It is frustratingly easy for runners to train themselves into a rut. Whether it’s a genuine plateau or just plain boredom, it’s important to find ways inject new and exciting training methods into your regime. Doing so will not only keep you interested but will also help to develop different aspects of your muscles to give you a more well-rounded running performance.
Based on emerging scientific evidence many runners have started incorporating plyometrics, a technique formally reserved for other sports, into their routine.
What Are Plyometrics?
Plyometrics, sometimes just called “plyos,” are a form of exercise that focus on dynamic, explosive movements. Exercises that utilize jumping or bouncing motions are the most basic examples of plyometrics but thousands of variations have been developed.
A basic muscle contraction consists of two phases: eccentric, lengthening, and concentric, shortening. Plyometric training forces your muscles to go through this cycle very quickly, recruiting more fast-twitch muscle fibers than running alone, or even weight training. These fibers are specifically adapted towards rapid, powerful movements like sprints or hurdles.
Improving Running Economy
Running economy is all about how efficiently you move and use oxygen. As you run, especially for long distances, your economy decreases because your muscles become more exhausted. Since plyometric training increases your muscles’ ability to launch you upward and forward, it also improves how efficiently oxygen is use to fuel those movements. This means that, ultimately, your feet will spend less time on the ground and you will be able to maintain a faster pace for longer distances.
A 2010 study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research tested the benefits of plyometric training versus those of dynamic weight training. A control group didn’t follow any strength training program. All three groups followed the same 8-week endurance program and their running economy was compared when the program ended. Out of all three groups, the plyometrics showed the most improvement in running economy.
Another study showed similarly improved oxygen efficiency after only six weeks of plyometric training.
These studies, and countless other anecdotal reports, give strong evidence to the benefits of incorporating plyometrics into your regular routine.
How To Do It
Because of the intense nature of plyometrics there is an inherent risk of injury, especially if you are just starting to exercise or if you have bone or joint problems.
Start out slowly, with basic exercises like hopping in place or running bleachers two steps at a time before moving on to more intense exercises. Also, to help avoid injury, try to workout on soft surfaces like grass or mats. Since the whole point of plyometrics is to build up your explosive power, try to spend as little time as possible between reps.
Make sure to include exercises that will help to build your balance, as well, like single leg hops.
Again, because plyometrics carry with them an increased risk of injury make sure to ease yourself into this new form of exercise. Particularly when you are just starting out, it would be very beneficial to work with a trainer who can teach you the proper form.
Have you been able to include plyometrics in your routine? Please share your experience with us in the comments!