Basic Plyometrics for Runners

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Basic Plyometrics for Runners

What are plyometric exercises?

Plyometrics focuses on increasing power and explosive movement by incorporating jumps, hops, bounds and skipping into a session. In this explosive workout you exert a large amount of energy in a very small amount of time. That means that the ground contact time (GCT) must be as short as possible and the movement explosive and powerful. Quite hard to combine both together, right? That’s why plyometric exercises are particularly important for improving your speed and explosivity.

How do they work?

It's useful to understand the basics of the mechanism behind the plyometric movement, called the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC), also known as a ‘pre-stretch’ or ‘countermovement’. This initial ‘pre-stretch’ movement allows the athlete to produce more force and move quicker than starting from a static position. It’s a spring-like movement that engages elasticity within the tendon.

A great example might be a comparison of countermovement jump (CMJ) and squat jump. Most likely you’ll jump higher performing a countermovement jump when you drop slightly just before the jump to create that spring and explosivity. It’s like a coil – the more you press down, the higher and farther it rebounds. 

What are the types of plyometric exercises?

Plyometric activities can be divided into 2 categories based upon the ground contact time (GCT):

Fast: when the GCT (ground contact time) is faster than 0.25s (≤250ms)
Examples: pogo jumps, sprinting, multiple hurdles jumps

Slow: when the GCT is slower then 0.25s (≥251ms)
Examples: Countermovement jump, split lunges, jump tucks

It can be helpful for runners to include both types – slow & fast GCT – to employ both slow and fast-twitch muscles. Also, slow SSC exercises mainly help to improve joint and tendon condition, whereas short SSC activities mostly enhance the Central Nervous System and build up ankle strength, helping to deal with high impact. 

Plyometric exercises are quite demanding for your body, so it’s very important to have basic core and overall strength, as well as no injury during training. Slow and gradual progression is very important to maintain an injury-free experience. 

How do plyometrics help with running?

There’s a countless number of studies showing how helpful it is to incorporate plyometric exercises into a training session. All Olympians or serious/committed athletes must implement that type of training if they want to achieve desirable results. I’ll be honest with you – I know it’s not the most exciting type of training you can imagine, it doesn’t look as 'cool’ as lifting a 200kg barbell in a gym, HOWEVER I cannot tell you how much and quickly you’ll feel an improvement in your running performance once you start implementing them into your training.

Plyometric exercises immensely improve your speed, strength, power, ability to change direction, balance and bone density. Also, plyometrics enhance running economy (simply said, consumption of oxygen during running), mainly by improving muscle recruitment. What does that mean? Basically, plyometrics help recruit fast-twitch muscle fibres most efficiently. It’s great news for long-distance runners, who will be able to run faster for longer with less oxygen needed. If you’re sprinter, plyometric training enhances the ability to push off explosively, with more power, which improves speed and performance. Also, if you want to improve your uphill running, these exercises help build up your strength and balance.

The best plyometric exercises for runners

If you’re new to plyometric training, we suggest first implementing basic core & strength exercises for  2-3 weeks. This will build a foundation for your body to cope with the additional stress caused by the ‘jumping’ action. Check out our other videos on Core Strength and Leg Strength.

Usually, it’s recommended to start with long SSC exercises first, like the ones below:

  • Countermovement jumps
  • Jump squats
  • Jumping split lunges
  • Jump tucks
  • Single leg deadlift hops
  • Box jumps
  • Stair jumps

We’ve also prepared a basic and safe introduction into short SSC exercises which you can implement right away, to start building ankle stability and elasticity in a safe way. The key is to keep each exercise up to 20 contact times and progressively build up from there. After a few weeks of this basic training, you can start including height into them by adding hurdles or a little box. 

When performing short GCT exercises is VERY important to stay focused on key elements:

  • Keep your ankles stiff and pull your toes up during the jump 
  • Land on the balls of your feet (imagine credit card space between your heel and the surface)
  • Keep ground contact time as short (as little?) as possible (imagine that the surface is on fire)

Short SSC Exercises: Beginner Level

  • Eccentric jumping
  • Pogo jumps
  • Single leg pogo jumps
  • Skipping

Short SSC Exercises: Intermediate Level

  • Hurdle jumps
  • Multiple hurdle jumps (increase the height of the hurdles over time)
  • Depth jumps (starting with 20cm box)

Want more intensity?

As if those exercises aren't hard enough, why not up the intensity of your chosen exercise with a resistance band or suitable dumbells. I will warn you though, this will burn and you'll definitely feel it in your muscles during the workout, and maybe a few days after.

Resistance bands can be a highly effective way to increase explosive power, jumping height, distance and speed. Implementing weights is also effective and will get your heart pumping in no time.

I recommend finding a suitable level of resistance or weight before beginning your chosen exercise. Take your time, and breathe throughout, in time with your movement. Once you're confident and feel warmed up, following the movement demonstrations above, maybe select 1 or 2 movements you'd like to try first.

If you've gone for the squat bands, position this just above the top of your knees, lowering your hips back to perform the squat formation, then release back up, pressing with the heels of your foot. You could try this jumping!

For the longer resistance bands with loose ends, a great way to increase your range of motion and speed, would be to tie the ends together securely as you can, and hook it around a stable fixture. Placing the band around your waist, begin in a low crouched position, walk your hands in front of you while mimicking the movement with your legs (left hand and right leg move together, right hand and left leg move together). Play around with changing directions and varying speed.

There are multiple ways to apply resistance band to your training, and we stock a few options we think you'll love. Whether you're working out solo or working out with others, make it a challenge but also have fun!

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Should I do plyometrics before or after running?

It’s a very demanding type of training, so I wouldn’t recommend doing it on a running day. However, if you really must do it, I’d suggest including a really short plyometric session (max 5-7 minutes) as a part of warm up before a run, and avoid any speedwork / sprinting that day.

How often should I do plyometrics?

I’d suggest doing plyometric training every 3 days (especially at the beginning) and not on your running day. Also, keep it short! It doesn’t look very demanding from the outside but trust me – you’ll feel it very quickly. A plyometric session usually doesn’t last longer than 10-15 minutes, depending on the intensity. Make sure that you maintain an adequate level of overall and core strength, so don’t neglect your strength training as well.

These are exercises that we've found very useful and want to share with our customers. But we're not certified instructors. Always consult your specialist before beginning any exercise programme. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.

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