Plyometrics: The Key To Making Your Workouts More Effective
Plyometric or “shock training” exercises are a highly effective way to build strength, speed, power, and agility. I love incorporating plyometrics into my training because it is so efficient — just minutes of plyo training can burn calories to build muscle, and even give you a great cardio workout!
Including plyometric exercises into your workouts can help you to achieve your fitness goals with short workouts!
Here’s an explanation of what plyometric training involves and why you should definitely include plyo in your workouts!
What is plyometrics?
Plyometrics or “plyo” essentially means “jump training”. During a plyometric exercise, the muscle is stretched, has a brief rest and then contracts rapidly on impact with the ground.
During these rapid, cyclical movements your hands or feet leave and hit the ground with the force of impact correlating to the height of the next jump. Plyo movements use the ‘stretch-shortening cycle’ or stretch reflex to produce this explosive movement.
As you leave the ground, the muscle eccentrically contracts. During the transitional or “amortization” phase, the muscle has completed the work of the eccentric pre-stretch phase and the force production phase where the muscle contracts at recoil to complete the plyometric movement. This can also be called “reversible action” of muscles.
This explosive movement builds strength, speed and endurance — the goal is to decrease the time between stretching and contraction of the muscle as you build muscle power.
Plyometric exercises usually mean that you push off the ground and land — usually with your feet, but you can also do plyometric exercises for your arms.
Why do plyometric training?
Plyometric training can be done anywhere, using minimal equipment! This makes plyometric exercises perfect for at-home workouts. It can give you a really effective workout in just 15 minutes, which is perfect when you don’t have a lot of time!
Are plyometric exercises good for you?
Plyometric exercises benefit you by helping to maintain bone and joint health and increasing muscle fibre strength. They are a great way to get your heart rate up and build lean muscle at the same time!
However, some of these exercises can be jarring on the body. If you have an injury or are new to exercise, other forms of exercise may be more appropriate — ask your health professional for a recommendation. Once you’ve established a base level of fitness and are cleared to do jumping exercises, you can add in plyometrics.
Benefits of plyometric training
Plyometric exercises increase the speed with which the muscle contracts, targeting the fast-twitch muscle fibres. Fast twitch muscle fibres are larger, denser and more powerful than the slow twitch muscle fibres. You need to use them, or they can be converted to slow twitch or hybrid muscle fibres which produced less force and burn less energy.
Doing plyometric exercises loads your nervous system and encourages the growth of high-output fast twitch muscle fibres. Here are just some of the benefits:
- Increase athletic performance: Plyometric exercises can increase muscular power and explosiveness. This is important in many sports — from gymnastics to dancing, running, cycling or basketball.
- Improve power: Power is a combination of strength plus speed. Plyometric exercises help to increase the speed with which fast-twitch muscle fibres contract, recruiting more muscle fibres than stand-alone strength exercises.
- Better agility: The ability to change direction quickly depends on fast recruitment of muscle fibres. This is important for many team sports. Plyometric exercises can improve performance and reduce risk of injury during exercise.
- Improve speed: Plyometric exercises recruit the fast-twitch muscle fibres in your muscles, improving the speed of muscle response.
- Improve balance: Jumping exercises challenge your balance and help to strengthen the stabilising muscles, ligaments and tendons around the joints.
- Increase stamina: Plyometric exercises challenge your muscles, heart and lungs and can help increase your stamina for other activities.
- Better neuromuscular control: The nervous system carries communication from your brain to the muscles, and plyometric exercises can help to increase the speed and strength of these signals.
- Boost your metabolism: After exercise, your body continues to burn energy above your resting metabolic rate. This increase in EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) means more calories are burned even after you complete the workout.
- Increase cardiovascular fitness: Plyometric exercises will get your heart pumping! The intensity of these exercises means they help to improve your heart health and stamina.
Need-to-know tips for doing plyometrics
This form of exercise is VERY high-intensity, and requires a significant amount of strength and flexibility. This means that you shouldn’t attempt plyometrics unless you’ve been doing regular cardio, strength training and stretching for at least a month or two.
To do plyometrics safely, you need strong ligaments and tendons. It can pay to start with some lower impact plyometric exercises like bench hops or star jumps, and then build up to higher impact exercises like box jumps and tuck jumps. If you find plyometrics too intense, try a different form of exercise like low-intensity cardio to build fitness.
Warm up and cool down
As with any type of resistance training, you should always start your workout with some warm up exercises to get the blood flowing to your muscles. Dynamic stretching can help to increase the range of motion of your muscles and joints in preparation for jumping exercises.
