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Jumping to Run


November 3, 2021

What runners need to know about how to boost performance safely with plyometrics.

Plyometrics might sound technical but just picture jumping up and down repeatedly and there you have it. It is defined as a series of movements focusing on short ground contact times. Less time on the ground means more time in the air!

To enjoy running your body tissues need to be able to tolerate all of the loads applied to it when the foot hits the ground. The bones of your legs have to be able to absorb and disperse shock, your muscles have to be able to stay strong while lengthening (eccentric contractions), and your tendons need to be able to store and release energy.

Running is by definition a plyometric activity where you are bounding from one foot to the next. So, it makes sense to incorporate plyometric training into your strength training.

Here is where plyometrics can be particularly helpful. The goal of plyometrics is to produce the maximal force in the shortest period by way of the “stretch shortening cycle”. This is defined as an active stretch of a muscle followed by an immediate shortening of the muscle. The active stretch allows the muscles and tendons to store energy, this energy then gets released during the shortening phase. Basically, it is an increase in efficiency!

One thing that plyometrics training has been shown to improve is running economy. Running economy is simply a measure of efficiency. Think of Pheobe Buffay running through Central Park, arms and legs flailing about wildly, this is an example of extremely poor running economy. Plyometrics improve the way your brain recruits the muscles needed for running. It makes the system work better. It also makes your tendons stiffer and springier which makes your stride more efficient.

It has also been shown to increase time to exhaustion at submaximal speed. Meaning you can run longer before you have to stop.

The best results from plyometric training are achieved when combined with strength training. You need to have a solid base of strength training before performing any of these higher-level plyometric drills. A strong strength background also ensures that your bones, tendons and muscles are ready for this type of loading. Plyometrics should not be taken lightly

And don’t worry about getting too big. There is a molecular interference that occurs when you do both strength and endurance training. You can improve your endurance with strength training but for some reason you cannot increase your strength past a certain point with simultaneous endurance training. So no, you will not gain weight if you start incorporating strength training, keeping all other variables the same.

This means you can strength train without accidentally turning into Arnold.

To perform plyometrics safely you need to be in a high state of readiness. Take yourself through a nice dynamic warm up and elevate your HR and tissue temperature. Make sure you are not performing under fatigue. Do the plyometrics after your warm-up and leave the simpler strength training for the end.

Start with 30-60 jumps, also known as contacts, and work your way up to up to 200 contacts/session over a few months. Say you do 10 double leg hops: that is considered 10 contacts, now you do 10 single leg hops on each leg, that considered 10 contacts per leg. So if you add it up you have had 20 contacts on each leg. Allow, 2-3 minutes between sets for so you are ready to perform the next set.

Another way to look at plyometric training is as a way to connect your strength to your speed. It is a nice bridge between the two so you can replicate the speeds and forces produced during running.

Once you feel comfortable on two legs you should progress to a single leg drill. This incorporates not only the previous mentioned benefits but also incorporates increased control, postural stability and shock absorption and distribution. Since running is bounding from one leg to the other it makes sense to perform plyometrics on one leg. During one leg plyometrics our goal is to increase your endurance in an upright posture on one leg, which mimics the postures of the elite runners.

Goals for plyometrics:

Minimize ground contact time

Land softly so there is little to no noise

Keep arms compact and close to your side (something I need to work on)

Imagine yourself as a spring that is being compressed and released

Get off the ground as quickly as possible

Stay on the balls of your feet

Safely incorporate plyometrics into your cross training routine today to start seeing gains carry over to your training. Just remember that it is better to start out too slowly than be too aggressive.

If you are not sure about how to do this give me a call. Let me take the guesswork out for you and come up with a simple and effective performance roadmap for you to follow. Schedule your free talk with the doc today!