An Introduction to Plyometrics

Appropriately, the word “explosive” is often used to describe plyometric movements, as they are fast and powerful exercises that use maximal effort. A sports physicist will talk of concentric and eccentric contractions and elastic energy but the simplest way to describe the benefits of plyometric exercises is to say that they increase the speed and power of specific movements.

If your sport requires you to jump high, plyometrics is designed to increase the height of your jump. If your sport requires you to throw far, plyometrics helps you throw further. They do this by loading and lengthening the muscle then very quickly shortening it again. Think of stretching an elastic band, stretching it gives the band potential energy, upon release the elastic band will rapidly shorten again causing it to go flying across the room. Although plyometrics won’t result in you cannoning across the gym, the fast contraction will result in fast and powerful movements.

Safety Considerations for Plyometrics

Before beginning a plyometric session a thorough warm up is essential to raise the temperature of the muscles in order to maximise efficiency and minimise injury. For a more comprehensive look at warming up follow the link: Once your core temperature has been raised stretch the muscles that will be focused on during the activity. Most plyometric activity incorporate the large muscle groups of the lower body, especially the quadriceps (thigh), hamstrings, glutes (buttocks), and calf muscles so warm up exercises such as jogging or cycling are ideal.

For those individuals who are new to physical conditioning it is best to begin small. Plyometric training has varied levels of intensity; exercises such as skipping, low level jumps and throwing have low levels of impact and are perfect for beginners to build up the base strength needed. Reducing the intensity of the activity and reducing the amount of repetitions completed throughout the session will reduce the likeliness of injury and soreness. For athletes familiar with experience in plyometrics it is still best practice to involve some low intensity plyometric work as part of the warm up.

Once your body is prepared, there are other things to consider, such as the surface. Some degree of softness is required; the surface must have some give in it to prevent jarring within the joints. Gym mats are ideal for covering harder surfaces, when done outside grass is suitable but avoid direct contact with hard surfaces such as concrete. Technique is hugely important with any method of training but especially with plyometrics because of the speed and impact of the movements. Do not participate in high impact plyometric training if you are suffering from or recovering from injury. Some low level impact plyometrics can be used in the latter stages of recovery but for high intensity work the body needs to be fit and injury free.

The Effect of Plyometrics

Plyometrics use the anaerobic system to fuel the exercises, they are performed quickly using maximal effort, it is very important to rest between repetitions so that the body has time to replenish the energy system allowing each rep to be performed to full potential. In order to increase intensity you increase the level of difficulty, the number of repetitions and reduce the rest periods between reps and sets. Some athletes have been encouraged to use ankle and wrists weights during plyometric training.

Under some circumstances, specifically sprinting this can be of use, but when developing a person’s vertical jump the use of additional weights alter the mechanics of the movement. The individual compensates for the extra weight thus altering the technique of the movement, it is important that the exercise mirrors the movement performed in competition as closely as possible. When these exercises are performed using the right technique and methods of training they become an effective tool for improving speed, strength and agility with little or no equipment.

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