Add an Extra Kick
to Your Training with Plyometrics
Whether you are getting fit, staying in
shape, improving yourself for your sport’s sake, or just bodybuilding,
chances are good that you spend a lot of time at the gym. In addition
to the regular routine of weight lifting and the traditional equipment
(like treadmills and stair machines), try giving your workout a kick
into high gear with plyometrics.
Plyometrics is a type of exercise that
utilizes explosive movements to develop muscle power. Power is a
combination of strength and speed, so by increasing power we mean
increasing the muscle strength in the muscles that you work with, and
increased speed of movement in those muscles. This can help with things
like vertical jump or adding power to a punch. The ability to generate
force, and do so quickly (through training with plyometrics), will allow
for more power than a raw display of strength ever could.
To better understand plyometrics, you
have to understand how muscles work. Muscles contract to cause
movement, and this process is known as concentric contraction. Any
given muscle can only contract with so much power, however when a muscle
is lengthened before it contracts, it will actually produce more power.
This lengthening and contraction is called eccentric contraction, and is
the focus of plyometrics. The time between the eccentric contraction
and the concentric contraction has to be very short, since like a
stretched rubber band, the power comes in the release. The process of
creating this potential energy (the stretched rubber band) effect is
called “stretch shortening cycle”, and is the focus and underlying
mechanism of training with plyometrics.
Typical (not plyometric) workouts
include a rapid contraction followed by a quick deceleration. This
deceleration (like when you reach arm extension during a lift and hold
the bar) causes a loss of energy that could be transferred to another
movement. Plyometrics take advantage of free space and open-ended
movements, much like many animals use in the natural world (like a
monkey using momentum to move through the trees). Plyometric tools
include things like medicine balls, jump ropes, and Indian clubs (which
are similar in appearance and style to juggling pins), all of which have
been in use for some time as valid exercise tools.
An example of a plyometric exercise
involves a medicine ball, and requires the exerciser to lie on his or
her back and toss the medicine ball back and forth with an assistant.
The lengthening (catch phase) and contracting (toss phase) of the
muscles are evident in this exercise. Another thing that is evident in
this exercise is the presence of an assistant. Plyometric exercises
should only be done by physically fit individuals, and only under strict
supervision. There is an increased risk of injury from plyometric
exercises, as well as an increased level of benefits, so care should
always be taken to do activities correctly and safely.
Another example of plyometric exercise
is the clap press up. This is a regular push up, except that when your
arms are fully extended, you should continue to push yourself off the
ground and clap your hands together at least once before lowering
yourself and starting again. A final example is the squat jumps, where
the exerciser crouches down in a low squat, then jumps as high as he or
she can and lands back in a squat, repeating the leap and crouch.
Jumping rope and jumping jacks are also considered plyometric in
Plyometric exercises are difficult at
first, but if you are physically fit and willing to work hard to better
your body and muscles, it is a great tool. Always take care, though, to
put safety first.