Plyometrics: More Strength, Endurance, Fat Loss. (That Enough?)

A high intensity workout solution to get your summer body in shape

Looking to get a lot out of your workout in the shortest amount of time? Try plyometrics. Originally referred to as "jump training," plyometrics (often called plyos) are powerful, explosive movements, often involving jumping and hopping. These exercises build endurance and strength, and demand much more rapid reactions and contractions from muscles than required by many other exercises. They have commonly been used in drills for athletes, but are becoming more popular components to a variety of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) programs that are currently on the market.

Plyometric training will elevate the heart rate, improve cardiovascular conditioning, and burn calories and fat. Some exercise examples for this technique are plyometric lunges (sometimes called jumping lunges or scissor kicks), plyometric wide-to-narrow squats (also known as plyometric jumping jacks), jumping squats, box jumps, and shuffle hops.

These mega-moves pack a lot of punch; they offer excellent ways to boost the intensity of a fitness program while keeping it far from boring. In a cardio workout, one might alternate the elliptical or treadmill with a series of plyometric exercises. In a Tabata routine, plyometrics might be alternated with weight-training drills. Plyometrics can also be incorporated into lower body training days—mixing some jump squats, shuffles, etc. with the standard leg/glute machines and free weight exercises will resulting in greater calorie expenditure. Another plus? They are highly invigorating and tap into a deep level of energy.

First thing's first:

  • For plyometric moves or anything in general with a jump, never land on a straight/locked leg. Always keep soft, bent knees, and land right into the squat or lunge, putting the pressure on the leg muscles and glutes rather than the joints.
  • Wear the right shoes (cross training types are often recommended) for plyometrics, make sure you have plenty of support to absorb the impact.
  • In general and especially for plyometric squats and lunges, keep the back straight, torso upright, chest lifted, shoulders down and back. Keep the emphasis on the legs, and simply drop the hips down into the squat or lunge.
  • Make sure your knees do not pass the toes when doing squats and lunges. For squats, sit back, weight on the heels rather than the toes. For lunges, step out further and tilt the hips upward to avoid too much of a forward lean.
  • Before attempting a plyometric workout for the first time, go through the movements without the hop/jump to become familiar with it. Ask a trainer for assistance and to review your form. If you have had injuries or any health concern or physical limitations, it might be advisable to avoid these exercises. Age and weight are factors that should be considered before taking on the high-impact jumping moves.

Here are examples of three plyometric exercises and their associated descriptions and progressions:

Wide-to-Narrow Squat Jump
Modified Version:
Leave out the jump. Sit back into a neutral stance (feet hip width apart) squat, then walk your feet outward for a wide stance squat, then back in, and repeat.

Plyometric Challenge:
Start with the feet hip width apart, and sit back into a squat. Then spring up into a jump, taking the feet out and landing in a wide stance squat. Spring back up and take feet closer to land back into another squat, and repeat. Swing the arms for momentum.

Squat Jump & Reach
Modified Version:
Leave out the jump. Start with feet hip width apart, arms straight down by your sides, and sit back into a squat. Push up through the heels, glutes, hamstrings and quads, swinging the arms straight up toward the ceiling as you come up. Contract the abdomen as you reach.

Plyometric Challenge:
Start as noted above, but when you come up from the squat, you'll spring through the bottoms of your feet into a jump as you reach the arms up. Land right back into the squat, knees bent, keeping feet hip-width apart, and repeat.

Jumping Lunges
Modified Version:
Leave out the jump and perform alternating front lunges. You can keep hands on hips or clasped in front of your torso. Step forward with one foot, sink hips straight down into a lunge, and push back up to start. Then step forward with the other foot, and repeat.

Plyometric Challenge:
Instead of stepping out and back, push up through your legs and switch them, mid-air, so you will start with one foot in front and land with the opposite one forward. Swing arms for momentum if preferred.

This article was originally published on Karina's Fit Zone.