Plyometrics to improve your running

For Faster times with fewer miles, try incorporating Plyometrics into your training.

If you’re one of those athletes who doesn’t react well to high running mileage, researchers in Japan have a possible solution. In their study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, they explored the effects of plyometric training on running performance. First, participants ran a 5K time trial to get a baseline time. They then split them into two groups, giving each a different training plan.

One group did run training only, two to three times each week. The other group ran, but also did body weight plyometrics. After eight weeks, both groups significantly improved their 5K times. The kicker: The plyometric group ran 25 percent less mileage than the run-only group to get the same results—while also improving their reactive leg strength and jumping power.

These results are likely related to the muscle recruitment patterns activated via plyometric training. Since you utilize mostly slow-twitch fibers in distance running, plyometrics teach your body to also rely upon fast-twitch fibers. When you maximize muscle recruitment, you’re able to turn your legs over faster and push off harder. This means increased economy and faster times.

If your body can’t handle all the pounding (or you just don’t love running), working in plyos twice a week could conceivably cut your mileage by a quarter. After warming up, give these exercises a shot and you may just find that when you drop mileage, you also drop time.

switchlunge

Switch Lunge

Begin in the lunge position with one foot out in front and the other behind your body. Both knees should be bent at 90-degree angles. Make sure your front knee is directly over your front ankle and not pushed forward over your toes. Jump upward from the lunge position and switch legs in the air, landing in lunge position on the opposite side. Do 20–30 reps, totaling 10–15 on each side.

singleleghops

Single-leg Hops

Begin by hopping in place on one foot 15 times. Then hop side to side on that foot 15 times. Follow that by jumping forward and backward 15 times.

legbounds

Leg Bounds

Bound in the forward direction, exaggerating your running form and jumping with each step for about 30 meters. Turn around and go back. Repeat 2–3 times.

benchtaps

Bench Taps

Begin by standing in front of the bench with both feet on the ground. Rapidly alternate tapping the top of the bench with each foot, springing off the ground with each step. Move your arms in the running motion as your feet tap. Do 20–40 taps.

boxjumps

Box Jump

Choose a box that is 1–2 feet high. Standing on the ground, squat downward and leap onto the box, swinging your arms forward for momentum. Jump backward off the box, being careful to bend your knees and land softly. If you have Achilles issues, step off the box. Do 10 reps.

rocketjumps

Rocket Jumps

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and bend down into squat position. Touch the ground with your hands and explode upward with your arms stretched over your head. When you land, make sure your knees are bent as you go right back into the squat. Do 10–15 reps.

Some Guidelines

  • If you’re more than eight weeks out from your main race, you can safely do plyos twice a week. If you’re in the middle of your season, don’t do more than one session per week, and never do more than 120–150 reps of jumping.
  •  “You should never do just plyometrics,” says Bryan Hill, co-owner and physical therapist at San Diego’s Rehab United. Plyos should be integrated into a larger strength workout. “Kind of like a strength-plyo-strength sandwich.”
  •  Always warm up beforehand. “It’s a lot of stress on the muscles, so you have to make sure they’re ready,” Hill says. Even a quick spin on a stationary bike or 5–10 minutes of dynamic running drills will help.
  •  Before beginning a plyometrics routine, you should be able to squat 65 percent of your body weight, suggests Hill. “A jump is typically 6–8 times your body weight, so if you’re doing an activity that uses that much force, you need to be able to show you can control it.”

Plan Your Workout

  •  If you’re the type to fall apart 10 miles into a half-marathon, go for endurance. Do each exercise as many times as possible for 1 minute. The following week, increase it to 90 seconds, then two minutes. Do 2–3 rounds total.
  •  If it’s power or hill crushing you’re after, focus on quality reps instead of time. Do 5–10 with perfect form and great height and depth, for 2–3 rounds total. Add five reps per week.
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