Plyometric exercises are just plain fun. Who doesn't want to jump and leap? It almost feels like being a kid again, and if you can make workouts fun, why not?
There is much more to plyometric jumps than the joy of leaping, of course. Plyometrics are crucial exercises for developing and improving power.
From plyo pushups to jumping squats, these moves target the big muscle groups, harnessing the elastic energy in the stretch shortening cycle of muscle contractions to build brute power.
Any client can benefit from improving power, including your athletes and beginners. Just be sure that you start clients out safely and progress at a pace that makes sense for each individual to avoid injuries.
Power is a physics term. It is a measurement of the amount of work done in a period of time. Work is the amount of force generated over a particular distance. In mathematical terms:
Work = Force x Distance
Power = Force x Distance/Time
In sports and exercise, we tend to think of strength or speed as the only measurable factors. But power is important too. The faster you perform a movement, the more power you generate.
If you perform a weighted squat by rising up three feet with a 150-pound barbell, you have done 450 foot-pounds of work (150 pounds x 3 feet).
If you can do that squat in just two seconds you generate 225 foot-pounds per second of power (450 foot-pounds/2 seconds).
But, if it takes you five seconds to do that same exercise, you're only generating 90 foot-pounds per second of power (450 foot-pounds/5 seconds).
Greater power means applying a force more quickly.
So what does this have to do with your clients? There are a few reasons why doing exercises and workouts to improve power will benefit them.
Nearly every sport relies on power in movements. Think of sprinters starting a race. With just 100 or 200 meters to cover, they need to be able to launch their bodies quickly off the start line. The more powerful that movement, the faster they can run the race.
Some sports are mostly dependent on power in muscles of the lower body, like sprinting, soccer, basketball, hockey, and football. Others also need upper body power, like basketball, tennis, volleyball, softball, and golf. The more power an athlete can generate with their muscles, the greater their performance will be in these and other sports.
Working on power improvement also helps build muscle strength. The quick contraction of muscles involved in power moves recruits and builds up the fast twitch muscle fibers, leading to greater strength gains than slower movements can.
This post from the ISSA blog will give you more information about fast twitch muscles and how to develop them for greater, more explosive power.
Power moves also torch calories as compared to other kinds of exercises. This is because you use big muscles in an explosive way, like your quads and glutes when doing squat jumps. This produces the "afterburn" effect of an elevated calorie burn up to 24 hours after the workout.
When you can move more quickly with strength and force, you improve reaction times. For your athlete clients, this is obviously important for performance. But good reaction time is valuable for everyone. Consider your senior clients. With better reaction times, they will be able to react to losing balance and avoid dangerous falls.
Traditional strength training, like lifting weights, has its place in developing muscle strength and power. But it's not enough to make significant power gains. A great tool for any trainer is plyometric exercises. Adding plyo once or twice a week will help any client make big power gains.
If you want to work on power with clients, you'll need plyometric exercises. Regular strength training does help increase power by inducing adaptations in the nervous system and muscles. But what's missing is the speed element. Plyometric exercises specifically focus on how quickly you exert a force.
Plyometric exercises have three phases that focus on speed of forceful movements:
The landing phase is an eccentric contraction of muscles.
This is followed by the amortization phase, a period of stabilization.
Finally, the muscle contracts in the concentric phase.
The amortization phase is the most essential part of making a plyometric exercise a power move. For instance, when doing a jump squat, the goal is to react and to leap off the ground as fast as possible.
SSC stands for stretch shortening cycle. This is simply the phenomenon of the stretching and shortening of muscles that occurs in many movements. Movements that begin with an eccentric lengthening of a muscle and then the shortening contraction help increase power as compared to a movement that involves a contraction only.
Choose plyometric exercises for your clients based on their individual needs and goals, but also make sure each gets a well-rounded set that hits all major muscle groups. Here are some of the best all-around plyo moves:
This is an all-around great strength and power move. It develops powerful leg muscles and increases heart rate. Perform a squat and jump quickly and as high as possible from the lowered position, straightening the legs as you reach the highest point.
This is particularly useful for clients wanting to improve jump height. Standing on a box, step off, bending knees as you land. Jump as high as possible as soon as your feet hit the ground. Use a lower box—about 30 inches—for better results.
Add difficulty and progression to this move with 180-degree depth jumps. Check out this ISSA video for correct form.
For upper body power, this is a must-do move. The form is a standard pushup, on the knees if necessary. Push up with enough force and speed to lift the hands off the ground and clap before landing them back on the floor in pushup position.
Step into a reverse lunge, placing the right foot back and dropping the right knee close to the ground. Quickly bring the right foot forward, shifting weight to the left leg. Leap up with the right knee up high and the left leg straight.
So much of many workouts remain in the linear plane, with movements forward and back. It benefits muscle groups to work in the lateral, or side-to-side, plane. For plyo moves, try lateral jumps or bounds, simply leaping side to side on one foot at a time.
Activate upper body and lower body muscles while also getting out a little aggression on a medicine ball. Raise the ball over your head until you're standing on your toes. Lowering into squat position, slam the ball down to the ground. Watch your face as it rebounds.
This is a very challenging move. Save it for your more advanced clients. Lower your body into a squat position and leap up, tucking your knees up toward your chin. When you land—as softly as possible—jump up into a tuck again with little to no rest time.
Using plyometrics for power once or twice a week makes sense for athletes, but push your other clients to try these exercises too.
Always keep safety in mind and start with simple, slower movements if necessary. And, be aware of those clients who should not be doing plyometrics: those with certain heart conditions, with bone or joint damage or pain, or those who are pregnant.
For the clients who can safely do plyometrics, the benefits will be impressive: improved strength and flexibility, greater power in movements, faster reaction times, and overall improved performance in all kinds of sports.
Check out the ISSA's course in Strength and Conditioning Certification to specialize in helping athletes build power, strength, speed, and performance.
ISSA's Strength and Conditioning course bridges the gap between science and application by giving students the "how" of helping athletes achieve any sport-related goal. With this course, not only will you learn the exercise science behind strength and conditioning, but exactly how to create the perfect training program for any athlete. Further, it offers one of the only accredited exams in the strength and conditioning space, making you a hot commodity to any employer.