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Taking the leap: risks and rewards of plyometrics

Posted by Chelsea Rice  December 17, 2013 01:22 PM

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NickDowning_NewEnglandRevolution.jpgNick Downing is in his second season as the New England Revolution’s strength and conditioning coach. Downing is responsible for developing and enhancing the Revolution players’ speed, strength, and endurance, as well as their overall conditioning and fitness in conjunction with both the coaching and medical staffs. Through an integrated approach – including weight training, cardiovascular training, plyometrics, and nutrition – Downing has created both position-specific and individual programs to help the Revs emerge as of Major League Soccer’s most fit teams.

There’ve been a lot of buzzwords flying around the fitness world recently. From muscle confusion to Crossfit to Zumba, new exercise programs are emerging daily, and it’s often hard for my personal training clients—and even our New England Revolution players—to stay on top of the latest workout techniques.

One of the most popular recent trends in fitness is the plyometrics craze. I’ve heard that word thrown around a lot in the gym and online, but very few of my private clients have a real grasp on what the word means, what the method is and how they should incorporate it into their daily routines.

So what is plyometrics? In the simplest terms, plyometrics is jump training.

Plyometrics exercises are tailored to make your muscles exert the most possible force in the shortest possible time, focusing on extending and contracting muscles in a rapid, explosive way. Plyometrics jumps are usually performed on a set of plyoboxes—elevated platforms of varying heights—that athletes leap up-to or down-from, starting in a resting position and exploding into and out of their jumps.

In the professional fitness community, plyometrics is not a new term, and it’s definitely not a flash-in-the-pan exercise. The plyometrics method exploded onto the fitness scene—no pun intended—in the 1960s and 70s, after the Russian track and field team dominated at the Olympics. The fitness world was shocked by how agile, explosive and fast the Russian team was as a result of their coach’s revolutionary “shock method,” which was later coined as plyometrics. The method quickly became a favorite training tool for professional athletes in every sport around the world. As the Revolution’s strength and conditioning coach, I use plyometrics daily to increase our players’ reaction time and agility.

Although it’s clearly not a new method, its recent surge in popularity has taken plyometrics from Olympic training gyms to the general masses. This is where it gets tricky: plyometrics is, by nature, a training tool for seasoned athletes.

In other words: beginners, don’t try this at home.

I see a lot of people in the gym trying to imitate what they have seen on TV, or worse, YouTube tutorials, and they run the risk of seriously injuring themselves. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think intense workout crazes can be risky to the casual gym-goer – and when you add explosive leaps and plyoboxes to the mix, the risk may not be worth the reward for some people.

The fundamental goal of plyometrics regimens is to maximize speed, power and strength, in order to help athletes perform and compete at the highest level of competition. The average weekend athlete doesn’t need to have a 40-inch vertical leap or be able to explode off the block at a starting line.

Aside from being generally unnecessary for 90 percent of the fitness community, it is also a high-intensity workout that has much room for error. If you don’t have a solid command of the basics, then adding rigorous explosive jumps to your workout will definitely compound any dysfunction and, ultimately, do more harm than good.

That being said, there are ways to safely and effectively incorporate plyometrics into your everyday routine. I’m all for pushing yourself at the gym, but it has to be done safely. So skip the plyoboxes and incorporate more explosive activity into your everyday exercises. It will punch your routine into high gear, and give your workout a new twist.

First, you absolutely have to master the basics. Then you can move into jump training, including:


  • Jump squats: Once you have perfected the standard version, add an explosive jump at the top of your squat.

  • Jump lunges: If you have a firm grasp of a regular lunge, leap to alternating legs between each lunge.

  • Clapping pushups: when you have mastered a basic pushup, add in the plyometrics method by clapping at the top of your pushup.

These are simple, but effective ways to add the plyometric training into your everyday routine without risking injury or extending beyond your abilities.

Just remember, you have to walk before you can run—and run before you can jump.

Staying fit is an important part of staying healthy. This blog will offer exercise tips from experts as well as share the personal journeys of Globe staff members committed to fitness. No matter your age or energy level, we invite you to join in and share your own story. How do you find time to work out? What are your daily challenges? Let us know and read along -- and together, we can all get moving.

CONTRIBUTORS

Elizabeth Comeau is a social media marketing manager at Boston.com. She will be blogging about her personal fitness journey and using a device called a FitBit to track her weekly goals and progress (see below). Follow her journey and share your own. Read more about Elizabeth and this blog.

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