It's the essential "secret" of elite athletes: plyometrics.
If you're serious about your sport, you've probably heard of the word.
But unless you have a coach or advanced sports knowledge, you may not know what "plyos" are. You may not know how to use them to improve your athletic performance.
Plyometrics is a type of training that builds explosive force, power and speed. It improves the reaction time of the nervous system, and the contraction speed and strength of muscle fibers.
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For cyclists, it gives "snap." For runners, it creates a more forceful stride. For tennis players, it increases serve power. Plyos improve vertical jump; they make you stronger in every athletic movement.
Here's what you need to know to do this kind of training:
First and most important, prepare your body for these advanced exercises. Doing plyometrics without conditioning your body to handle them can cause injury. Change that, it WILL cause injury. Plyos put great stress on your muscles, ligament, tendons and bones.
If you're just getting back into training, give your body time to build up before doing plyos. Never do this type of training more than twice a week. And, ALWAYS do a thorough warm-up before doing plyos.
After you've first prepared with at least one month of a good resistance routine, start with the simplest plyo work: jumping rope.
This will help condition your knees and back to withstand more stressful forces. Then prepare your upper body: Have someone throw a medicine ball at your torso, catch it and quickly toss it back. Repeat until you fatigue.
Now you're ready to move up a level: hops, with an analysis to check for muscle imbalances. On a flat surface, mark off a length of 25 feet with tape. Hop down the length on one leg, counting the hops, until the end of the tape or until your leg fatigues.
Repeat with the other leg. If one leg fatigues faster, you have an imbalance that limits your athletic prowess and can cause injury. Concentrate on using more effort with the weak leg in each resistance movement, do five extra jumps on the weak leg when jumping rope.
Next is vertical jump: Put chalk on your fingertips (pool cue chalk is perfect). Facing a wall, standing two feet away, squat down and leap up. The force of the leap should "travel" up your body. Think of it as pushing off the floor with your feet, instantly using the hips and torso to explode upward while you swing your arms up high to get even more vertical pop, using the arms and shoulders and upper back to lift your body even higher.
Set, surpass the mark
Touch the wall with your chalked fingers at the top of your jump. That's your mark. Keep thinking of "exploding" upward with each jump, trying to surpass your mark. The increase in marks shows the improvement in your vertical jump.
The next plyo move is "bounding." Use a resilient surface, like dirt or grass. Leap off one foot and land on the other in a slight squatting position, leap off that foot onto the other leg and continue. It's like a wide-stride explosive run. Do this for 30 seconds, more once you're in shape.
Other plyo moves include hopping up stairs, first one stair at a time, then two; starting with both legs, then working up to doing the stairs on one leg.
A very advanced plyometric exercise is bench jumps; jump up on a bench or box, land and jump off the other side, landing in a deep squat to absorb impact. A good variation is to do this jump sideways; it's great for basketball players.
Remember to start off slow in building up your plyo routine.
Only do them for a month at a time; then give your body a three-week rest before resuming so you don't get overtrained. During the time out, your body will be building up the speed and power you have trained for.
Use a planned plyometric routine to prepare for tryouts or playoffs in your sport.
These exercises will make such a difference in your athletic ability, both you — and your competition — will be amazed.