Plyometrics, or power-based exercises, are important for endurance athletes. Performing plyometric or power-based exercises essentially helps us improve our body's ability to utilize elastic energy for forward propulsion, ultimately making us more efficient or economical. This is most apparent in running. For example, with each running stride/step you take, your foot hits the ground with your muscles contracting eccentrically (lengthening under load) before they then contract concentrically (shortening under load). In between these two phases is a phase known as the amortization phase. This phase is important as it is the portion of the running stride where you can either take advantage of stored elastic energy that is built up during the eccentric phase of the run stride (think of an elastic band being stretched) or lose that stored elastic energy if your body is not able to rebound off of the ground quickly. The longer our foot spends on the ground in the amortization phase, the more inefficient we are at storing and using that built up elastic energy, making us LESS efficient t and economical. This applies to other activities to a degree as well, but running is where we benefit most from plyometric and power-based exercises as running is, well, a plyometric exercise in itself to a degree.
Now, there are a few precautions you should take as an athlete before undertaking plyometric exercises, including the basic squat jump. These precautions are as follows:
1. Be sure that you understand proper landing technique (e.g., landing with body weight over the middle of your feet and your hips back)
2. At least 3 months of resistance training experience; this means if you are new to resistance training, rotate between muscular endurance and strength for 3 months before trying plyometrics
3. Have a strong understanding of how to correctly perform a body weight squat and barball back squat (you should be able to perform a 1-rep maximum back squat with ~1.5x your body weight before trying plyometrics; you can use deadlift in place of back squat if you don’t have access to a squat rack)
4. No current injuries to the lower body
Additionally, you want to make sure that any time you are performing plyometric or power-based exercises, the focus is on 1) speed and quality of movement and 2) performing the movement with as perfect of form as you possibly can. Plyometrics and other power-based exercises should NEVER be abused, done too often with too high of a volume, or done when super fatigued as this is a recipe for acute or even chronic overuse injury.
In the video above, I cover the basics of performing a squat jump, which is often an introductory exercise for those starting to incorporate plyometrics or power-based exercises into their strength training routine. If you have further questions on plyometric exercises or how to perform them, check out our YouTube channel where we have a few other videos posted covering the basics of some simple, yet effective, plyometric exercises that can be of benefit to endurance athletes.
Happy training and racing!
Ryan Eckert, MS, CSCS