The first thing to say about plyometric bounding, hopping, skipping, jumping and other dynamic exercises is they work to improve running performance. The second thing to remember is they can get you injured pretty quick if you go from zero to hero without a very gradual introduction i.e. low volume and relatively low intensity to begin.
Getting back to how we know they work, there are a multitude of studies in this area that demonstrate improved results for runners. Usually this is expressed as gains in running economy or a faster time trial over a set distance. I won’t list them here, if you use google scholar plenty will come up for you to review.
In terms of why they work my layman’s explanation is this type of training is all about rapid load and release of structures within the body that are capable of storing and releasing energy. These exercises also require high level of joint stiffness which is closely associated with better running performance. They practice powerful, economical movement.
Dr Philo Saunders from the AIS is one of the top researchers in this area and a couple of years ago I had the chance to watch and film Philo going through his own routine of ridiculous leaping about. The videos are a little sketchy, but you can make out pretty well what he’s doing. If any of this looks easy, be assured that it isn’t.
Philo is a very experienced, highly trained and talented athlete who is still making the open Australian 1500m final at the tender age of 36 – yes he’s almost as old as me. I say this not to pump up his tyres but re-enforce that this type of training should be approached cautiously by less well trained, robust and talented athletes – that would be you and me.
One thing that Philo said to me is that he credits these type of plyometric routines (and general strength work) with helping him remain injury free for most of his running career, which as you can imagine has been done at reasonably high volumes and intensities compared to your average weekend warrior.
Plyos for the people
Most of this routine I’d not attempt myself, preferring to get my plyo fix from relatively more gentle means such as hill sprints, running drills and just being a little more bouncy with some of the strength training exercises that I’ve been doing for a long time in the gym.
Other things you can try are jumping with a skipping rope, doing step-ups and some light skipping like you used to do in the playground when you were a kid. Doing some short sprints as Philo did to finish up this session is another ‘plyo’ anyone can do.
The key is to not delve into plyometrics without first mastering the movement. Practice moving well before increasing speed and force.
Plyometric exercises are a very effective means of increasing running performance. However, they need to be kept in perspective by those of us who might be better served improving our base strength and competence in running technique first.
A final word, if you’re at the pointy end of performance this is definitely an area you should explore. My advice is to seek out an expert in these advanced training techniques (not me!) to help structure a program and to review your technique in performing each exercise.
Words, video and images by Brian Martin
@BrianRunCoach definitely Brian-dependant on stages of rehab-find plyo work v important w high end lower limb rehab.Nice bounding from Philo
— Brad Beer (@Brad_Beer) October 8, 2013