Once you’ve completed the workout, take time to cool down and do static stretches to improve flexibility and range of motion for the muscles you’ve used whilst they are still warm.
Use proper form
When you do plyo exercises, it’s essential that you execute the movement with correct form to avoid potential injury. For example, I recommend mastering the basic movements that make up a complex exercise, like a plyometric box jump, before you attempt the full exercise.
Proper form is so important for plyometric exercises! Ensure that you can complete every single rep with good form. As a guide, you shouldn’t try to complete your maximum number of repetitions of a plyometric exercise — do as many reps as you can, without compromising your technique!
Once you’ve nailed the correct technique, you can include plyometric training two to three times per week, allowing 24-48 hours for recovery between sessions. Remember to listen to your body and be careful not to increase the intensity too quickly. I would recommend that you increase the repetitions of a plyometric exercise by no more than five reps at a time!
Finally, if something hurts during a workout, stop immediately! If it doesn’t resolve quickly, see a health professional.
What if I am pregnant?
If you are pregnant or have recently given birth, you should only exercise when you have clearance from your health professional. Once you have been cleared to exercise, modify your workouts to suit the stage your body is at.
When will I notice the benefits of plyometric exercises?
When you consistently incorporate plyometric training into your workouts, you should notice improvements in your performance within around four to six weeks. Of course, to maintain these gains you’ll have to keep continually challenging your body with plyometric exercises!
Is plyometric training aerobic or anaerobic?
Plyometric training can stimulate both the aerobic and anaerobic metabolic systems. Aerobic exercise relies on the availability of oxygen to burn energy, and it’s usually less intense than anaerobic exercises.
As the intensity of any exercise increases, your lungs and bloodstream can’t keep up with the demand for oxygen in the muscles. This means that your body starts to break down energy-storing molecules ‘anaerobically’, or without oxygen.
Plyometric exercises that are executed with a quick burst of energy, at maximum effort and for a short time are anaerobic.
When should you do plyometric training?
Plyometrics are often used by athletes to improve their performance in sports, but they are a great training tool for anyone who wants to build lean muscle and reap the other benefits of exercise using short workouts.
As mentioned above, you should do plyometrics once you’ve been exercising consistently for a few weeks, you are cleared by a health professional and you are free from injury.
Plyometric training can be done one to three times each week — leaving enough time for recovery between workouts.
How can I incorporate plyometrics into my workouts?
You can add plyometric exercises into your workout to increase muscle recruitment during other exercises! You could also do a whole workout based around plyometrics — creating a HIIT workout using plyometric exercises is a great way to get cardio if you can’t get out for a walk.
Jumping exercises can help to increase the number of muscle fibres recruited for a movement. This means that when you do a plyometric exercise like box jumps, followed by an exercise like squats, more of your leg muscle fibres will be recruited during the squats.
Plyometrics are a great option if you are short on time, but still want to fit a workout in.
My High Intensity with Kayla workouts include explosive plyometric exercises to increase heart rate, target fast-twitch muscle fibres and increase the effectiveness of each workout.
What are the best plyometric exercises?
For those who’ve used my programs, you will already be familiar with some of the jumping exercises that are found in my workouts!
For a plyometrics-focused workout, I recommend using three or four of the exercises below for 8-10 reps per set. You can do a circuit and repeat it if you have time!
Here are a few of my top plyometric exercises:
Burpees are my favourite plyometric exercise, and they feature regularly in my workouts! To master a burpee, you need to be able to do a squat, a plank and a jump. As you can see, burpees work your whole body in just one exercise!
You can modify your burpees to make them easier or harder. Once you become confident with standard burpees, add in a push-up, a Deadball slam or a box jump for more intensity, but remember to keep proper form the whole time!
Here’s how to do a standard burpee:
Plant both feet on the mat shoulder-width apart. This is your starting position.
Bend at both the hips and knees to place your hands on the mat on either side of your feet, ensuring that your spine remains in a neutral position.
Jump both of your feet backwards so that your legs are completely extended behind you, resting on the balls of your feet. Your body should be in one straight line from your head to your heels.
Jump both of your feet forwards in between your hands, once again ensuring that your feet remain shoulder-width apart.
Propel your body upwards into the air. Extend your legs below you and your arms above your head.
Land in the starting position, ensuring that you maintain ‘soft’ knees to prevent injury.
Star jumps are a great warm up exercise when you don’t have much space! For those who are new to plyometrics, this is a great exercise to start with to get your body used to the impact of landing.
