strength training such as plyometrics offers more than just injury prevention benefits to runners.
Tips on including plyometrics in your training program
Plyometrics is proven to be an important component of training for distance runners, but it is an advanced training technique. Here are points to consider when looking at introducing plyometrics into your training regime.
Make sure you are injury free – The explosive nature of plyometric exercises, such as jumping and hopping, places extra stress on your muscles, joints and tendons. This makes it important that you are free of both short and long-term injuries when performing plyometric exercises.
Have a training base – It’s advisable to have a solid training base (a consistent training history of running for 2-3 months) and good lower-body strength before commencing plyometrics. Because plyometrics is an advanced strength training technique, a solid base of standard strength training (strength training twice a week for 2 – 3 months) is also desirable.
Start with beginner exercises – Some plyometrics exercises place less stress on your body than others. Good beginner exercises include skipping, jumping on a trampoline, and hopping with both feet. For example, two-legged small hops involve moving forward in small jumps over 8-10 metres. Introduce these exercises gradually and progressively over several weeks, performing them 1-2 days each week, making sure not to perform them on consecutive days. As with all aspects of your training, if anything hurts, stop immediately.
Gradually build to more advanced exercises – As your develop more confidence in your strength and balance, aim to achieve more height, distance and explosive intensity rather than more repetitions. More advanced exercises include a standing long jump, a triple jump, single leg hopping, squat jumps and drop jumps. Drop jumps were used in the study mentioned above that helped reduced the energy cost of running. They involve jumping off a box onto the ground and landing in a squat position, from which you immediately jump straight up as high as you can. The box can be anywhere between 20-60 centimetres high depending on your height and level of fitness.
References available on request