The Benefits of Plyometrics for Runners
If you’re like me, you’re constantly looking for ways to improve your running. And if you’re like me, it is also because you get bored quickly.
The constant slog of running can get a bit tedious and finding new and innovative ways to, not only improve running economy, but also add a little excitement, is always welcomed.
Plyometrics is one such way. It is a term that is understood by many, but in fact, most just scrape the surface in trying to explain it. So let me put your mind at rest, and give you the simple truth about Plyometrics and why it’s very beneficial for your running.
What is Plyometrics?
Plyometrics is known as the “shock method” and really isn’t for the faint-hearted. No, you don’t go about hooking yourself up to wires and gadgets, allowing live electricity to shoot through your body. Not at all. Although sometimes it may feel a little like that.
By way of a small example, think to the last time you watched Usain Bolt before his 100-meter sprint. The one thing he does each and every time is to jump up and down with high knees. It’s very impressive to watch, because he really gets up high, knees almost touching his chin.
Ever wondered why?
Because he is preparing his muscles for the fast-twitch motion in the sprint. You can be sure that Bolt includes Plyometrics into his training regime, and those small bursts just before the race are just his way of reminding the muscles what they are in for.
In short, Plyometrics is exerting the muscles to their maximum effort in short bursts in order to boost their strength or power.
So, why does a long distance runner need this?
Most times Plyometrics are aligned with fast paced, quick-of-the-draw sports such as football (English style and American), basketball, sprint running, and any type of sprint sport that requires you to use your feet on the ground. Most people don’t believe that it would benefit a cyclist, a swimmer or a sport that isn’t ground based.
I beg to differ.
But, let’s focus on the long distance runner, or even medium distance runner, meaning anything between 5-milers and marathon runners.
You know how to run. Right? Of course you do. You put one foot in front of the other, hit your foot to the ground, and keeping it going. What differs from one runner to another is mostly their pace, the intensity that their foot hits the surface, and their style.
Now, if we take into account the level of muscle fitness and power, then you can add another measure to a runner’s performance ability.
Facts have proven that adding cross training into your running program, which targets different muscles in different ways, is beneficial to running. The same can be said for Plyometrics.
The fact that Plyometrics teaches the muscle to react in a manner that will allow it to give off more power can have very favorable results when it comes to running.
However, not all men are created equal, and not all Plyometric exercises are beneficial for runners.
What are the best Plyometric exercises for runners?
Because running is a bit like jumping, in that you are bouncing from one foot to the other, it makes sense to include exercises that teach your legs to propel you up and forward, with more power. The exercises below are the best Plyometrics options for short or long distance runners.
But before we start, it is vital that you remember that you are jumping and landing, and this not only involves your entire leg muscles as well as glutes, but also your joints, in particular, your knees.
The one thing you will miss when you’re older is the proper use of your knees, so protect them at all costs. With any jump movement, you need to make an effort at landing softly. This way you put less effort on the knees, ankles and hip joints, and more on the thigh, calf, hamstrings, and gluteus muscles.
So, let’s begin …
This is a great stretch-type of Plyometric exercise, because it allows your legs to elongate, especially your hamstrings, which are generally shorter and tighter in runners.
Simply start off in a jog, progress to a gentle run, keeping your feet light, then build up speed. When you feel you are going at an above average speed, launch your one leg forward into a long jump, like you are trying to hurdle over something. Keep this going a few times, alternating legs.
The Standing Long Jump
At first, you will want to do this one landing on a soft surface until your knees are accustomed to it. This exercise builds the muscles up to producing as much power as possible to force you forward.
Standing firmly with feet shoulder width apart, go into a half squat, arms ready at your side. Then propel yourself forward, using your arms to assist in the movement. The idea is to see how far forward you can land from a stationary position. As you get stronger, you will most definitely jump further forward.
The Squat Jump
Oh, how I love the squat jump. Squats alone are a powerhouse strength exercise and when you add in the jump, you just shoot this exercise into another level, literally.
With feet slightly more than shoulder width apart, bend low, watching that your knees are not over your toes. Put your arms to your sides, and launch your body up, using your arms for leverage. Straighten your legs as you reach full peak, even stretching your arms forward, and then land softly, bending at the knees again. Try doing it 10 times in a row.
The Box Jump
The box jumps were stolen by the Cross Fitters and can be a really awesome strength and power building exercise. But it can also hurt badly if you overdo it. So, to begin with, use a low box, step, or wall and progress slowly to the higher levels. Make sure you step up and step down a few times, ending your set of 10 with a jump. Jumping over and over onto a box, no matter the height, is not good for the knees and hips.
Stand in front of the box, similar to a squat position, then launch yourself forward and up, ensuring you land with both feet firmly in the middle of the box. Bend your knees as you land, keeping low. Your arms can help with leverage.
The Lunge Jump
The lunge, as per the squat, is a great power exercise, but like the squat, should be administered with caution. First, get a basic lunge right before adding in the jump. When lunging, make sure that your knee doesn’t go over your toes, and you drop your back knee down.
Start in the basic lunge position and launch your legs past each other to land in the opposite position, other leg forward now. Try keeping this up, using your arms like a runner would, for 10 counts.
So, there you go. Here are 5 Plyometric strength exercises, that if repeated at least every second day will drastically improve your muscle power on future runs, as well as reduce the risks of injuries.