An Introduction to Plyometrics.

An Introduction to Plyometrics.

Plyometrics are exercises designed to produce fast, powerful movements, and improve the functions of the nervous system, which in turn can offer a increase in athletic performance. The core of plyometric exercise is the rapid stretching and contracting of a muscle group.

For example, a simple plyometric exercise widely performed is plyometric hurdles. The athlete drives upwards and goes over the hurdle, when the athlete lands they must attempt to reduce the time spent on the ground and limit knee flexion, then repeat for the series of hurdles. It is the rapid landing, the slight flexion (which the athlete must try and limit) of the knee which rapidely stretches the muscles of the quadriceps. The limiting of the time spent on the ground ensures that there is a rapid contraction of the muscles in order to clear the next hurdle. This is the stretch-shortening that plyometrics is based around.

Should you consider using plyometrics?

Plyometrics have been shown to offer performance gains above and beyond that of regular strength training. In a comparison carried out by, and published in, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (1992) between traditional strength training and plyometric training on vertical jump height, it was shown that both the traditional strength training group and the plyometric group significantly increased jump height, however the plyometric group showed an increase 15% greater than the traditional group. These results are also similar to results found by Chimera et al. (2004). The study by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research also investigated whether combining the traditional strength training with plyometric would offer an increase greater than performing either protocol alone. It was found to increases vertical jump height by 223%  more than the traditional strength training group and 180% more than the plyometric group.

This demonstrates that combining plyometrics into a routine and not solely relying on one training method and incorporating various approaches may illicit larger gains in performance.

The Chimera et al. (2004) study looked into the use of plyometrics for injury prevention rather than performance gains. It demonstrates that plyometric training was able to increase preparatory adductor activity and abductor-to-adductor coactivation (lower levels of activity and coactivation may be factors in lower limb injuries) through pre-programmed motor strategies learned during the plyometric training. The study concluded by saying “Plyometric exercises should be incorporated into the training regimens of female athletes and may reduce the risk of injury by enhancing functional joint stability in the lower extremity”.

Plyometrics for endurance sports.

Plyometric exercise have well documented proven benefits for non-endurance sports and sports which may require bursts of anaerobic activity, however using plyometrics should not be confined to non-endurance sports. A study published in The European Journal of Applied Physiology by Spurrs et al. (2003) examined the effect that plyometric exercise had on distance running performance. The subjects who took part in the test were current runners and were randomly split into 2 groups. The experimental group performed their regular training routine but also performed plyometrics alongside their regular training, and a control group who only followed their current training program. Pre- and post-protocol measurements were taken for lower leg musculotendinous stiffness, maximum isometric force, rate of force development, 5-bound distance test (5BT), counter movement jump (CMJ) height , Running Economy, VO2max, lactate threshold (Thla), and 3-km time. The study found that there was no significant difference in the control group on any of the measures. The plyometric group showed significant increases in performance in the 3km time (2.7%), running economy and all other measurements excluding VO2max and lactate threshold. As there were no changes to the endurance based fitness markers but an increase in performance, it is suggested that by adding plyometrics into a routine the running economy of an athlete was greater therefore resulting in a decrease in the 3km time.

The Risk – Reward of Plyometrics.

An experienced strength and conditioning coach will be able to identify plyometric exercises which may offer a benefit to the athlete, but first the athlete needs to be at a level of development to allow plyometric training to be carried out safely.

The American based National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) recommends that the strength level for the hips and legs be based on the ability to squat 1.5 to 2.5 the athlete’s body weight.  This should be considered the minimum standard for shock and high intensity plyometrics.  The upper body levels, according to the NSCA, should be based on the ability to do five continuous clap push-ups. Larger athletes (weight > 250 lbs) should be able to bench press their body weight, while smaller athletes (<165 lbs) should be able to bench press 1.5 times their weight, and athletes of intermediate body weight (165 to 250 lbs) should use gradiation of these guidelines.

It is vital that the coach is certain the athlete is able to cope with advanced training methods such as plyometrics and takes into consideration the intensity levels that incorporating plyometrics brings to a training programme. Monitoring and assessing the athlete regularly enables the coach to be in control and avoid any overuse or over-training injuries and issues. Good clear demonstrations and a full understanding of plyometric exercises should be immediately established, again this will prevent any injuries.

Other factors such as equipment and environmental factors such as space (as some plyometric exercises and techniques may require large amounts of open space), surface type, and the athletes footwear should all be considered prior to a plyometric session to avoid injuries.


Various studies have proven plyometrics to improve performance not only in non-endurance sports and activities but also in endurance sports. As long as the athlete is capable of performing plyometric exercise safely then the risk of injury through various factors both during training and in a competitive situation can be significantly reduced. using plyometrics alongside current training may offer significantly greater increases in performance than relying solely on one type of training. Experienced strength and conditioning coaches will be able to, if necessary, incorporate plyometric exercises seamlessly into a training routine and ensure it is done so in a safe and effective manner.


Chimera. N.J., Swanik. K.A., Swanik. C.B., Straub. S.J. (2004). Effects of Plyometric Training on Muscle-Activation Strategies and Performance in Female Athletes. Journal of Athletic Training. 39(1). 24–31.

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. (1992). The Effect of Six Weeks of Squat, Plyometric and Squat-Plyometric Training on Power Production. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 6(1).

Spurrs. R.W., Murphy. A.J., and Watsford. M.L. (2003). The effect of plyometric training on distance running performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 89(1). 1-7.

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