Plyometrics or plyometric exercises are a form of strengthening exercise, incorporating jumping, bounding and hopping movements, which works to increase power in the muscles. Power is used in the vast majority of all sports and so plyometrics can be used to help develop this for most athletes.
Below are a few very basic plyometric exercises using hoops which are good for the later stages of rehabilitation. More advanced exercises may be used for improving sports performance. Plyometrics is an advanced training technique, which should only be used by experienced athletes who have already developed their basic strength.
Plyometric exercises explained
Plyometrics work to develop a stronger and faster muscle contraction, through using an eccentric muscle contraction, immediately followed by a concentric contraction. For example, a common plyometric exercise is the depth jump. This involves jumping off a box, landing on both feet in a squatting position, before immediately jumping straight upwards. This helps to develop power in the quadriceps muscles (amongst others) as landing into a squat position involves an eccentric contraction of the quads to decrease rapid knee bending, before a concentric contraction to straighten the knees and jump up.
Eccentric contractions produce the maximum amount of force. Therefore when the muscle contracts like this (lengthening rather than shortening), the maximum amount of energy are produced. This is stored by the elasticity of the muscle. This energy is only available for the subsequent contraction and so a concentric contraction must occur as soon as possible to take full advantage of this stretch-shortening cycle.
Depth jumps and box drops are popular exercises. To work more on the forward motion, bounds and hops should be used. Plyometrics can also be used for improving power in the upper body for sports such as athletic throwing events. These often involve medicine balls which when caught require an eccentric contraction to control the motion, followed by a concentric contraction to throw the ball back. Push-ups with a clap can also be used. The downward phase of a push-up involves an eccentric contraction of the chest muscles, which is immediately followed by a strong concentric contraction to push back up and clap the hands.
What are the risks of plyometric training?
Plyometric training does carry a high injury risk due to its explosive nature. For this reason, athletes should first develop a base level of strength through a standard resistance programme. Plyometric sessions should be performed a maximum of twice a week and not when the athlete is tired from previous workouts. A thorough warm-up and cool down will also help to prevent injuries, as will a gradual development of the intensity of the exercises performed. Delayed onset muscle soreness is a common complaint.
Functional & plyometric exercises
These functional or plyometric type exercises can be performed later in the rehabilitation process. These strengthening exercises are more dynamic and prepare the muscles for when full training is resumed. They include explosive movements such as jumps which work the muscles in a similar way to full training such as sprinting.
Step back (play video)
Step back exercises can be used as late stage ankle exercises to increase push-off strength, but will also work the hip and bum muscles.
- Start standing on a small step.
- Take one leg backwards, touch the foot on the floor and push off with the forefoot to move it back onto the step.
- Alternate legs.
- This can be increased in difficulty by performing on a higher step or at a faster speed.
Resistance band jumps (play video)
The resistance band jump exercise is a great late stage proprioception test! Hops and jumps can be used in the early stages but using the band adds an extra challenge!
- A resistance band is wrapped around the waist and anchored or held behind the athlete.
- They then perform side to side or forwards and backward jumps.
- The resistance from the band provides a challenge to the balance.
Hopping exercises (play video)
Hopping exercises are important in late stage rehabilitation in lots of sports. They help to improve balance, proprioception and explosive strength.
- Many variations on hopping exercises are available. Start with a small hop on the spot and gradually increase the height jumped.
- Try hopping to the front, to the side and backwards.
- Try hopping from one leg and landing on the other.
- Equipment such as hoops, agility ladders and minim hurdles can all be used to add further challenge.
Box jumps (play video)
Box jumps are a form of advanced exercises called plyometrics. They strengthen the entire leg ready for powerful, explosive movements and also aid proprioception development.
- Numerous exercises can be created using a box or step to jump over.
- To start the athlete may jump sideways over the box, moving rapidly from one foot on one side, to the other foot on the other side. This may also be performed front to back.
- A further progression is high jumps over the box, firstly landing on two feet and progressing to one.