There has been an interesting phenomenon happening in the last few years. If you're in the gym every day like I am, you have surely been witness to it. More and more people seem to be spending less time on the gym floor and more time in the aerobics studio. There's just one little catch: they're not taking an aerobics class. And you will typically only see one person at a time participating in this revolutionary form of exercise. That person is often surrounded by platforms and cones. Oh, and one more thing: there's a whole lot of jumping going on!
Plyometrics, also known as "jump training" has been on the rise for the last several years. It can be defined as exercises that enable a muscle to reach maximum strength in as short a time as possible. This speed- strength ability is known as power. Historically, plyometrics have been used in sport specific training programs to help train athletes for their given events. Coaches of certain sports such as basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, and synchronized swimming have long used plyometric training as an effective means to train their athletes. However, recent years have also seen a migration of plyometric training into the arena of the general fitness enthusiast. More and more people are using plyometrics as a way to gain strength and burn fat. Programs such as P90X which use a tremendous amount of plyometric drills have found their way across the board. The variety that these drills offer has become a strong selling point amongst exercisers, especially by those who struggle with motivation. But one question always seems to come up: Is it safe?
In my professional opinion, plyometric training is not safe for novice or beginning exercisers. It places a tremendous amount of stress on the joints of the body, especially the ankle, knee, and hip. Injuries have been reported by those performing plyometric drills that were previously untrained. Because this form of exercise does involve jumping, it may also not be appropriate for those who are significantly overweight because of the added stress to the joints. A baseline of strength must be established before attempting plyometric training.
Once a base strength has been developed, plyometric drills are completely appropriate for general fitness enthusiasts to utilize. They are indeed an effective way to build strength, burn fat, and increase metabolism. However, a careful approach must be taken. One must be carefully trained on plyometric drills before attempting them. Especially for more advanced drills, simply watching a DVD is not enough. Strict one on one training is always recommended. Care must also be taken to learn simpler plyometric drills first, before progressing on to the more advanced exercises. A Depth Jump involves stepping off a raised platform, striking the ground, and immediately rebounding off the floor into a vertical jump. This would be an example of an advanced plyometric drill and would not be well suited for someone who is new to this form of training. Standing vertical jumps would be a much safer exercise to start with.
An appropriate warm up is also highly recommended before attempting any plyometric drills. A 5-8 minute walk on the treadmill followed by a skipping or lunging sequence would qualify as an effective warm up for plyometric training. Many people have asked me if plyometric drills can be done in place of resistance training. My strong belief is that resistance training must always play a strong role in every fitness program. In other words, simply doing plyometric training is not enough; consistent weight training must also be utilized. Plyometric training and weight training can also be done within the same workout. However, because of the stressful nature of plyometrics and the emphasis on quality of work, care must be taken to perform plyometric drills before any other form of exercise. This is also important to allow for maximal response from muscles not fatigued by prior exertions.
This form of training is not intended to be done every day. Adequate recovery is absolutely essential. Research has shown that 48 to 72 hours of rest is necessary for full recovery, especially for beginners. Within the actual bouts of training, adequate recovery must also be taken between drills. For maximum effectiveness, a recovery of about 45 to 60 seconds is recommended between each jumping drill. The volume of plyometric training should be very gradual and sequential, sometimes progressing over the course of several months or even years. This is not the kind of training that should be rushed. For beginners, performing four to five vertical jumps may be substantial. For those who are highly experienced in plyometric training, a much higher volume of more advance drills (such as the Depth Jump) may be employed.
Above anything else, safety is the most important factor when engaging in plyometric training. As I said before, a base line of strength must be developed first. Proper form and technique must be taught. Also, more is not always better. At any stage, a plyometric workout should not last past 20 to 30 minutes. Care should also be taken to use only your body for this form of training. Holding weights or wearing a weight vest is not recommended, except in rare cases for highly conditioned athletes. As always, the most important thing to remember is to listen to your body. This is one area where one should not push for one more. Once extreme fatigue sets in, the plyometric portion of the workout is done.
Having come from a background in gymnastics, I was put through rigorous plyometric training at a young age and I have been using it ever since. It can be a great form of exercise but also a dangerous one for those who are not truly ready or trained. So please, use caution!
Michael Elder has been working as a fitness professional in Chicago for the last thirteen years. He comes from a background in gymnastics and is certified as a personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise (ACE). He can be contacted directly through his website, www.MichaelElder.com.