Plyometrics is also known as jump training and is designed to increase muscular power and explosiveness.
Plyometrics was originally developed for Olympic athletes but has become a popular workout routine for people of all ages.
Plyometric training conditions the body with dynamic resistance exercises that rapidly stretch a muscle (eccentric phase) and then rapidly shorten it (concentric phase). Hopping and jumping exercises, for example, subject the quadriceps to a stretch-shortening cycle that can strengthen these muscles, increase vertical jump and reduce the force of impact on the joints.
Because plyometric exercises mimic the motions used in sports such as skiing, tennis, football, basketball, volleyball, and boxing, plyometric training is often used to condition professional and amateur adult athletes. However, sport scientists say children and adolescents also can benefit from a properly designed and supervised plyometric routine.
Plyometric training is associated with many benefits. First popularised in the 1970s by state sports trainers in the former East Germany, it's based on scientific evidence showing that the stretch-shortening cycle prompts the stretch or “myotactic” reflex of muscle and improves the power of muscular contraction.
But plyometric training is also associated with some risks, including an increased risk of injury, especially in participants who don't have adequate strength to begin with. So if you're considering plyometrics, it's important to consult with a sports medicine doctor or therapist who can assess your suitability for a plyometrics training programme and then help you find a qualified coach or trainer who can gradually introduce you to more difficult exercises.
Examples of plyometric exercises
Trainers have developed thousands of plyometric exercises. A simple routine for children and adolescents can start with one to three sets of six to 10 repetitions of one upper-body exercise such as a medicine ball chest pass and one lower body exercise such as a double-leg hop on two non-consecutive days per week. As muscle strength increases, the routine can be expanded to include multiple medicine ball throws, jumps and single leg-hops.
Plyometrics routines for qualified adults range from low-intensity double-leg hops to high-intensity drills such as depth jumps, which involve jumping up to and down from boxes or benches as high as 42 inches. High-intensity drills can subject a participant to forces up to seven times his or her body weight.
For sports that require explosive lower-body power, a plyometric routine may start with ground-level jumping on soft surfaces such as padded mats or grass, progress to jumping over cones or foam barriers, and then advance to bounding exercises performed in straight lines and patterns.
Benefits of plyometrics
Research studies have shown that plyometric training can lead to improvements in:
- Vertical jump performance
- Leg strength
- Muscle power
- Overall agility
- Bone density (especially in younger participants)