What are plyometrics and why do you need them?

Coach Dictionary: Plyometrics

If you want to lead a healthy lifestyle and perform your best, education is key. It’s all about understanding your body better and learning how to support your performance with the correct movements. Easier said than done? If you’re feeling overwhelmed and confused with the many technical fitness terms out there, our Coach dictionary is here to simplify things for you. Here’s “Plyometrics” in its simplest form.

What the f**k are plyometrics?

Heard of plyos or plyometrics from your trainer or read about it somewhere on the internet, but still not sure what it is or why you might need it? Plyometrics, in simple terms, means “jump training” and includes dynamic movements not just up and down but also side to side and twisting back and forth. Plyometric movements are designed to improve coordination as well as link strength and speed. These exercises are the perfect combination of stability, mobility, strength, power and dynamic balance and are used to increase jump height, sprint and agility performance as well as improve your ability to coordinate movements.

Simple movements with a significant role

The role of plyometrics is to activate the body’s central nervous system and improve its elasticity. By stimulating the fast-twitch muscle fibres, plyos allow you to generate force quickly & efficiently. What happens during a plyometric exercise is a stretch-shortening cycle (SSC), muscle lengthening followed by immediate rapid muscle shortening. The SSC uses the stretch reflex and stored elastic energy to generate more power during the movement. By storing and releasing elastic energy, you increase speed and power with less energy expenditure.

The power of elasticity

We mentioned before that plyometrics improve your body’s elasticity, and there are a few good reasons why this is so important. Your body is like a rubber band and every movement has an elastic component. To stretch it, you need to stabilize one end and pull back the other. This stability is the anchor point for your muscles and connective tissue, that allows you to release a powerful amount of energy. By improving your body’s elasticity, not only are you enhancing your power to help you jump higher, run faster and move more efficiently, you also decrease the potential for injury. Elasticity gives you a set of brakes, so to speak, and deceleration tools that prevent injuries occuring by protecting the joints and helping your body endure rapid loads.

You’re just a jump, hop and bound away from a plyometric movement

We already mentioned that plyometrics is also known as “jump training”, however, technically speaking, that’s not 100% accurate since plyometric movements include not just jumps, but also hops and bounds – and yes, before you ask there is a difference! It’s all in the exercises takeoff and landing. Jumps are two-leg takeoffs and two-leg landing, bounds are one-leg takeoff and opposite leg landing and hops are one-leg takeoff and the same leg landing. Plyo movements fall into 4 categories: Rapid, short, long and very long response drills.

Rapid response drills are short, quick movements. These low force, high speed activities, for example quickly moving your feet back and forth over a line for as little as six seconds, are designed to improve ground reaction forces and quickness. Rapid response drills are best performed at the end of your dynamic warm up, right before a training session, run or team sport.

Short-response drills are high-force, low frequency movements. Freeletics exercises like split lunges and high jumps are a good example of these, as well hurdle jumps. They are designed to improve elasticity as they allow you to hit the ground immediately then spring back off.

Long-response drills are moderate-force longer range of motion movements which focus on stability and force, laying the foundation for more explosive movements. During these exercises your feet stay on the ground for longer, but you apply more force with each repetition. An example of a long-response drill is a squat jump.

Very long-response drills are exercises with a long range of motion and increased force. Examples of these are resisted squat jumps & split jumps with extra weight. From a biomechanics perspective, these exercises are only recommended for healthy, injury-free athletes as extra weight enhances the load on the joints.

Did that clear things up for you? We sure hope so. But remember, this was just an introduction to the term “Plyometrics”. There’s still a whole lot of information on this important topic that we haven’t covered yet. Stay tuned to find out when plyometrics can actually become dangerous and how you can safely integrate them into your Freeletics training.