Plyometric training (otherwise known as jump training) has a lot of benefits for runners, but it also comes with a high potential for injuries, especially for beginners. This doesn’t mean you should avoid them, but it’s important to adequately prepare your body for jump training by working your way up to it slowly. If you want to add plyos into your strength program, use the following exercises to build up your strength so you can perform them properly and safely.
The benefits of plyos
When you run, your body absorbs and briefly stores energy from impact (i.e. your foot hitting the ground) before releasing that energy to push you forward. This is called elastic energy, and when you improve your body’s ability to store elastic energy, you can increase your efficiency so you can ultimately run faster for longer. There have also been a few studies that show plyometric training can increase your VO2 max, which can also make you a more efficient runner.
Jump training is, at its core, a form of high-intensity, explosive strength training. This intensity is what delivers results, but it also comes with an increased risk of injury, particularly for someone who is new to it or who doesn’t have a solid amount of strength training already under their belt. For this reason, it’s important to build up your strength before beginning a plyometric routine to ensure your body is ready for it.
If you want to start doing plyometric training, start out by doing the following five exercises for several weeks (eight to 10 if you’re new to strength training, four to eight if you’ve been strength training for a while already) to get your body ready.
Eccentric strength training
This isn’t a single exercise, but rather a group of exercises. Eccentric exercises focus on the part of the movement when you’re contracting your muscle as it lengthens, like when you’re lowering the dumbbell during a bicep curl. When you’re running, your quads and hamstrings both go through eccentric movements to control your stride and produce power to push and pull your body forward, and the same goes for plyometric drills.
For this reason, one of the best ways to prepare your body to do plyometrics is to do several weeks of eccentric strength training. This will also strengthen your connective tissues so they’re capable of handling the forces involved in jumping (and landing). Try adding these five exercises into your strength training routine to prepare yourself for plyos.
The forces generated when you land are much greater than when you push off during a jump, so it’s important to prepare your body for this stage of a jump. When you perform this drill, make sure you maintain dorsiflexion (keep your toes pointed up) the entire time and to lower your foot slowly — you should take at least three counts before your foot touches the ground. As you get stronger, you can increase the height of the step to make it more challenging.
Seesaw walk to vertical jump
The goal with plyometric training is to get the maximum eccentric contraction, then to have your central nervous system switch that movement into a concentric contraction to produce the jump. This move accomplishes two things to move toward that goal: the seesaw teaches you how to load your hamstrings and then pull yourself back to standing, and adding the jump helps integrate that action into your landing.
Double-tap cocky walk
This exercise challenges you to connect consecutive movements together. It’s low-force but is a great way to begin stressing the ankle and foot in preparation for higher forces that come with jumping.
The A-skip is a fantastic exercise for runners, because not only does it prepare you for plyometrics, it will also help you improve your running form. It takes you through all the positions that are involved in most lower body movements but is relatively low-impact. The video above gives a great breakdown of everything required to perform a proper A-skip, so make sure you pay attention to all form queues so you can get the most out of the movement.