Everyone has a different opinion of Plyometrics, otherwise known as Plyo’s or jump training. Some think they are the greatest thing since sliced bread, and they are responsible for every great athletic achievement since the first Olympic games. Others think they are joint destroying, and an injury waiting to happen. The truth lies somewhere in between. Yes, they are a valuable training modality, and yes, they are very taxing on not only the nervous system but also the musculoskeletal system. So with that being said, let’s run a simple cost-benefit analysis on them and see if incorporating Plyo’s into your training protocol makes sense.
Plyometrics are designed to train the “Stretch Shortening Cycle” This is a unique property our muscles have, similar to a spring or rubber band. Because of the way muscles are constructed, with lots of overlapping fibers, it allows them to change shape (Relax vs contract). The rate at which we can contract determines how much “power” our movement produces. So ideally, the quicker we can contract, the more powerful we will become. Plyometrics use a mode of jumping, landing, and pre-loading the muscle tissue using our own body weight as resistance to physically manipulate the muscle into contracting quicker, creating more power.
Plyometrics are very effective at training the stretch-shortening cycle and have yielded impressive results for some athletes. Every runner could benefit from having a higher power output. Think about feeing more powerful in each stride, covering more distance and having a nice reserve to really “kick” at the end of your race. Also, jump training has been shown to increase bone mineral density, and reverse the effects of osteoporosis, highlighting the need to incorporate some form of jump training for all ages! These are the benefits, now to explore the costs.
Every person is different, everyone’s body is different, everyone has a different training history, injury history, and pain tolerance. You can really be the only judge of what your body can and cannot do, and what you can and cannot tolerate. Plyometrics when done correctly, at a high power output, will require heavy loading, and absorption of force on your joints and musculoskeletal structure. Because of this, conditions such as osteoarthritis, ligament and tendon injuries, and muscle tears may happen. These are rare and if done properly, there is a minimal chance. However, more likely is the “wear and tear” felt by doing such a taxing training method. Plyo’s are synonymous with making people sore the next day. With proper rest and recovery, these effects will go away after several days. This is a perfect time to test out your new fancy foam roller ?
Even with these contradictions, I still highly recommend every athlete, at any age does at least some form of jump training. Adaptations can be made to make the exercises easier on the joints, including using a soft surface to jump and land on and varying the height and distance required to jump.
Overall Cost/Benefit analysis: Plyometrics are worth the cost IF done correctly. Build up your tolerance for jumping, and power training it will help you run your best race yet! Always remember, “work smarter, not harder.”
Author: Alex Harris, Founder of Smart Strength