If you've ever seen someone jumping from the ground onto a park bench or passed by a CrossFit gym and wondered why people were using all the energy to mount themselves onto boxes, here's your answer: They were practicing plyometrics.
Known as "jump training," the idea behind plyometrics is to exert maximum force in a short period of time. "Plyometrics are great for developing power and speed—it's all about creating strong neuromuscular connections," explains CrossFit games athlete Julie Foucher.
And when it comes to strengthening the entire body, Phillip Giackette, strength and conditioning specialist at Professional Athletic Performance Center, says it doesn't get much better thank plyos. But if you are specifically looking to strengthen one part of the body through plyos, you can. "Plyometrics are designed to increase power of subsequent movements that use muscles and tendons via the stretch reflex," he explains. "What plyometric exercises you choose will dictate the part of the body you will strengthen. Plyometrics can be utilized in the legs, torso, trunk, and arms, so you will have plenty of choices on which region of the body you want to work and which exercises you want to perform."
Where can you practice plyometrics?
While plyos are typically practiced in CrossFit gyms, Foucher assures that practicing them in a park or in your apartment is completely feasible. "You can use objects you have at home to practice plyometrics," she says. "You can jump up to a step or a bench, or set up a series of objects (shoes work great!) in a line to jump over—get creative with it! Just make sure anything you are jumping onto is stable before you make the leap."
Andy Petranek, co-founder of Whole Life Challenge and owner of CrossFit LA, adds that plyos don't just have to mean jumping on boxes—or anything, for that matter. "A plyometric movement is any movement with a quick bounding action, meant to build power by taking advantage of the stretch-reflex cycle of your muscles. Think consecutive broad jumps, box jumps, rapid kettlebell swings, and even that simple skipping you learned as a kid. The key is to try to be fast, light, and powerful, putting as much speed and strength into each repetition as possible (once you're properly warmed up)."
How to warm up and cool down.
On the note of warming up and cooling down properly, diving straight into plyometrics without giving your body a proper warmup is a pretty bad idea. "First, get your heart rate up through general aerobic exercise. Riding a stationary bike or light jogging on the treadmill is great, and if you don't have access, do some easy jumping jacks," says Petranek. "Then, dynamic stretching, which means stretching while moving, i.e. arm swings and leg swings, bending over and standing back up, high knee pulls."
As for cooling down, Foucher recommends going for deeper stretches. "Spend a long time stretching the calves, hamstrings, and quads. That's a great way to cool down," she says.
Here are the potential risks.
As with any workout—especially high-intensity ones—injury is always a possibility, so staying aware of potential injury is important—and technique is key. "I like to teach how to land before I teach how to jump," says Giackette. "One should also possess a sufficient base of strength, speed, and balance. Having someone perform plyometrics without knowing proper technique or without having sufficient strength, speed, or balance can result in injury to the lower or upper body. Finally, external factors such as equipment, landing surfaces, training area, and footwear will play a role in a person’s safety during plyometric training."
Intrigued by plyometrics and CrossFit? Here's what inspired CrossFit champion Julie Foucher's sense of purpose.