Plyometrics are functional upper- and lower-body exercises used to improve muscle force and power in many different sports. The high-intensity, high-impact movements involved in plyometrics are extremely taxing on the body. Your fitness level and experience with these types of activity should determine the volume of your plyometric training each week.
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Plyometrics involve the stretch-shortening cycle in which elastic energy is stored in the eccentric muscle contraction — lengthening of the muscle. Immediately following the eccentric contraction, a concentric muscle contraction occurs — shortening of the muscle — resulting in a rapid increase in force such as when you stretch a rubber band and then let it go quickly. Plyometrics include high-intensity lower-body movements such as jumping, leaping and bounding, and upper-body movements such as throwing, catching and certain types of pushups.
The high-intensity nature of plyometrics can be extremely taxing on the muscles, connective tissues and joints, making it essential to begin with lower-intensity exercises at a decreased volume. You must consider your level of strength before starting a plyometric routine. The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends your one rep maximum on the squat be 1.5 times your body weight for lower-body plyometrics and your bench press be at least equal to your body weight for upper-body plyometrics. The number of sets and repetitions performed during a session determines the volume of plyometrics. Lower-body exercise volume is determined by the number of times a foot or both feet together make contact with the ground per workout. For upper-body activities, the volume is determined by the number of throws or catches that are made during the workout.
Beginners should start out with one session a week consisting of 80 to 100 surface contacts. Intermediate level athletes can perform two or three sessions a week of 100 to 120 surface contacts. Advanced athletes can perform up to four sessions per week of 120 to 140 contacts. Recovery between plyometric workouts is essential in injury and overtraining prevention. Allow two to four days of recovery between each workout, and never perform drills for the same muscle area two days in a row.
A sample plyometric workout for an intermediate athlete should begin with a thorough warm-up for at least five minutes of jogging, skipping or lunging drills. Complete three sets of 10 repetitions, resting one to two minutes between each set for lower-body exercises such as squat jumps, split jumps and box jumps. Upper-body exercises might include medicine ball chest passes, two-hand overhead throws and clap pushups.