Plyometrics are explosive exercises designed to increase power and speed by training the muscles to exert maximum force in the shortest time possible. These exercises are often used by serious athletes to instill muscle memory during competition, but the focus of this post will be using plyometric-type exercises for an average person looking for useful additions to their fitness routine. For this purpose, any type of exercise that involves the repetitive rapid stretching and contracting of muscles qualifies as "plyometric".
"Jump Training" is another name for this type of exercise, and box jumps are a good example. Jumping up and down from a box or step forces muscles to stretch and contract quickly in rapid succession. That said, I always have my clients jump up but then step down, as opposed to jumping down with the full impact of their body weight. This greatly reduces the stress on the joints while still reaping the calorie-burning explosive benefits of the jump up. The jump down exerts about 7 times more force than actual body weight, so the risks generally outweigh the benefits for regular exercisers.
I usually have clients do one-minute sets of plyometrics in between other weight-lifting or resistance exercises. This results in interval training - alternating bursts of intense activity with periods of lighter activity. In general, interval training will burn more calories in the same time frame than an endurance activity, i.e. running on the treadmill for 30 minutes. Plus it uses a variety of muscle groups to increase overall fitness. However, the downside is some of these explosive, high impact exercises can be risky for beginners or individuals with previous injuries. So please note I'm a trainer, not a doctor or PT!
My favorite plyometric exercises:
1. Box Jump: described above. Most gyms have a variety of different sizes for members to use. Barring that, a step aerobics bench can be used with as many risers as needed. As I mentioned, I prefer a jump up with a step down. To increase cardio even more, you can add a jack after the step down, so it becomes jump up (from a semi-squat starting position), step down, jack, repeat.
2. Lateral Box Push Offs: This is easiest to do with a step or even a Bosu ball for extra challenge. Facing the side, put your right foot on the step. Pushing off the floor with the left foot, cross over the step so you end up with your right foot on the floor on the opposite side, left foot on the bench. It's a 3 count move and has to be done quickly, with the emphasis placed on pushing off the floor explosively and landing carefully.
|Lateral Box Push Off|
3. Burpees: I've heard these called Squat Thrusts. You don't need any equipment for this one. Squat down, place hands on floor, and thrust your legs back to achieve a plank position. Then quickly pull your legs back in towards your hands, and push yourself back up to standing with a jump. Very intense, and you can increase the intensity by adding a push-up while in the plank position.
4. Medicine Ball Throw: This one is specifically for the upper body. Lie on a bench holding a medicine ball above your chest. Push the ball up/away from your body forcefully and toss it in the air. Catch it and lower it back down to your chest, stopping the downward movement as it nears your body.
|Hot Guy on the Beach...|
uh, I mean, Medicine Ball Throw
There are many more, but those are my 4 favorites - what are yours?