If you’re one who keeps up with the latest trends in health and fitness, you’ve likely been introduced to plyometric exercises. But what exactly are plyometrics, and what are the benefits? Plyometrics are an intense form of exercise designed to increase muscular power and explosiveness through rapid stretching and contraction of the muscles. Plyometric movements are high impact and require a great deal of strength, endurance, and control. Plyometrics are very effective exercises for weight loss and muscle toning because they utilize more muscle groups per workout and combine both strength training and cardiovascular exercise, allowing you to reap the benefits of both. Plyometric training is especially important to firefighters because their job often requires movements such as chopping, using a sledgehammer, and lugging around heavy equipment. These types of movements require control and a great amount of muscle strength and power, making plyometrics an excellent training option for them. However, anyone looking to lose weight or just tone up a bit can benefit from these types of exercises.
What exactly are the benefits of plyometrics? Plyometric exercise (also called “jump training”) aids not only in weight loss and muscle-building, but also increases your physical power and speed, making it ideal for athletes, runners, and anyone involved in any kind of fitness competitions. It’s also useful in increasing physical endurance and stamina, which is important for marathon runners and triathletes.
Are there any disadvantages for plyometric training? The only real disadvantage is that plyometric training can result in injury if not done properly. Explosive movements can cause stress on the joints, and strains can occur more easily with plyometrics than with other workouts. It’s best to start with easier movements and work your way up to the more advanced ones.
What are some good plyometric exercises I can do to get started? The first thing to remember with explosive movements is that quality is more important than quantity. Aim for one to three sets of six to ten reps to start, making sure that you are using correct form. As your coordination and strength begins to improve, you can increase the number of sets or reps as desired. As always, be sure to rest for 30-60 seconds between reps to allow for recovery. Here are a few of Firefighter Fitness’ favorite plyometric movements:
- Box Jumps: The box jump is one of the best explosive training techniques there is, because it utilizes almost every muscle group in order to produce the force needed to perform the exercise. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart in front of a two foot plyobox or platform (you can always go higher, but if you’re a beginner, you may want to start with a shorter box). Many gyms have plyoboxes you can use, or if working out at home, you can buy or make your own. Bend your legs and jump onto the box, landing on the balls of your feet with your legs bent. Jump back to the ground and land in the same position in which you started.
- Squat Jumps: Stand with legs shoulder-width apart and bend down into squat position, with your knees lined up over your toes. Squat as low as you can and swing your arms back, being careful not to round your spine. Swing your arms up and jump as high as you can, landing on the balls of your feet before your heels as you come down. The idea behind this workout is the idea of eccentric loading, or making the jump higher and faster by building up energy first.
- Burpees: Ah, the burpee. Love em or hate em (and most of us hate em), you gotta admit they work. While there are many variations on the burpee, our favorite is the traditional burpee with completed push-up: start in a standing position, and move into a squat. Kick your legs behind you, and lower your body into a push-up. Press back up to complete the push-up and pull your body back into squat position. Jump up into the air with your arms up, while repeating the phrase “beach season” over and over again in your mind. Burpees may suck, but your body will thank you when you’re rocking that bikini poolside.
- Medicine Ball Slam: Grab a medicine ball and hold it above your head. Reach back as far as you can, then slam the ball down in front of you. This exercise is great for your core, and we love it here at Firefighter Fitness because it simulates a chopping motion, which is often used by firefighters when wielding an axe or sledgehammer to break through barriers while on the job.
- Jumping Rope: While you likely didn’t know it at the time, your favorite playground activity back in grade school is one of our favorite plyometric exercises. We love jumping rope because it’s is a total body workout which burns calories quickly, doesn’t require expensive equipment or gym space, and it’s actually FUN!
*While this is just a short list of our favorite plyometric exercises, there are dozens of explosive movements that you can integrate into your workout routine to help mix things up and avoid hitting a plateau in your training. At Firefighter Fitness, we place an emphasis on these types of workouts in order to keep our workouts challenging and fun. Check us out at www.firefighterfitnessllc.com for information on how you can beat gym boredom and still reach your fitness goals!