What are plyometrics?

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A lot of gyms offer classes that claim to be plyometrics-based – typically featuring endless box jumps – but they’re missing the point of what plyometrics actually are, and what they should be used for.

Feel the force

The aim of plyometrics is to increase your ability to exert force, and force equals mass times acceleration. If you can increase the speed at which you land from a jump or a ballistic press-up, you’ll exert more force, which means you can do everything more explosively. This makes plyos an excellent tool for speeding up the body’s responses and improving athletic performance. But for this to be effective, you have to be performing the exercise at maximum effort and only a handful of times, resting as long as necessary between reps to ensure you can apply yourself with maximum force every time. 

Most ‘plyometric’ gym classes use explosive moves such as box jumps or clap press-ups, but in a format where you perform up to 20 consecutive reps as part of a circuit. While this will certainly help you shift excess body fat, it isn’t plyometric, and it won’t improve your explosiveness or athletic performance.

Jump around

If you’re just looking to maintain your general level of fitness, you don’t need to worry about plyometrics. But if you specifically want to get more explosive, make sure you have a solid foundation of strength and mobility before you jump in – no pun intended. Plyo exercises involve dynamic, explosive movements that – when done properly at maximum intensity – put your tendons and muscles under a lot of stress, increasing the risk of injury. To minimise this, I recommend mastering functional exercises such as heavy barbell squats, cleans and snatches before you start doing serious plyo work.

Even when guys do use plyometrics correctly, they tend to spend more time doing lower-body plyo work. If your sport involves explosive upper-body movements – such as throwing balls or punches – I’d add upper-body plyo moves like ballistic press-ups or depth press-ups to your sessions, aiming for sets of five to ten max-effort reps, resting as required between sets. You can even work your upper body while doing box jumps by holding light dumbbells or wearing a weighted vest.

So if you’ve got a good strength base and you want to be more explosive, you should definitely add plyometrics to your routine. But not by going to a class that confuses plyometrics with high-volume fat-loss drills. 

This article was written by Ben Crookston, a strength and conditioning coach and the founder of Train Heroic.