Plyometric exercises focus on explosiveness and air time. To explode into the air, your legs need to contract rapidly to exert as much energy as possible in as short a time as possible, thus this type of exercise is ideal for athletes. Another bonus is that plyometrics work on cardio endurance and muscle strengthening at the same time.
To perform a burpee, start from a standing position. Squat down and place your hands on the ground in front of you. Jump your feet back to a push-up position, then jump them back in toward your chest. Return to the squat position. Driving through your feet, leap into the air as high as possible with your arms straight over your head. Repeat 8 to 12 times for a set.
For an extra challenge, perform a push-up when you’re in the push-up position before jumping your feet back in.
Criss-Cross Squat Jacks
Squat jacks are similar to burpees, but they do not include the push-up position.
Start in a squat position with your arms extended downward on the outsides of your knees. Explode out of the squat into a vertical jump with your head, crossing your right foot in front of your left. Land on the balls of your feet with soft knees, and then jump again to uncross your feet, landing in the squat position. Repeat 8 to 12 times per set.
There are two plyometric jumps that are called lateral jumps. One works more on lateral height while the other works more on lateral distance.
The first is a “feet together” lateral height jump. Find a line or short object (less than 6” high to start) to jump. Keep your feet together and jump to the side, raising your knees high enough to clear the object. Land on soft knees and jump back immediately. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps. Once you have mastered a set height, you can raise the height of the object by one inch.
The second lateral jump focuses on distance. Stand with your feet together and your arms hanging down by your sides. With your right foot, leap to the right, landing only on your right foot. Cross your left foot behind your right calf, but don’t let it touch the ground. When you land on your right foot, it helps to move your right arm straight back and cross over your left arm in front of your body as your left leg crosses over behind your body. This helps maintain balance. Continue leaping left and right for 8 to 12 reps.
Try using a taped out line to measure how far you are jumping. Aim to improve your distance by 1 inch each time without losing your balance or slowing down.
Jumping lunges begin with a normal lunge. Step forward and bend your front knee to a 90 degree angle. Explode off the ground and switch your legs in midair, landing in the lunge position with the opposite leg in front. Keep your back and head straight and repeat for 8 to 10 reps.
Bounding is a high intensity plyometric exercise that requires strong legs and cardiovascular endurance. Make sure you have plenty of room, at least 100 feet to start.
Start by jogging for a few seconds to build up speed then push off your left foot brining your right leg forward with the right knee bent at a 90 degree angle and the right thigh parallel to the ground. To maximize your momentum and balance, reach out with your left arm as your left leg extends backwards. As soon as your right foot hits the ground, repeat the bounding motion with your left leg leading at a right angle while your right leg extends behind you.
Try to make it 100 feet, but focus on the quality and form over the quantity of the bounds. Avoid jogging between bounds. Immediately take off for another bound when the front foot lands.
Single Leg Hopping
This plyometric exercise requires a good sense of balance. Focusing on one leg at a time allows you to correct any asymmetry in your leg strength. The main goal of a single leg hop is height, not distance.
Stand on your right leg and leap forward, landing on the ball of the right foot. Avoid letting your left touch the ground. Instead drive your left leg behind you to help you increase your distance. As soon as your right foot lands, spring back up into another hop and land again on your right foot. Try to hop for 100 feet on each foot with ample rest between sets.
Keep your feet together and swing your arms from back to front to help you jump on top of the box. Increase the height in half-inch increments as you improve. That’s all there is to it.
Fight the impulse to jump back down, especially if you are prone to Achilles injuries. While it does provide a great cardio workout, jumping backwards off the box puts a lot of stress on your Achilles. Take your time to step down from the box. This plyometric does not have to be so cardio-heavy that it makes you huff and puff. Focus on the strength training.
You’ll also want to top out the box height at about 40 inches. Anything more is going to increase the risk of injury far too much to make the exercise worthwhile.
Plyometric Workouts for the Lower Body
If you’re looking for something more structured, consider these plyometric programs:
Basic Plyometric Program by Fitness Blender.
Superset Program by Karina Baymillers.
Remember to limit your plyometric workouts to 2 or 3 days a week. The force of impact upon landing is hard on your joints, tendons and ligaments. This stress increases as you gain muscle mass or if you start at a higher body weight.
Avoid doing plyometric work on concrete or asphalt, which have no shock absorption. Try to stick to grass, foam floors, and other soft surfaces to help protect your joints. Also make sure to wear thick socks and good shoes to help absorb some of the shock.
Always start with a few minutes of moderate cardio to get your muscles warmed up. You can stretch your muscles midway through your plyometric workout or after you finish, but never stretch cold muscles, as this can cause injury.
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