NW FITNESS MAGAZINE
Written By: Justin Hickman
As a personal trainer I’ve used and heard of many different training systems and techniques, one system that has always delivered results in terms of performance, challenge and satisfaction for the athlete is Plyometric training. Plyometrics, or Plyos, has been sweeping through the fitness industry for years now. This training style has been making a buzz again because of its fun, explosive, and result driven nature. The athletic and explosive training is a great way to burn calories, sculpt muscle, and most importantly increase performance. Plyometric workouts can include anything from jumping hurdles to jumping lunges. These athletic movements and exercises have shown to increase strength, power, reaction time, sports performance, and overall muscular and neurological conditioning. Aside from the exceptional performance boost athletes get from Plyos, they also get a challenging, high calorie burning, non-traditional workout. So whether your goal is to improve your vertical jump, increase your speed, or just challenge your body and mind in a new way, Plyometric training is the workout you have been looking for! Let’s first take a look at the history and science behind the athletic training. The training is accredited to Soviet physiologist Yuri Verkhoshansky, who started publishing about Plyometric training in 1964. Since then the training has been used by competitive athletes, Olympic competitors, gym members and all groups in between. The term Plyometrics is comprised of the Greek words Plyo meaning “more” and metrics meaning “length” because the workouts are geared to give your muscles “more length”. When you lengthen and strengthen a muscle through Plyometric exercises you toughen the muscle fibers and condition the nerve cells to create quicker, harder, and more explosive muscle contractions. A major factor in this is a powerful neurological component. Unlike resistance training, Plyos train your brain to communicate with your muscles in a different way. A traditional repetition has the brain telling our muscles to limit force when stretched. As you hold the stretch the muscle begins to lose power and then ‘lifts’ the weight through a series of contractions, recruiting the necessary muscle fibers along the way. A Plyometric movement varies in that it trains the muscle to release all the power at once in an explosive surge of energy. Neurons learn that in certain situations your muscular energy is to be released all at once, exploding into a hard, full contraction in just a fraction of a second. This new way of the brain telling the muscle to contract can be broken down into the following:
As you complete a Plyometric movement the muscles involved must go through a series of contractions. These are referred to as the eccentric, amortization, and concentric phases. The eccentric phase is when the muscle is lengthening. Rather than a slow stretch like a traditional rep where force is being limited, there is a rapid lengthening movement that builds up power, almost like compressing a spring. The muscle builds up energy in this brief pause or change of direction known as the amortization period. This is the where all the power and force accumulated during the eccentric phase peaks and is ready to be signaled for an explosive response. Next is the big bang: The concentric phase. All the energy and lengthening created during the eccentric and amortization phases are released in one explosive contraction. Your muscle shortens and contracts as you exert maximum force in minimal time. This explosive movement is then repeated for a specified number of reps, creating a rapid and massive energy output from the muscles involved.
This explosive stretch and flex of the muscle will create stronger, denser, more efficient muscles. Plyometrics are great for building efficient, explosive, powerful muscles.
Plyos are a great workout but can be very challenging on the body. Before doing these exercises make sure you are cleared to train at high intensity and high impact. The basis of the program is to train with athletic movements. Before attempting a plyo workout, go through a personal checklist of injuries and limitations to see which moves are right for you. Plyos, much like other forms of exercise, put a lot of stress and impact on joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Make sure you are properly warmed up and stretched out before attempting advanced high impact movements. Proper surfaces are just as important. Mats or soft flat surfaces are ideal, rather than concrete or uneven terrain.
I like to start my clients anywhere from 1-4 days of plyos per week. Four days being the maximum for a very performance driven athlete. My most common use is for condition. 1-2 Plyo days can be a great way to mix up training, get in some high intensity cardio, and challenge your legs without heavy weight. One of my favorite techniques is to interject plyometric training into a weight training workout. This could be on leg day for example hitting a set of plyos after a resistance exercise. Or super setting or giant setting plyos and weights together. Assess and pinpoint your program goals and find a qualified trainer to build a plyo workout that can take your fitness program to the next level!
Justin’s Plyo Workout
Cardio and Conditioning Emphasis: Complete the exercises in a circuit. 1 minute each for a total of 5 minutes. Once all exercises have been completed rest 2-5 minutes. Complete 2-3 circuits.
Power and Strength Emphasis: 3-4 sets of 15-25 ‘reps’ on each exercise. Moderate rep ranges, frequent rest times, max effort and explosive force should be used.
Set Up: Start by stepping into a lunge. The front knee and heel should be aligned. Try to keep your back flat and chest up.
Execution: Push hard exploding through the front leg and jump into the air. Switch legs in mid air landing with the opposite foot forward. Repeat. Note: Both feet should land at the same time. Focus on exploding straight up rather than forward like walking lunges.
Set up: Space your feet shoulder width apart with hands out in front of torso and your toes pointing straight forward.
Execution: Squat down until your knee creates a 90 degree angle. Push off through both feet while swinging your arms down. Go for maximum height. Land and go directly back into a squat.
Leaping Step Ups
Set up: Set up a stair-step or bench that is sturdy enough to hold your weight. Start with one foot on the step. A safe height would be around the knee level.
Execution: Leap up by pushing off the foot on the step. Switch legs in mid air landing with opposite foot up on step. Focus on pushing off as hard as you can with the foot on the step as you repeat this motion.
Set Up: Start with both feet slightly wider than shoulder width, toes pointing out at a 45 degree angle form straight forward.
Execution: Squat down putting all your weight on your heels. Keep an arch in your back. Quickly pop up by jumping. Repeat. Height is not important, go for an explosive quick jump.