If you are a runner looking to build strength and speed, plyometrics are the supplemental workout for you. Adding these moves regularly into your training routine is a great way to activate your muscles and get them prepared to move quickly when the time comes to kick in a race or complete a sprint workout on the track. However, as with any type of strength workout, understanding what plyometrics are and aren’t is a key to getting the full benefit of the movements.
“The biggest stressor here is that plyometrics are necessary for enhancing sprinting and jumping speed and, if done properly, may also serve to reduce injury rates,” reveals Sandra Gallagher-Mohler, coach at I Run Tons. “However, if done poorly or before the body is ready to do it properly, the risk of adding them to your routine is more than the potential reward.”
So what exactly are plyometrics and what moves are best to boost your speed and agility? We talked to two coaches — including Gallagher-Mohler — to find out why and how to add the moves into your training.
WHAT ARE PLYOMETRICS?
You may have heard your coach mention plyometrics but weren’t sure exactly what they are. The short answer is they involve dynamic movements, all to help your body build strength.
“Plyometrics are explosive movements, such jump squats and split squats,” explains Gallagher-Mohler. “They are designed to train the body to produce max force in a small amount of time using a quick stretch-shortening cycle of those muscles responsible for the movements.”
When done correctly, plyometrics can help you build your endurance, flexibility and ease of movement. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found even just 6 weeks of plyometric training can enhance the agility of athletes. The authors of the study noted the improvements are “beneficial for athletes who require quick movements while performing their sport and support results from other studies.”
Lizzie Benestad, a coach at Anchor Leg Coaching, notes that common plyometrics include high-bounding skips, butt kicks and lunges. She adds that moves like these are great for building strength to reduce your chances of developing an overuse injury and can even be a great way to warm up your muscles for a run.
COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT PLYOMETRICS
It is easy to think of plyometrics as just involving a lot of jumping around, but just because they are explosive movements doesn’t mean your feet spend time off the ground. Because of how dynamic the moves are, it is also a common misconception that you are getting a total-body workout..
“Their intention is not to cultivate total-body conditioning, but rather to train specific muscles to stretch and shorten as fast as possible,” Gallagher-Mohler explains. “And it is the explosivity and mindful connection to these movements that brings about adaptations, not merely an added weight or stress on the body.”
THE BEST MOVES FOR RUNNERS
Though you can do plyometrics every day if you so desire, this is a case where more isn’t necessarily better (especially if you aren’t practicing proper technique). It is recommended to do plyometrics a few times a week, especially as you ease it into your training.
“I would recommend doing them at least twice per week and ideally, three times per week,” urges Benestad. “You want to use the muscles every few days to acclimate them to a particular movement in order to build strength and flexibility.”
Before doing plyometrics, you want to make sure you have done some prior strength training so you have built a solid foundation that can handle the impact of these explosive movements. Then, you can slowly add these movements into your routine, either as an individual workout or as a warmup before a run. There is no need for weights; your bodyweight is enough.
A SAMPLE WORKOUT
The following is a short plyometrics workout from Gallagher-Mohler. As noted above, you will want to add these into your routine only after you have spent time strengthening your glutes, core and other supporting muscles in order to avoid injury.
You’ll want to complete 4–10 reps of split squats, jump squats and bounding skips. The amount depends on how fatigued the body is and how much power the move demands.
“Doing 4 explosive box jumps with excellent form is far more favorable than 20 with poor form,” she stresses. “These moves are great options but only if your body has shown that it can do these moves correctly and safely.”