Once only popular with elite athletes, plyometric training is now widely recognized as an effective way of increasing muscle tone while avoiding bulk. Plyometric training can be modified to suit many different activities but is most valuable for activities requiring speed and explosiveness. This kind of exercise can also help you tone up and lose inches.
Plyometric is the label used for the many exercises that use skips, hops and explosive jumps. The dynamic movements instantaneously overload muscles causing rapid, forceful muscle contractions. The muscle fibers used during a plyometric movement are fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are very difficult to overload. You can only see the results of an exercise if it adequately overloads a muscle.
As a result of rapid muscle loading, plyometrics are very effective in developing leg strength without bulk, giving you toned, sleek muscles. The high ratio of leg strength to body weight contributes to speed, power, acceleration, vertical jump height and agility. Abdominals and other supporting muscles are key in completing plyometric exercises and are also effectively conditioned, promoting good balance and supporting functional movement. Since tough-to-work fast twitch muscle fibers are being effectively loaded, muscle tone can be seen within a short period of time.
The results produced from plyometric exercises are due to a stretch-shorten cycle of muscles used in a movement. Otherwise known as a myotatic response, plyometric exercises rapidly stretch a muscle (eccentric muscle movement) and then quickly contract the muscle (concentric muscle movement). The rapid stretch-shorten cycle loads muscle fibers in two different ways instead of just one. Plyometric exercises allow twice the muscle loading of a standard resistance workout without adding any additional time. This time efficiency not only means toning up fast, it also allows for maximum strength gains.
While they may be perfect for some people, plyometrics are not for everyone. The rapid, forceful contractions increase the risk of muscular injury for those who don’t have conditioned muscles. If a muscle doesn’t have adequate starting strength, a sudden forceful motion can load the muscle fibers too much and cause tears. Joint problems are also something to consider before doing plyometrics. All the jumping and landing is very high impact on knees, hips and ankles. Anyone with previous problems in these joints should avoid plyometric exercises or take precautions when performing them.
Plyometric exercises are a great approach to challenge the body in a different way, and are a useful tool for varying your exercise routine. They are often used as part of a warm or as part of an exercise programme to make the session more challenging. i.e. Box jumps / Burpees during a CrossFit or squat jumps as a superset with back squats during a Hypertrophy (muscle building and conditioning) session.