The Basics of Plyometrics
If you’ve read my reviews, or tried any of the workout programs that I recommend, you’ve no doubt heard me mention plyometrics.
This is a term that you’ll often hear when people talk about taking their exercise to the next level. Plyometrics—also known as plyos by those in the fitness world—show up in many workout videos on this site, like P90X or Insanity … and even Jillian Michaels Body Revolution.
If you’ve done any of these programs, then you’ve already tried out plyometrics (maybe even without realizing it). If you’re looking for a program that will keep you moving, then you should definitely think about choosing one that includes at least some plyos.
Either way, here’s a quick overview of what plyometrics are and why you should care.
What are plyometrics and can they help me outside my workouts?
Plyometrics are any movement that uses the Stretch-Shortening-Cycle (SSC). SSC involves lengthening of the muscle (eccentric action) followed by contraction of the muscle while shortening (concentric action).
Basically, it’s a stretch right before a contraction in which the muscle gets shorter at the same time. This type of combination is supposed to emphasize the concentric action and increase the amount of force and power produced by the muscle.
SSC shows up in throwing, bounding, and jumping. You’ll see them in movements like squat jumps, hops (take off on one leg and land on the same leg), bounds (take off on one leg and land on the opposite), and medium ball throws.
Who can benefit from plyometrics?
Plyometrics are great—essential, actually—for athletes, but everyone can benefit from adding these to a workout. Doing plyos regularly will not only burn fat, but will also improve your ability to coordinate movements at high speed.
Adding plyometrics to your workout will also spill over into the rest of your athletic life: while doing actions like blocking basketballs, spiking volleyballs, and even dunking. You may even improve your vertical jump.
One study even found that when people did plyometrics (jumps before squats), they were able to lift 5 percent more weight.
Don’t forget to work on these movements slowly at first. You want to have good form before you take the speed up a notch.
What’s the best way to progress with plyometrics?
Smart workouts mean smart sequences. It’s the same way when you’re using plyometrics. One option, as always, is to follow a workout program that’s already designed for you, like Jillian Michaels Body Revolution. No muss, no fuss.
But it’s also good to know the fundamentals of plyo progressions.
There are, of course, many options. You may be tempted to just add weight to the plyos you are already doing, but here’s one progression that works even better:
Plyos without countermovements (e.g. squat and pause before jumping)
Plyos with countermovements (e.g. stand tall, squat quickly, and then jump)
Plyos with double contact (e.g. forward hop, followed by a quick squat and jump)
Continuous plyos (e.g. repeated squat jumps).
What about sets, reps, and timing when it comes to plyos?
Plyometrics are all about quality, not quantity (remember what I said about working on the movements slowly … good form matters!).
The beginning of the workout is a great place for plyos, because they activate your muscles and the neurons that control them. You will also maximize your performance and strength gains.
To activate your neurons, what you want here is movements that are crisp, quick, and explosive. Also, stay close to the ground because high landings or deep jumps can strain your knees and ankles if they’re weak.
Less ideal is doing plyos at the end of your workout as cardio. Plyometrics are good cardio, of course, but what you really want to focus on is activating the muscles quickly.
Generally speaking, do about 10 minutes of plyos works. Try 2-3 different movements with 5-8 sets and 3-6 reps each. You don’t need to do plyometrics every day, though. Aim for 2-3 times a week.
And if you feel like you’ve hit a plateau, try adding another plyo exercise or increasing the reps. You can also work on balance by doing one-legged jumps (like bounds) instead of two-legged ones.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of plyometrics?
The upside of plyometrics: improves your performance and helps you avoid injuries. That said, you have to not overdo the plyos. Again, 10 minutes at the start of a workout is great.
The downside of plyometrics: messes up your performance and causes injuries. These things can happen if you do too many plyos in your workout, have terrible form, or use progressions that just don’t work.
That’s right, I said form again. If you’re going to work out fast, then you first need to work out slowly. You can’t do explosive movements until you have the form locked into your muscles.