Want to get stronger and faster? Then add jumps to your workout routine with plyometrics, or "plyos," if you're cool. Plyometrics are lightning-quick movements done with just your bodyweight—or very light weights—to strengthen up in ways that weight training cannot.
Why You Need Plyos
Lifting weights helps you build muscle and strength, but it does not improve your "springiness," or how quickly you can turn on your muscles and how much strength you can generate in a split second. (When you see a football player jump 42 inches, for example, that's crazy springiness.) Exercises like back squats are slow and grinding—you can't move very fast with 250 pounds on your back. Over time, that could make you slow on the basketball court or soccer pitch. During a jump, however, your body acts like a spring: You quickly dip down to load your hips and rapidly release that energy by exploding upward as high as you can. To improve your athleticism and lift more weight to build muscle and burn fat, you need both.
That's where plyos come in. When done correctly, these exercises activate your fastest-twitch muscle fibers—the ones responsible for split-second explosive movements—and make them stronger and more efficient. Plyos also fire up your nervous system, so you can react faster and jump higher than before. The result? Blowing by defenders, a higher vertical, and pushing more weight in the gym.
How to Use Plyos Correctly
Plyometrics aren't about powering through 100 box jumps in a row. Plyos should be limited to a handful per set, because they are high-impact and high-threshold, and therefore must be done to 100 percent effort. Too many reps will make you slower, weaker, and more tired with every jump, which defeats the purpose.
Three things to keep in mind:
- Do your plyos after your warmup and before any heavy lifting, so your fastest-twitch muscles will be fresh and ready. (Plus, doing a few plyos before weights could boost your strength output.)
- How you land is just as important as how you jump—good landing mechanics prevent injuries. Land as quietly as you can, and land in the same position you jumped from. Also, if you're jumping onto a box or step, always carefully step back down to ground; never jump off. You're using the box in the first place to reduce landing force on your joints.
- Use an appropriate surface. Don't do plyometrics onto a stack of weight plates, which could fall, or jump from an unstable surface, which reduces your force production. Rule of thumb: You shouldn't feel that, if you miss the jump, you'll break your ass.
8 Plyos to Try
Here are some excellent plyometrics to choose from. For your next workout, pick one exercise and do 3 to 4 sets and 4 to 5 reps:
Single Leg Box Jumps
Alternating Split Squat Jumps
Source: Esquire US