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Jump higher, run faster, and build muscle through this growing fitness trend


Tuck jump: low intensity 

If you have ever wondered what effect people in a gym are receiving by jumping on and off boxes, let me give you the lowdown. They are most likely doing a version of plyometrics, which was pioneered by Russian scientist – Yuri Verkhoshansky, who in the early 1960s developed this training method as a means of sports training to improve athletic performance. Consequently, Soviet Union trainers used plyometrics for their athletes to dominate Olympic events requiring power and agility over the next two decades. Many other countries, including the United States, instituted plyometrics training into their team training programs in the mid 1970s. Decades later it has become a staple in athletic programs from high school, college to professional. Let us briefly take a look at what exactly this performance enhancer is.

What are plyometrics and the benefit?
Plyometrics is an exercise training designed to produce fast, powerful, explosive movements, and improve the functions of the nervous system, generally for the purpose of enhancing sports performance. It involves a rapid muscle lengthening movement, a short resting transition phase, and then an explosive muscle shortening movement; for example, if you were box jumping, the lengthening movement of your muscle (eccentric phase) would occur when both of your feet would hit the ground at the same time; the short resting phase (amortization phase) would be the very quick transition into the next phase – the explosive muscle shortening movement (concentric phase) when you would counteract with a jump or sprint with excessive force. As a result, the deep, deep muscle fibers are worked in addition to a neurological component which gradually facilitates a greater neuromuscular response when put in a position to react or counter-react during an athletic movement in the future.


Bounding: medium high intensity 

Plyometrics are commonly classified into four groups:

1. In place jumps (low intensity, high volume jumps performed with no displacement, such as jump rope, tuck jumps, lunge jumps, etc.).
2. Short bounding jumps (Low to medium intensity jumps with low volumes, minimal contacts, and some displacement, and some specific technical component, such as standing long jumps, standing triple jumps, or a few hurdle hops)
3. Extended bounding exercises (medium to high intensity bounding and hopping routines performed over extended distances alternating feet or on one foot.
4. Depth Jumps (high intensity, low volume jumps involving dropping your body from a 12" to 24” box, using gravity to increase loading. Examples are a box-standing long jump combination, or a box rebound to another box)
Over time, the plyometric program intensity should increase while the volume decreases.


Who can benefit from Plyometrics?
This is not just for the elite athlete. Everybody can benefit from some degree of plyometric training. It can help the league softball center fielder break on a deep fly ball to the fence quicker; create a higher and more explosive jump at the net for a league volleyball player; break to the basket quicker for the weekend warrior on the basketball court; help someone break through a hole quicker at the family picnic football game. And plyometrics are not just beneficial for sports players. There will be times when people can use increased athleticism during weekend fun; such as, using body control and quickness to climb over a fence; jumping from rock to rock during a hike in the woods after heavy rainfall; gracefully climbing into a fishing boat or kayak; gracefully climbing onto a horse. And how about for the people who require physical work on their jobs: tree climbers, roofers, fishermen, landscapers, builders – they all can benefit.  Plyometrics, which require 48 hours of rest between sessions, can make life easier and healthier for all people.
 


lateral cone jump 

Recent clinical study on plyometrics
Over the years, there have been many clinical studies on plyometric training with positive results. A recent study in Denmark on the muscle adaptations in 16 untrained healthy young men to plyometric training resulted in a collective double digit increases in power (amount of time it takes for strength to be converted into speed) over a 12 week period.

Risks and safety considerations

Because the musculoskeletal system is subjected to impact forces three to five times body weight, most athletic trainers agree it is important to establish a reasonable strength and flexibility base prior to partaking in plyometrics. Donald Chu (1998), one of the most prolific writers in this training, recommends that a participant be able to perform 5 repetitions of the squat at 60% of their bodyweight before doing plyometrics. (For those who can back squat a minimum of 1.5 times your body weight, you are ready for plyometrics, providing you have been involved in a consistent static stretching regimen. And before doing plyometrics, warm up well with a short distance jog, dynamic warm-up and light jumps – jumping jacks, jump-rope. The warm up is vital for any activity involving physical exertion. And for heavy plyometric activity, involving extended bounding and depth jumps, a 48 hour recovery period is highly recommended.

Surface

The ideal surface allows a slight give upon landing, such as on a horse stall mat or wooden platform; well cut thick grass is also a good alternative. Avoid thick gym mats or spongy surfaces; this will absorb too much of the impact force and does not allow the muscle to stretch at a normal magnitude and rate. Moreover, the excessive soft surface does not allow you to react off the training surface, thus reducing the “stretch shortening cycle”, which is one of the key mechanisms during the eccentric, amortization, and contraction phase of the movement.
 


Depth jump: higher intensity 

Progression in depth of jumps

Like any athletic endeavor, there is a progression. For the beginner, start with some basic squat jumps out of a ¼ squat position. Hit reps of three with 15 to 20 seconds of rest in between sets. Progress to long jumps where you will start in ½ squat position and jump in a forward motion as far as you can; the split second your feet touch the ground, repeat the motion. Be sure both feet hit the ground at the same time to get the full beneficial effect of the exercise. Once your body is conditioned for the impact, proceed to jumping over cones; for example, position yourself with your right foot arch about 6” away from a cone. Jump laterally over the cone so you land with your left foot arch about 6” away from the cone; repeat two to four leaps then six to eight. Be sure to spend limited time on the ground; you should have the impression that the ground is hot. As you progress, you can increase the reps to 6 to 10 and include a sprint immediately after last landing.

Advancing in stages

As you advance, jump over a bench laterally then in a slalom fashion from one end to the other and sprint 10 yards when you reached the end.

Technique

When landing from a box or jump, you land on the balls of your feet and gracefully roll gently to your heels. You should have a natural knee bend on the landing. Upon the contraction phase (concentric) when you are jumping back on the box or in the air, you establish a position of the shoulders in line with the knees, which helps place the center of gravity over the body’s base of support. Another important coaching point is that both feet are hitting at exactly the same time; no staggered landing. A bunny rabbit hop works best.
 

Remember, whatever jump length or depth you do, you want to get off the ground as quickly as possible to maximize the “stretch shortening cycle” which aids in the increase of power.

Plyometric training is a great addition to your workout regimen after you have established a means of strength, balance and flexibility.  This power boosting training will add excitement and an increase in your overall athleticism - at any age.  Remember, take the aforementioned safety precautions and use it as a supplement one or two days a week at most; not as the main course of training, and you will feel and look more fit.

Below is an example of high intensity plyometrics.  It is one of the few videos that have a participant doing very good form.  His posture is good; he is landing well (bunny hop) while off the ground fast.

 
 

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