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In this industry, we hear it all the time – mostly from physique-conscious athletes who have been training a certain way for a long time. They say that plyometrics are for “other guys,” and that they’re only concerned with exercises that affect muscle growth and/or fat loss. But this mentality is quickly dispatched once they are put through even the most minimalist of plyometric routines. It is soon realized that even the lightest infusion of plyometric training can enhance strength and muscle quality while drastically accelerating fat-burning.
Look at a sprinter’s physique. Training explosively challenges the high-threshold motor units – the nerves and muscles that are the body’s biggest, fastest, and strongest and also the most prone to hypertrophy. The body only calls on these when the demand requires it. Moving rapidly also sends a powerful hormonal trigger to the body to carry less ballast (read: body fat). If you need to move rapidly, every bit of your mass had better have a purpose so your body starts getting leaner to get faster. The body, quite literally, is triggered to become a lean, mean, speed machine.
If you’re still on the fence about plyos, here are some important points to consider:
Type II muscle fibers – the ones most inclined to hypertrophy, produce high amounts of force, and fatigue more rapidly. We have these fibers all over our body, not just in the legs. Performing plyometrics with the upper body, lower body, and core muscles provides a complete plyometric training experience.
When you jump, you accelerate out of and through the bottom part of the range of motion of a squat. This explosiveness helps build strength in the most challenging parts of a lift. For example, on a heavier squat, the hardest part is getting out of the bottom. Developing a powerful neuromuscular response of the body in that bottom position helps with strength. Strength and speed have different characteristics but they are generated by the same muscles and nerves. Similar results can be expected on the bench press from the inclusion of plyometric push-up variations.
For newer exercisers, it is best to train strength and power as discrete, separate training sessions. For intermediate to advanced exercisers, there is no harm in combining plyometrics and strength into the same session. When doing so, in my experience, it is better to perform plyometrics first, as the speed of movement requires a fresher more responsive nervous system more so than slower, strength movements.
Additionally, strength training will typically induce more muscular damage at the cellular level from the external load. As long as you avoid a high volume of high-intensity plyometric exercises, performing them prior to strength training can be beneficial due to the increased nervous system excitability.
Up Next: The Workout
Jump into the plyometric fire with this short, high-octane routine.
To get in more high quality work on challenging exercises, I used a novel approach for this workout. It is a circuit of five exercises, six sets, with 15 seconds of work and 30 seconds to transition to the next exercise.
Use a timer for this set-up to automatically repeat. I like the GymBoss interval timer or download the app (iPhone | Android). The short work intervals allow for high quality reps all the way through and the exercises chosen provide a plyometric experience for the upper body, lower body, and core.
Box Jumps 15 sec.
Rest 30 sec.
Hand-Switch Push-Up 15 sec.
Rest 30 sec.
Box Jops 15 sec.
Rest 30 sec.
Plank Jacks 15 sec.
Rest 30 sec.
Skater Hops 15 sec.
–Perform circuit six times total.
Box Jumps: Use 24” or 30” height box – the higher the jump, the higher the neuromuscular demand. A padded box like the Qube, helps to prevent shin gnashing if you miss a jump.
Hand Switch Push-Up: With one hand shifted slightly forward, one slightly backward from normal push-up position, explosively push off the floor and switch hand positions each rep.
Box Jops: A “jop” is a jump with a hop landing. Jump from the floor from two feet and land on top of the box with one foot. This exercise teaches explosiveness with a controlled, single-leg landing, something that is essential for successful performance sport and life. Each rep also provides an eccentric load on the landing leg. Use a 20” box and alternate landing legs each time.
Plank Jacks: In a prone, elbow plank position, jump feet out from narrow to wide (like a jumping jack) while maintaining plank.
Skater Hops: Explode laterally to your right by pushing off the ground with your left leg, like a speedskater. Land softly on your right foot, bending your knee slightly to absorb the force before quickly changing direction and hopping back to your left. Repeat for reps.
Jonathan Ross is a SPRI Master Instructor and certified American Council on Exercise personal trainer. He is a two-time award winning trainer, and author of Abs Revealed. A former astronomer, Jonathan used to study stellar bodies – now he builds them! Find him on social media at @jonathanrossfit and at www.AionFitness.com.