Plyometric training is essential for distance runners. The human body is extremely efficient in responding to the stress placed upon it. By training only with long and slow distance runs, the body becomes exactly that, slow. Therefore, it is important to reverse these changes and improve explosiveness by implementing some type of plyometric or power-based training within your program.
Plyometrics are a type of training which consists of three phases. The eccentric phase is when the muscle is preloaded or lengthened as you come into contact with the ground. The amortization phase, or transition phase, is the time between lengthening and shortening. And lastly, the concentric phase is where the acceleration and explosive movement takes place.
By adding a quick eccentric pre-stretch to the muscle, we are allowing the storing of potential energy and use of muscle spindles, which provide a subsequent greater force production during contraction, this is called the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). It is essential to keep the transition time to a minimum, which means that as soon as you land and lengthen, you should already be applying force into the ground to take off. The concentric phase is dependent on the previous two phases. If we take too long landing and transitioning, we will not engage the muscle spindles to the fullest extent and therefore will not create a rapid contraction. This is the main reason I always spend time working on proper landing mechanics. Many people fail to realize that if you don’t land properly while under control, you can’t speed up effectively. Note: If you do not have access to a box you can use a step or curb.
Below are several basic plyometric exercises that can be incorporated into your warm-up routine. Begin by perfecting the soft, controlled landings before progressing on to the faster drills. You don’t need to do a lot of quantity to improve in this area. But, you always have to focus on the key points, which are: soft landings, good lower body alignment, and a quick explosive movement on the repetitive movements. I recommend adding these into your routine 2-3x per week and starting with 2-3 sets of 8 repetitions, then adding 2 reps each week. Once you complete each level for 3-4 weeks, move on to the next level. If you feel you have not fully perfected the exercise there is no shame in spending additional time getting it down.
By: Garrett McLaughlin, MS, ATC, CSCS, ART
About the Author: Garrett McLaughlin is an Athletic Trainer and Personal Trainer who works with youth and recreational athletes. His plyometric programs focus on perfecting the basic movement patterns, which ultimately increase overall athleticism, power, and performance. For more information on plyometric training, contact Garrett.