Reading Time: 5 minutes 17 seconds
The research is clear: plyometric training makes you faster (1). Comparing runners who included plyometric exercises to those who only ran, the former group saw several improvements over the latter:
Increased step length
Improved VO2 max
Increased peak speed
Improving speed is obviously a goal for runners, but it can help all athletes. If you or a client wants to work on speed, you need to include plyometric exercises as part of your regular workout routine
Plyometrics is a type of exercise originally developed by the Soviet Union as part of training for Olympic athletes. A U.S. distance runner saw the Soviet athletes doing various types of jumping exercises in their training. He tried the training method and eventually coined the term plyometrics.
Since then, the original technique and meaning has evolved and spread to athletes around the world. Today, plyometrics usually describes high-intensity, explosive exercises used to develop power, a combination of strength and speed. These explosive exercises involve both eccentric and concentric muscle movements.
The original use of plyometrics was for improving athletic performance, and that’s still why many trainers and athletes use it today. Plyometric exercises have other benefits too: improved strength, calorie burn, improved body composition, weight loss and maintenance, and increased cardiovascular fitness.
Developing speed is just one of the reasons athletes benefit from plyometric exercises. However, if you or a client is a runner, a soccer player, a football player, or any other type of athlete who wants to be faster and more powerful, plyometrics can help:
To move fast, you need power. Power is all about applying a force quickly. When a sprinter starts a race, they generate force, pushing off the line and moving forward. The more power they are able to generate, the faster they can jump off the line and the faster they can sprint and run. Plyometric movements are all about exerting a force fast, or in other words, generating more power.
Reduced reaction time makes athletes faster. This is true not just in sports like soccer or basketball where you need to pivot quickly, but also in running. The time your foot spends on the ground with each strike impacts your overall speed. Plyometrics improve reaction times, so you change position faster and spend less time in contact with the ground.
Agility is closely related to reaction time. The signals from your brain may be prepared to react and make you pivot and move, but if your muscles aren’t ready, it doesn’t matter. Agility is the ability to change direction and speed quickly. Plyometrics improves both reaction time and agility to make you a faster athlete.
Speed training and agility aren’t just for serious athletes. Check out this guide to help your everyday clients get faster and more agile with drills.
To be faster, you need stronger muscles. Strength training alone will build those muscles and improve speed, but it will not do much to improve power. By combining stronger muscles with exercises that develop power, you have a winning combination for increased speed.
Another exercise essential for building speed is sprinting. Running all out, as fast as you can, improves speed, but like strength training, it isn’t enough to see the best results. Adding plyometrics routines to sprinting workouts will add power to strength to increase speed.
Plyometrics increases the number of fast-twitch muscle fibers in the legs. These are the muscle fibers recruited for high-intensity, powerful movements, like sprinting. Used together, sprinting and plyometrics are highly effective in developing speed.
Whether your clients are building speed as sprinters, endurance athletes, or another type of athlete, adding a regular plyometric workout to your routine will make you faster.
The jump squat is a fairly easy plyometric power move for beginners. If working with a client, make sure they have good squat form before adding the jump. To do it, start in a squat position. Jump up until legs are straight and your feet leave the ground. Land with knees bending into a squat again. Pump the arms to get more lift. Jump higher as you get more comfortable with the move.
Progress from jump squats to the box jump. You’ll need a sturdy bench or box to make sure you don’t fall. It should be 12 to 30 inches tall. Start with the shorter end and work up from there. Starting in squat position, jump up and onto the box or bench.
The depth jump is a classic plyometric move and is a little more challenging than box jumps. Starting on a box or bench, jump back onto the ground and immediately jump back up. You can go straight up into the air or back onto the box. The goal is to jump as soon as your feet touch the ground and with explosive force.
The tuck jump really requires explosive strength and power and will quickly help you build up fast twitch muscle fibers. A series of tuck jumps will also get your heart pumping fast for a cardio benefit. Standing on the ground, jump straight into the air, drawing your knees up toward your chin. As soon as your feet hit the ground, jump again.
Engage more leg and glute muscles with jumping lunges. Starting in lunge position, back and chest upright, jump and switch the legs. If you start with the right foot forward, you’ll land with the left foot forward. Jump up and reverse again as quickly as possible.
Use a low barrier, like a cone or a short hurdle. Line them up in a row. Starting in front of the first hurdle, bend your knees a little bit and hop over it. Immediately hop over the next one. You can start with lines on the ground for this one and work up to higher barriers.
This is a great move for runners in particular because it strengthens the ankles and feet while also working on speed and agility. Jump up and down on the ball of one foot. Repeat on the other leg. You can make it more difficult by jumping over a small barrier or going side to side.
Learn more: Training Tips to Improve Your Vertical Jump
All this jumping movement is great for agility, speed, and strength, but it can also lead to injury if you don’t do it right. The most important safety note is to start small. Don’t start jumping onto a two-foot box or doing ankle hops up the stairs. Start with smaller, easier jumps and progress safely. If working with clients, don’t start plyometric drills until they are well conditioned and fit from other types of training.
A safe landing is also important when jumping. Land softly on the toes and balls of the feet and roll back to the heels. The knees should be at least slightly bent, never locked straight. Landing gently requires some core strength, which is one reason to avoid plyometrics or to start very slowly with clients who are not well conditioned yet.
The right landing protects the joints. If you experience any joint pain, stop and rest or stop the workout entirely. Always wear proper shoes with good cushioning. Avoid any twisting movements when jumping, especially at the knees.
Plyometric activities can do a lot for you, including increasing your speed. Try these exercises, safely, two times a week as a supplement to regular cardio and strength training. You’ll see results quickly.
Learn to become a trainer who can help performance-based clients get faster, stronger, and healthier. ISSA's Sports and Athletic Performance Bundle is the CEU to help you get there. You'll gain the skills you need to take your athletes to the next level!
Gómez-Molina, J., Ogueta-Alday, A., Camara, J., Stickley, C., & García-López, J. (2018). Effect of 8 weeks of concurrent plyometric and running training on spatiotemporal and physiological variables of novice runners. European Journal of Sport Science, 18(2), 162–169. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2017.1404133