No rule exists that says only athletes have to improve their strength, power and agility. In fact, improving these things should be a part of your regular exercise program. As we age, our muscles and our ability to move quickly begins to wane if we do not do something about it (think how much easier it was to stand up from the ground when you were young as opposed to now). Luckily, incorporating plyometric exercises can stave off those slower muscle reactions and get you moving faster and more powerfully so that you can do just about anything with swiftness and ease.
So what exactly is plyometric exercise? It basically involves jumping with the goal of increasing your power and your speed. Think of track runners who have to quickly get on their feet as soon as the starter pistol goes off or the tennis player who has to quickly move laterally, forward and reverse with every hit. Plyometric training plays an important role in how well these athletes do in their particular field, but it is also a way for people to get a different type of cardiovascular workout while working their muscles in a profoundly different way.
Here are some plyometric moves that you can do as a circuit, as its own cardiovascular workout done in a sets and reps scheme, or in between weight lifting sets:
1. Box Jumps. Set up a bench or step at least twelve inches high. Using your abs and lower body strength, bring your knees up as you jump up onto the bench, stand straight up and then jump off. Continue doing this until you reach the desired amount of reps. Once it begins to get easy, raise the height of the step or bench. The key to doing these is to land in a slight squat with soft feet. In other words, do not land flat footed with a loud clunk!
2. Traveling Squat Jumps. Sure you can squat, but can you squat jump and travel at the same time? Most squat jumps are done in place, but here, you want to take them forward with each jump in an attempt to use the explosive power from your lower body to propel yourself forward as far as possible.
3. Lateral Jumps. Now that you have mastered jumping forward, you want to focus on lateral jumps. With both feet together and your knees slightly bent, jump to your right as high as you can and then jump to the left. Go as quickly as you can and remember to land softly with slightly bent knees. If you want a greater challenge, try jumping over a mat, low step or barbell.
4. One-legged Burpees. As if regular burpees were not difficult enough, along comes the one-legged variety. Just like a regular burpee, you are going to place your hands on the floor and jump your feet back, but in this case, you are going to leave one leg up through the entire set of reps. Do a set with your right leg up and then switch to the left leg. This will not only challenge you aerobically, but your abdominals, hamstrings and upper body will no doubt feel it as well.
5. Knee Tucks. Taking jumps one step further, knee tucks are a cardiovascular powerhouse. It takes very few of them to get that heart racing and requires a lot of core and lower body strength. It also takes up little space so it can be done in any little corner you find. All you have to do is jump while bringing both knees in front of you as high as you can. It helps to keep your hands at hip level so that your knees hit them as you bring them up in the jump. This sets you up for how high you want those knees to go.
6. Plyometric Push-ups. Many plyometric exercises focus on the lower body, so here is one that targets your entire upper body. Push-ups should already be a staple in your exercise routine whether you do them on your toes or in a modified position. However, in a plyometric exercise, you are going to use all that upper body strength to push yourself up so that your hands come completely off the ground as you come up from the push-up. If doing these on your toes is too difficult, begin doing them on your knees until you gain more strength. Your goal is to get your hands completely off the ground when coming up from the push-up. Once you mastered this, you can attempt clapping your hands in between each push-up.
These are just a few examples of plyometric exercises. There are countless others that you can incorporate into your routine like plyometric lunges, one-legged lateral jumps, skater hops and suicide drills (running back and forth from one point to another as quickly as possible).
What is nice about plyometric training is that it serves as its own cardiovascular routine so once you are done, there is no need to go for a run or head for spin class. Frankly, you probably won’t have the energy. Just remember to go at your own pace even if that means only doing each exercise for 10 or less reps. Also remember that as the exercises get less difficult, you should begin utilizing the more challenging ways of doing them. Plyometric training is a great way to not only improve your strength and power, but it is also effective in breaking through a plateau.