Updated: Feb 20
The term “plyometrics” is derived from the Greek words plio (more) and metric (measure). Plyometric exercises give you more explosive power as well as force your ligaments, tendons and bones to adapt which makes your joints and supporting structures more resistant to injury. By applying this type of training you can become much more robust, and quicker and it can help with injury prevention. Such movements live up to their name, increasing the distance that you can jump vertically and laterally, improving quickness, and boosting the size and power output of muscle fibres. You also learn to recruit more muscle faster and improve the jumping skill in multiple directions. Sticking with plyometrics as part of your resistance training program will safeguard your joints, strengthen your ligaments and tendons, clear up niggling injuries, and help you do the sport you love for longer.
An underrated benefit of jumping exercises is that they expose your connective tissues to high acute loads. Your body responds by creating more collagen, a building block of cartilage, tendons, the meniscus, and ligaments. This not only makes your supporting structures stronger so that you can improve jump speed and height or breadth but also prepares you for the rigours of running and whatever other sports you might participate in.
Four staple plyometric leg exercises that can help bulletproof your lower half are demonstrated below.
1. Box Jumps
Muscle focus: works your glutes, quadriceps, calves and hamstrings.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart in front of a box/bench/big single step. Drop into a quarter squat and swing your arms back. Explode upward, extending your knees and swinging your arms forward and up. Land on the box with both feet, keeping your abs tight so your torso stays upright. Step back down. It is best to not jump down off the box as this can increase the risk of an Achilles injury. Repeat the jump.
2. Lateral Hops
Muscle focus: works the quadriceps, calves, hamstrings, and glute muscles.
Lateral hops increase the coordination between the torso and legs, and it helps in stabilising the hip, knees and feet joints. This exercise also promotes agility and weight transfer while jumping from side to side. The exercise can progress by hopping sideways from one foot to the next. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and lift your legs off the floor and jump to the side. Land on the ball of your right foot, then tap your heel down with soft knees.
3. Squat Jumps
Muscle focus: works your abdominals, glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Go down into a full squat. Once you reach the bottom position with your thighs parallel to the floor or below, swing your arms forward and upward, and leap as high as you can. Repeat the jumps.
4. Lunge Jumps
Muscle focus: works your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, and calves.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart Take a long step forward with your right foot. The forward (right) foot should be straight, while you’re on the toes of the back (left) foot. Keep your torso upright. As you get to the bottom of the lunge position, swing your arms forward and upward and leap into the air. Switch legs midair, so you land with your left foot ahead and right foot back. Hold the landing position for three to five seconds to develop stability and then repeat the jump.
It is best to do these exercises after your warmup and before your strength and endurance work, as these types of sets diminish power output.
When you’ve become fluent in these basic plyometric exercises, you can add in variations that change the direction or add challenges to your stability and balance such as using broad jumps instead of squat jumps and adding in countermovements such as stepping down from a lower box and then leaping straight back up (aka, a depth jump) or hopping from side to side without breaks. Any explosive leaping movement is technically plyometric, so don’t be afraid to get creative. The key is keeping your body under control even as it’s moving quickly and ensuring that you stick to a good, safe landing every time. Using a mirror for some feedback to watch the hip, knee and foot alignment is recommended.
Also avoid the temptation to do too much volume, as it doesn’t take more than five to 15 minutes a couple of times a week to prompt the injury-resisting, connective tissue-strengthening, power-building adaptations you’re seeking. If you’ve got pre-existing knee, ankle, or hip issues, try performing the exercises on grass or another soft surface.