Plyometrics, plyos, are known as jump-training exercises. First used by European Olympic athletes in 1970, plyometrics were shown to increase an athlete’s strength and power. Plyo exercises work by pre-stretching the muscle before it forcefully contracts. For example, when you squat and then jump up from a squat your quadriceps, the fronts of your upper thighs, stretch as you lower into the squat and powerfully contract when you push off into the jump. During plyometrics, you repeat these jumps for an explosive training technique.
As the exercises require strength, beginner should use caution. The American Council on Exercise, ACE, recommends starting with low jumps, without props such as boxes or benches, and then progressing as your power improves. ACE also suggests jumping from the ground, as opposed to jumping from one box to another, and possibly using a soft surface such as grass or a cushioned mat to absorb the impact that can be approximately seven times your body’s weight. Imagine the ground to be a large spring which pushes you off into the next jump. When you land, aim to land softly and with balance.
The intensity of plyometric training requires a longer recovery period, so plan to use plyos once a week at first. As your ability improves, you can do plyos twice a week, but rest for two to three days in between workouts. The focus during training is on the quality of the exercises. Instead of aiming to complete a certain number of repetitions, complete what you are able to while maintaining proper form, even if you complete only three repetitions. You can also perform one to three sets with the goal being muscle failure. At the end of the plyo workout you should feel that you cannot complete another jump.
Plyo Exercises for Powerful Legs
Box jumps are an intense plyo exercise. Stand facing a box between 12 and 24 inches high. Bend your knees, swing your arms behind you and then swing your arms forward as you jump onto the box. Land with both feet completely on the box and your toes facing forward. Keep your knees slightly bend to absorb the impact. Then, jump to the floor to the starting position, or as a beginner, step off the box to the floor.
Use the same box for lateral jumps. Begin standing on top of the box and jump off to the right. Land with both feet on the floor, and the box nearest to your left foot. Immediately jump onto the box and then jump off to the left. Immediately jump onto the box.
Stand in a lunge position with your right foot approximately three to four feet behind your left. Face both feet forward. Bend both knees and then jump as you switch feet positions to land with your left foot in front of your right. Repeat.
Stand facing an open space such as in an aerobic room or on a track. Squat, swing your arms behind you and then quickly jump forward as far as possible while swinging your arms forward. Land in a squat and immediately jump forward again. Repeat the jump across the room or down the track.