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Plyometrics are high velocity exercises that utilize the stretch shortening cycle, a powerful muscular contraction is preceded by a stretching of the involved musculature. Most people call any jumping or explosive exercise a plyometric, but technically, to be a true plyometric exercise, the concentric contraction must be preceded by an eccentric stretching.
But I am not a scientist, I am more of an in-the-trenches “street swoldier,” so for the purposes of this article I am going to refer to all jumping exercises as plyometrics.
Plyos help build nasty starting strength (the ability to recruit as many fibers as possible simultaneously). Athlete or not, no matter what your training goals are, more starting strength will be beneficial to your performance. Exploding out of the bottom of a squat, getting the bar off the floor in the deadlift (or clean or snatch), or throwing a hard right hand in the ring all require starting strength.
Plyometrics teach your central nervous system to fire more units. For a rudimentary example, let’s say that a beginner has 20 motor units that could possibly be fired, they may only be able to fire 10 motor units because their CNS hasn’t been properly trained. Plyos train the CNS to recruit more fibers, faster.
Plyometric training can also improve coordination. When you first begin plyo training you may notice that the body is not firing the muscles in the right sequence and seems a little bit confused. With more and more training the body learns how to properly fire the muscles in sequence, leading to more power.
These are good exercises for the beginning athlete. They help the body learn how to jump and recruit fibers without being too taxing on the body as a whole. Some examples of low impact plyos are:
Static box jumps
Seated box jumps
These are a step up from the low impact plyos and are a little bit harder on the body, they require greater coordination and are more taxing on your CNS.
Multiple box jumps
Low depth jumps
Bounding (bunny hops)
One-legged box jumps
As the name states, these are very high intensity and should only be used for short periods of time by advanced athletes. They are tough on the body and the CNS.
High depth jumps
Max box jumps with an approach
Weighted box jumps
As you might guess, plyos should be added intelligently to your program (unless you want to blow up your body). Start with low impact plyos and gradually work your way up to high intensity plyos. You have to condition your body and build a base, before you try to do advanced, high impact exercises.
A great way to add plyos to your workouts regimen is to add them to your squat day. You can do them before your squat as a warm-up, after your squats, or do some complex training and then do box jumps in between sets of squats.