Here’s how to do star jumps:
With your arms by your sides, plant both feet together on the floor. This is your starting position.
Quickly jump both feet outwards so that they are wider than your hips. At the same time, raise your arms upwards and outwards from the sides of your body so that your hands almost meet directly above your head.
Quickly jump both of your feet inwards to lower your arms to return to the starting position.
In this video I’m demonstrating a more advanced exercise combining a burpee and a box jump! You should definitely start out doing regular box jumps, using a lower box or step and increasing the height as you become more confident.
Here’s how to do standard box jump:
With a plyometric box directly in front of you, plant both feet on the floor shoulder-width apart. This is your starting position.
Looking straight ahead, bend at both the hips and knees, ensuring that your knees remain in line with your toes. Continue bending your knees until your upper legs are parallel with the floor. Ensure that your back remains within a 45- to 90-degrees to your hips. This is called the squat position.
Propel your body upwards and forwards, drawing your knees into your chest, to land in the squat position on top of the box. Ensure that you maintain ‘soft’ knees to prevent injury.
Push through your heels and extend your legs to find a standing position on top of the box.
Carefully step backwards off the box, one foot at a time, to return to the starting position.
This exercise is great for including in a HIIT workout. It helps to strengthen and tone your lower body.
Here’s how to do a tuck jump:
Plant both feet on the floor slightly further than shoulder-width apart.
Looking straight ahead, bend at both the hips and knees, ensuring that your knees remain in line with your toes.
Continue bending your knees until your upper legs are parallel with the floor. Ensure that your back remains between 45 and 90 degrees of your hips.
Propel your body upwards into the air and tuck in both your elbows and knees.
Extend both your legs and arms to land in the squat position. When landing, ensure that you maintain ‘soft’ knees to prevent injury.
Before you try this more advanced exercise, you’ll need to be able to complete 10 regular push-ups! You can make it a little easier by using your knees, a bench or the wall to reduce the intensity.
Here’s how to do plyo push-ups:
Place both hands on the mat slightly further than shoulder-width apart, with feet together on the mat behind you, while resting on the balls of your feet. This is your starting position.
While maintaining a straight back and stabilising through your abdominals, bend your elbows and lower your torso towards the mat.
Push through your chest and extend your arms to propel your body upwards into the air and release your hands from the mat.
Bend your elbows to land your hands back on the mat and return to the starting position, ensuring that you maintain ‘soft’ elbows to prevent injury.
In and out squat jumps
Test your balance and strengthen your ankles with this lower-body exercise.
Here’s how to do in and out squat jumps.
Plant both feet on the floor fist-width apart. This is your starting position.
Looking straight ahead, bend at both the hips and knees, ensuring that your knees remain in line with your toes. Continue bending your knees until your upper legs are parallel with the floor. Ensure that your back remains within a 45- to 90-degree angle to your hips.
Push through your heels and propel your body upwards into the air, extending your legs beneath you.
Reposition your legs to land in a sumo squat position with your feet slightly further than shoulder-width apart, ensuring that you maintain ‘soft’ knees to prevent injury. Bend your knees until your upper legs are parallel with the floor, ensuring that your back remains within a 45- to 90-degree angle to your hips.
Push through your heels and propel your body upwards into the air, extending your legs beneath you. Reposition your legs to land in the starting position.
This plyometric exercise has lower impact, making it perfect for those looking for a gentler option but still want to challenge themselves!
Here’s how to do it:
Place a bench vertically in front of you and position yourself on the right side. Firmly grip the bench on both sides, ensuring your fingers are facing outwards. This is your starting position.
Transfer your weight onto your hands and propel your feet up and over the bench, landing on the left side. Ensure that you tuck your knees into your chest as you jump and that you land with “soft” knees to prevent injury.
Keeping your weight on your hands, propel your feet up and over the bench to return to the starting position. Again, ensure that you tuck your knees into your chest as you jump and that you land with “soft” knees to prevent injury.
Why I use plyometrics in my programs
For those using the High Intensity with Kayla programs (formerly BBG), you’ll find plyometric exercises in many of my workouts. I incorporate plyometrics into my training programs to increase the intensity without needing a lot of external resistance — this means that you can get a really intense workout without needing to go to the gym!
Plyometric exercises increase muscle recruitment, which means that during the exercise you do after a plyo exercise, you’ll use more muscle fibres than if you did the second exercise alone.
Do you have a favourite plyometrics exercise or workout? Share it in the comments!
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.