What Is Plyometric Training? Why and How to Do It
Every single athlete or fitness enthusiast — no matter your level of fitness or the type of sports you play — should train for explosive power. Plyometric training continues to be one of the best ways to build your explosiveness, and these specialized workouts can benefit you whether you're running on a track, pumping iron in the squat rack, or simply wanting to maintain agility and mobility as you age.
Don't let the fancy fitness terminology scare you away. Our plyometric training guide will break down everything you need to know about plyometrics, plus how you can incorporate plyometric training today.
What Is Plyometric Training?
The History of Plyometrics
Plyometric training was first referenced in European fitness guides back in the 1960s. However, it wasn't until Olympic athlete and U.S. track and field coach Fred Wilt started promoting it in the '70s that plyometrics began to catch the eye of the general public. It was officially declared a fitness trend in the early 2010s, and today it's a mainstay in many workout regimens.
What Exactly Is Plyometric Training?
Plyometric training incorporates any sort of movement that requires your muscles to quickly and repeatedly contract and lengthen in a short amount of time.
It's all about generating great amounts of power — "power" being the sweet spot where both your strength and speed overlap.
There are three required phases to any exercise for it to be considered plyometric training:
- Concentric phase: This is your starting phase, where your muscles use their stored energy reserves (i.e., glycogen) to generate an explosive amount of power to launch you into the movement.
Amortization phase: This is a transitionary moment and must be as brief as possible for the exercise to be considered a true plyometric workout.
- Eccentric phase: This is the landing phase where you return to your starting position, and your muscles begin to contract and prepare to return to the previous concentric phase.
Examples of plyometric exercises include:
- Box jumps
- Alternate leg bounding
- Overhead throws
- Power skipping
What Are the Fitness Benefits of Plyometric Training?
When you compare plyometrics to more traditional gym workouts, plyometric training offers distinct benefits that boost the outcomes for anyone regardless of their fitness goals. Much of it comes down to functional fitness. Everyone can benefit from honing their explosive power.
Example benefits include:
- Improved agility: Many plyometric workouts incorporate factors such as fast changes in the direction of your movement, explosive turns, or rapid twists. Whether you're doing gym workouts or everyday activities (i.e., chasing your children or putting away groceries) or sports (i.e., football, volleyball, etc.), the ability to pair agility with power will level up your performance.
- Faster speed: Sprinting? Jumping? Trying to complete as many reps as you can, such as when you're doing a CrossFit AMRAP? Explosive power means you're minimizing how much contact time you have with the ground or the box, which in turn means you're significantly increasing your speed.
- Enhanced strength: Many bodybuilders, powerlifters, or people who simply want to see bigger, stronger muscles tend to focus on traditional resistance exercises. However, the explosive movements that come with plyometrics mean you're activating more muscle fibers in the least amount of time, which can dramatically improve the effectiveness (and thus the results) of your workout routine.
- Reduced injury risks: With your body conditioned for agility and mobility, and your muscles primed for optimal muscle fiber activation, you reduce the risks of injuries caused by poor muscle contractions, poor balance, and more.
- Improved calorie-burning: Explosive movements torch far more calories than traditional workouts. This makes plyometrics especially appealing to those who want to burn fat, shed extra weight, or maintain peak bodyweight performance.
How To Do Plyometric Training
Just as a reminder, plyometric exercises tend to be anything that includes:
- Explosive movements, such as jumps, twists, hops, turns, and sprints
- Fast turnaround time, with minimized amounts of rest or breaks between sets
Because of this, anyone can incorporate plyometrics into their workout routine. But there are a few factors to consider.
How Often Should You Do Plyometrics?
It's all about listening to your body. Many people do 1-3 plyometric sessions a week, although more conditioned athletes may make plyometrics the core focus of their workouts each day.
Remember, plyometric training activates both your fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers and will quickly deplete your muscles' stored energy. While there's no one-size-fits-all approach to plyometric frequency, it's important to be mindful of how your body feels. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and other symptoms of overtraining mean you need to take a break from your plyometric frequency and apply more rest and recovery.
Example Plyometric Routine
No matter what type of plyometric training you want to try, anyone new to plyometrics should consider incorporating the following steps into their workout routine:
- Step 1: Practice good form. With increased speed comes an increased risk of injuries if you aren't completing each movement properly. Before adding in speed and repetition, ensure you have a firm grounding in how to execute each exercise.
- Step 2: Start with 10-20 minutes of dynamic warm-ups. Dynamic warm-ups should hit the same muscle groups, and follow similar movement patterns, as the plyometric exercises you plan to do.
- Step 3: Add in plyometric exercises that incorporate just one plane of movement, such as vertical jumps or side lunges. Once again, ensure proper form when doing these.
- Step 4: Add in exercises that incorporate additional planes of movement, such as twists, up-and-to-the-side jumps, or lunges.
- Step 5: Increase intensity and duration. Once you're comfortable with the workouts, begin to ramp up how long you do plyometric training and the intensity (e.g., the speed and strength involved in each explosive movement).
Final Tips and Plyometric Suggestions
Make the most of your plyometric training by:
- Not overdoing it. Start with just one session a week and be attuned to how your body responds.
- Start with plyometrics if you're making it a part of your overall routine. Plyometric training quickly fatigues the body, so it should be the start of your workout after a warmup.
- Think of plyometrics as strength training, not as cardio. These explosive movements are building your strength, whereas steady-state cardio is more about your aerobic capacity.
- Invest in recovery. Plyometrics takes its toll, and faster recovery means faster results.
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