It’s racing season—and you’re just a hop, skip and a jump away from running faster. Plyometric moves like squat jumps and single-leg hops build explosive power that makes you a speedier runner, according to new
Here’s where the boost comes from: Every time your foot pushes off the ground, your legs release energy to power you forward. Plyometrics strengthens muscles and recruits new ones to make your legs more efficient during that process. “Dynamic exercises train your muscles to exert considerable power in a short amount of time,” says Krzysztof Maćkala, the study’s lead researcher and a professor at the University School of Physical Education in Wroclaw, Poland. More power means more speed.
Bonus plyo payoff: Running is a high-impact activity, of course, but jumping exercises train your muscles to absorb the impact, upping your overall endurance. Meanwhile, “you’re teaching your nervous system and connective tissue to become more responsive,” says Andrew Kastor, head running coach for the Asics Mammoth Lakes track club in California. Strong, responsive legs are able to go the distance with less effort.
Ready to take the leap? Although research on female college athletes found that adding plyometrics to a training regimen helped them fend off injuries by improving joint health and stability, the moves are high-intensity. So start slow: Begin with two sessions a week, working up to longer, more frequent workouts. And phase out plyometrics beginning 10 days before a big race to maximize the benefits without overtaxing your body.
Jog 2 miles to warm up, then do one of the routines below, designed by Andrew Kastor, coach for the Mammoth Track Club. Do each workout once a week, adding 2 reps to the jump sets each week until you hit 12.
Alternating Lunge Jump
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Step left foot forward into a lunge, bending knees 90 degrees. Jump, switching legs to land in a lunge with right foot forward. Jump and switch legs again for 1 rep. Do 3 sets of 6 reps.
Stand on left leg with right foot lifted behind you. Extend arms out to sides for balance. Bend left knee, then jump as high as you can for 1 rep. Do 6 reps; repeat on opposite side for 1 set. Do 3 sets.
Run backward for 15 seconds. (No room? Run backward a few steps, then turn around and repeat.) Do 3 sets.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, facing a stable box or bench. Squat, then jump on top of box. Step each foot down for 1 rep. Do 3 sets of 6 reps.
Stand with a medicine ball on the floor in front of you. Jump, landing with right toes on ball, then immediately jump again and switch feet, tapping left toes on top. Continue for 15 seconds. Do 3 sets.
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Jump forward, driving right knee to chest and left arm forward (as if you were running); immediately repeat on opposite side. Continue for 15 seconds. Do 3 sets.