Plyometrics have been used by athletes for years to improve sports performance in explosive movements. Jumping higher, running faster, hitting harder and throwing further are all goals of professional athletes, but lately plyometrics have been moving into gym chains and home videos.
What does this type of training have to offer you? Plyometrics produce explosive and powerful movements that increase muscular contractions by activating the fast twitch muscle fibers. Strengthening of the fibers occurs by rapid extension and contraction of muscles- while traditional exercise focuses on continued repetitive contractions with little attention to flexibility. This type of training doesn’t just benefit the athletes among us, avid exercisers can find improvements in muscle response time, muscle performance, flexibility, posture, and balance. For casual exercisers, the use of moderate intensity plyometrics can even improve motor performace- which means you may cut down on clumsiness thanks to new neural connections.
If you choose to incorporate plyometrics into your workouts, start slowly and listen to your body! Though plyometrics can be done by anyone, if you increase intensity before your body is ready (just like any other workout) you may injury yourself. Always wear proper footwear and perform warm-up and cool-down techniques. If you are unsure of yourself, ask a trainer for pointers and adjustments.
If you already incorporate plyometrics into your routine, this snip-it from Fitness Magazine will give you a jumping boost:
Next time you need to jump high, clench your jaw. Subjects in a 2008 study who did so reached their max push-off power about 20% faster than those who jumped open-mouthed. The result: a stronger jump (or stroke, if you’re playing tennis or volleyball). When the brain region that controls the jaw is activated, those signals may overflow; the spillage could spark nearby “move it” signals that control muscles in other body parts, explains author William Ebben, Ph.D., of Marquette University.
However, if you are a runner the exact opposite is true. If you want to run faster, keep your eyes forward and your neck and jaw relaxed- don’t clench your fists either! Any muscle clenching will not only send the wrong signals to your brain, but can cause sprains in your neck, shoulders, and back.