Whether you are getting fit, staying in shape, improving yourself for your sport’s sake, or just bodybuilding, chances are good that you spend a lot of time at the gym.  In addition to the regular routine of weight lifting and the traditional equipment (like treadmills and stair machines), try giving your workout a kick into high gear with plyometrics.


Plyometrics is a type of exercise that utilizes explosive movements to develop muscle power.  Power is a combination of strength and speed, so by increasing power we mean increasing the muscle strength in the muscles that you work with, and increased speed of movement in those muscles.  This can help with things like vertical jump or adding power to a punch.  The ability to generate force, and do so quickly (through training with plyometrics), will allow for more power than a raw display of strength ever could. 


To better understand plyometrics, you have to understand how muscles work.  Muscles contract to cause movement, and this process is known as concentric contraction.  Any given muscle can only contract with so much power, however when a muscle is lengthened before it contracts, it will actually produce more power.  This lengthening and contraction is called eccentric contraction, and is the focus of plyometrics.  The time between the eccentric contraction and the concentric contraction has to be very short, since like a stretched rubber band, the power comes in the release.  The process of creating this potential energy (the stretched rubber band) effect is called “stretch shortening cycle”, and is the focus and underlying mechanism of training with plyometrics.


Typical (not plyometric) workouts include a rapid contraction followed by a quick deceleration.  This deceleration (like when you reach arm extension during a lift and hold the bar) causes a loss of energy that could be transferred to another movement.  Plyometrics take advantage of free space and open-ended movements, much like many animals use in the natural world (like a monkey using momentum to move through the trees).  Plyometric tools include things like medicine balls, jump ropes, and Indian clubs (which are similar in appearance and style to juggling pins), all of which have been in use for some time as valid exercise tools. 


An example of a plyometric exercise involves a medicine ball, and requires the exerciser to lie on his or her back and toss the medicine ball back and forth with an assistant.  The lengthening (catch phase) and contracting (toss phase) of the muscles are evident in this exercise.  Another thing that is evident in this exercise is the presence of an assistant.  Plyometric exercises should only be done by physically fit individuals, and only under strict supervision.  There is an increased risk of injury from plyometric exercises, as well as an increased level of benefits, so care should always be taken to do activities correctly and safely. 


Another example of plyometric exercise is the clap press up.  This is a regular push up, except that when your arms are fully extended, you should continue to push yourself off the ground and clap your hands together at least once before lowering yourself and starting again.  A final example is the squat jumps, where the exerciser crouches down in a low squat, then jumps as high as he or she can and lands back in a squat, repeating the leap and crouch.  Jumping rope and jumping jacks are also considered plyometric in nature. 


Plyometric exercises are difficult at first, but if you are physically fit and willing to work hard to better your body and muscles, it is a great tool.  Always take care, though, to put safety first.


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