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Take Your Workout to the Next Level

June 23, 2010

By Gerard Bochese

If you would like to increase the intensity of your workouts, improve your overall recreational sport performance, and enhance your daily living performance, then adding plyometrics to your present workout will be very beneficial.

Technically plyometrics is defined as exercises that enable a muscle to reach maximum strength in as short a time as possible. Plyometric drills aim at linking strength with speed of movement to produce power.  Power is the key word here.  Most of the training people do in the gym focuses on strength. When you train for strength you are usually doing slow, deliberate movements, whether you are lifting dumbbells or using a resistance machine.  However, many of the movements we do in the real world are not slow and deliberate but rather fast and ballistic—hitting a tennis ball, chasing a dog, slamming a car door.  Therefore, we need to train at real life speeds.

Plyometric training allows us to do just that.  Power is viewed as force x velocity. We get the force by our weight training program. This slow, deliberate program builds force or strength.  Therefore, it is critical that you have a base or foundation of strength training before you engage in plyometric exercises. We now want to take that strength and increase our speed of movement. This does not mean do the same dumbbell or machine based exercises faster; rather, we have to incorporate different exercises (plyometric exercises) and different training tools.

Body weight, resistance bands, and medicine balls are staple tools in a plyometric program. We can use body weight for all sorts of jump training.  Squat jumps, lunge jumps, box jumps are all forms of plyometric exercises when done correctly. Because we are trying to increase our speed of movement we must be explosive when we do any form of jumps. If it takes you a long time to go from one squat jump to the next (meaning your time on the ground is too long) you are not really plyometric training. Technically, plyometrics are designed to shorten the amortization phase–-this is the time between an eccentric and a concentric motion.  What this means is as one lowers their body (eccentric motion) before they jump there is a short period of time where the body switches from the lowering motion to the raising motion which is the jump (concentric motion).  The shorter this period of time is the more explosive an individual is and the higher they will jump. For this reason, when one performs jump training it should be for a short amount of repetitions so that the individual does not become so fatigued they begin to slow down and lengthen the time on the ground.  10-12 reps are a good amount for each set.

To train the upper body in a plyometric fashion we often use medicine balls and resistance bands.  When choosing a medicine ball don’t pick one that is too heavy–-remember, we are trying to increase speed of movement not strength.  If the ball is too heavy it will slow down your movements and defeat the purpose of the exercises.  Once you have picked a ball that you can “fire” at a cement wall or off of the floor try some of these exercises:

  • Chest pass throw
    • Standing in a good athletic stance, hold the ball at chest height with two hands and fire a chest pass off of a cement wall, catch and repeat.
  • Overhead slams
    • Standing on a step box, take the ball with two hands and pull it up over your head and fire it off the ground, catch on a bounce and repeat. (Make sure you are doing a squatting motion as your bring the ball down and through and release.)

Resistance bands are also an excellent tool for upper body plyometric training.  They allow pulling, pushing and punching at high velocities.  Next time you are in the gym try some of these resistance band plyometric exercises:

  • Fast pulls
    • Anchor a resistance band to a stable object.  Facing the object grab the resistance band with both hands, stand in a good athletic stance and pull the bands quickly toward the outside of your chest with a full range of motion for approximately 15-20 seconds
  • Punches
    • Anchor a resistance band to a stable object.  Facing away from the object, grab both handles at chest height and rapidly perform punching motions by alternating the hands forward and back for approximately 15-20 seconds.

Remember, before you engage in plyometric exercises you must have a strength base developed from weight training.  Also, since these are ballistic movements designed to increase power by increasing speed of movement you can only perform short repetitions and durations or you will become too fatigued during the actual exercise to achieve positive plyometic results.

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