Plyometric exercises are quickly becoming a hot topic in the health and wellness industry, and chances are that you have probably seen folks performing some sort of jumping lunge or squat in your local gym.
Plyometrics, or plyos for short, are a common mainstay for many High Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T.) and boot-camp classes. These quick and ballistic movements require plenty of strength, and will deliver an explosive kick to your cardiovascular system’s pants if done in repetition.
The growing use of plyos in one’s fitness can be best explained through the fact that plyometric activities can be easily performed in conjunction with more typical modes of exercise… not to mention they can be performed nearly anywhere!RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
However, most folks do not exactly understand how these common additions to an intervals workout can benefit their routine most. More importantly, individuals interested in using these ballistic forms of exercise should know when to use caution in their use of plyos, as well as how they should be inserted into an already established routine.
For starters, a plyometric movement can be roughly summarized as any explosive and repetitive movement that focuses on using a muscle or muscle group as a sort of elastic band system. If done properly, a plyometric motion will elicit strength gains and an increased rate of fiber depolarization of an individual’s fast-twitch motor units.
This means that your muscles will potentially fire faster and with stronger force. More importantly, the connective tissue that supports the muscle being used also becomes conditioned to become both stronger and more elastic.
The true benefit of this type of motion is actually to your tendons and ligaments, which end up becoming more capable of higher impact and stability… directly benefiting activities such as running, competitive sports, hiking, or even obstacle course racing.
To be performed correctly, a plyo needs to have three distinct phases during a repetition; concentric phase, eccentric phase, and amortization phase. In order to better explain each of these three phases, we will look at the plyometric lunge (plyo-lunge) as a guide.
Like most any motion, a plyometric motion is typically started with a concentric phase; in which your muscles “fire” and contract in order to shorten… causing force production. In a plyo-lunge, this concentric phase is the upward motion which causes you to go airborne.
Conversely, the eccentric phase occurs during your landing of that plyo-lunge. It is the eccentric phase in which you fire those same muscle fibers with the primary intent of slowing yourself down so that your knee doesn’t smack the floor.
The third phase, amortization, is the most critical phase in any plyometric motion. During this point, muscles are expected to defy gravity’s effect on your descent by exerting an immediate maximal force in a short amount of time.
It is also expected that the elastic properties of your tendons and other connective tissues will assist with the deceleration of your body mass. In layman’s terms, plyometric movements activate both the contractile force of a muscle as well as the elastic properties of those same muscles… turning your body into a series of extreme elastic bands.
However, due to the intensity of forces generated on both these muscles and their supportive tissues, it is suggested that plyometrics should not be performed by everyone when becoming more active.
If you are an exercising beginner, use caution and only perform plyometric exercises that either mimic or modify body-weight or free-weight based exercises that you already can perform; for example, try a plyo-lunge if you feel that you’ve maxed out the benefits of performing body-weight lunges. Not heeding this factor can cause injury to your muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Another critical aspect that needs to be considered when using plyometric movements in a routine is the exact timing of their usage. Ideally, plyos should be performed early in one’s work-out; well before you become fatigued from other exercises that can potentially weaken your ability to stabilize or control ballistic motions.
In other words, do your plyometrics before you hit the weight rack or the cardio deck hard! Failure to heed this warning can lead to problems caused by weakened musculature that typically would assist your ability to maintain balance and coordination… which will also lead to injuries of your muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Don’t get discouraged though! If you have never done a plyo, chances are you can still perform them! Try a few out next time you hit your local gym, or hit up a High Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T.) class if you are still leery about performing them without the supervision of a fitness professional.
This explosive form of exercise will most undoubtedly increase your strength and stability. Who knows, maybe you’ll find these to be a new and exciting preference for getting all of your strength and cardio in one package!