Plyometric exercises take advantage of a particular tendency of muscle contraction to improve athletic power. When your muscles rapidly shift from stretching to shortening, their capacity to produce force increases. For this reason, many plyometric exercises involve jumping or other dynamic full-body movements in addition to weight bearing. Because plyometrics often involves high-impact movements, consult with your doctor before beginning a plyometric routine, especially if you have a history of joint problems.
At the Muscular Level
When you perform a plyometric exercise, such as tossing a medicine ball in the air, your muscles go through a stretch-shortening cycle, or SSC. The elasticity of muscle fibers helps them to shorten rapidly and powerfully after they have been stretched. At the neurophysiological level, your muscles are hard-wired with a stretching reflex. As a result, you can take advantage of the relative ease of stretching and use it to power the next contraction. In order for an exercise to be plyometric, you must cycle from the stretching to the contraction without excessive time delay. In practical applications, this means immediately switching from one movement to the next. For example, when tossing a medicine ball in the air, you must immediately repeat the throwing movement as soon as you catch the ball.
Maintain Your Form
The effectiveness of plyometric exercise largely depends on your form. For example, when jumping, you must land correctly to avoid overtaxing your leg joints and your feet. When doing a jump, your entire frame, including shoulders, knees and toes, must be correctly aligned during the landing phase. By practicing plyometrics under a qualified instructor, you can develop good habits of form, a useful crossover to any type of athletic activity.
Reaching Peak Power
Plyometric exercise is of particular benefit to athletes who practice sports that require a high degree of peak power. For example, gymnasts and weightlifters need to produce short, explosive bursts of tremendous force, making plyometrics a helpful component of their conditioning. In addition, plyometric exercise has applications to sports which combine short bursts of activity with more continuous aerobic exercise. For example, tennis players and basketball players can improve their hitting or shooting performance by combining plyometrics with regular cardiovascular conditioning.
Full-Body Plyometric Exercise
To condition all your major muscle groups, select a range of plyometric activities and build up a circuit. For example, you might combine vertical jumps with medicine ball throws, bend press throws and band pushups. The latter activity is performed like a traditional pushup, but you use a set of sturdy bands, suspended from above, to support your chest as you explosively do "clap" pushups, clapping your hands each time you come off the ground. Have a trained professional advise you on proper technique and a reasonable routine to avoid overstraining your joints or muscles.
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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.