Want to add some oomph to your sports performance? Try mixing plyometrics into your workout routine.

plyometricsEver wonder how elite athletes become so strong and powerful? Sport-specific training incorporating a technique called plyometrics often gives them that competitive edge. Plyometrics are exercises that cause the muscles to rapidly reach maximum force. In scientific terms, the muscles are eccentrically contracted and then immediately concentrically contracted to improve neuromuscular function. In plain language, a plyometric exercise involves lengthening or loading the muscles before contracting or shortening them for a fast, powerful, explosive movement. The goal is to allow an athlete to perform better—pitch harder and farther, hit harder and faster, run faster, or jump higher, depending on the sport.

Runners may use plyometric exercises—for example, a standing long jump followed by a short sprint and high-knee skipping with jumps—to improve running performance. Powerful vertical squat jumps and fast zig-zag hopping can benefit basketball, football, hockey, and tennis players by improving speed and maneuverability.

But plyometrics also benefit the upper body by including exercises such as push-ups with a clap in between each one (think Rocky Balboa), throwing and catching a medicine ball, and swinging a free weight. Exercises such as these enhance performance for racket games, golf, baseball, and other
sports requiring arm and back strength and power.

But plyometrics aren’t just for athletes; they’re also popping up in workouts for the average exerciser. The increasingly popular kettlebell workout, for example, is based on plyometric principles, and boot camp training and health club classes also include plyometric exercises. Even traditional fitness classes such as step and dance aerobics integrate plyometrics—when the instructor urges you to do those power moves that involve jumping, that’s plyometrics.

Are these exercises appropriate for beginners? A full plyometrics workout is likely to be too intense, but adding some basic plyometric-based movements to moderate workouts can increase fitness level and give beginners a sense of accomplishment without the pain and potential for injury. Always remember
to thoroughly warm up before performing plyometrics. Then try these simple plyometric exercises to boost the intensity of a walking workout:
  • Jump onto the curb while walking in your neighborhood. Start with five or 10 jumps and increase to 15 or 20.
  • Hop sideways and back and forth 10 to 20 times. Try hopping from one foot to the other and also with both feet together.
  • Add 10 seconds of very fast walking or running with powerful steps and arm swings. Try repeating this every 3 minutes during a 30-minute walk.
  • Do plyometric push-ups against a wall. Push your body away from the wall enough so your arms extend and your hands come off the wall about 6 inches. Use your upper body muscles to control your movement as you bring your chest back to the wall.