Plyometrics for Runners
In my experience, almost all runners want one of three things: run faster, avoid injury, or prolong their running career. These goals are obviously not mutually exclusive, but all can be addressed by a seldom-utilized addition to your training. Plyometrics are often ignored or left out of training, but can be a valuable aid in developing speed, running economy, and strength.
Plyometrics are exercises that involve delivering a shock to the body. Simply put, when your foot hits the ground, the ground hits back. This force returned to your body (shock) can be used to make your stride more powerful, more efficient, as well as strengthening connective tissue. Wasted energy, however, is just that; wasted. If enough of it is wasted, it can lead to poor form, and even impact related injury (which all of us have witnessed at one time or another). Fortunately, it is relatively easy to add a day of “plyos” to your current conditioning regimen.
Form drills, jumps, sprints, and stability drills can all be plyometric exercises. However, particular attention must be paid to correct running form, and quality contact between your feet and the ground. This means that every drill or exercise you do must make use of a mid-foot strike (through the ball of the foot), and trying to minimize your ground contact time as much as possible. Below are two introductory plyometrics to familiarize you with some of the concepts above, as well as give you something to start incorporating into one day of your weekly routine.
Just as you remember them from elementary school, Broad Jumps involve jumping up and out in front of you off of two feet. However, the emphasis for this exercise is not in the jump, but the landing. Stick the landing with no “cushioning motion” in the legs, and with a solid mid-foot landing on the ball of the foot. Perform 3 sets of 5 jumps with full recovery in-between. Remember, jumping higher and farther is fun, but never at the expense of a quality, stable landing.
Single Leg Hops
Just as it sounds, this drill consists of hopping forward on one foot very quickly. The area of focus is keeping your foot in contact with the ground for the absolute minimum amount of time necessary. Pick out a 10-15 meter stretch of a firm, level surface to use. Again, a mid-foot strike is critical to quick, efficient movement. Also, the idea is not to jump as far or fast as possible, but to spend as little time with your foot on the ground as you can. Speed will come with time. Try performing 3 sets of 8 repetitions (4 per foot) after your Broad Jumps.
While plyometrics can be extremely beneficial to your conditioning, too much of a good thing is a very real possibility. Just like any other kind of training, overtraining can lead to excessive fatigue or injury. These exercises should not be performed every day, but start with the sets and repetitions listed above, 1 day a week. After a couple weeks, add a second day and see how you feel. Take comfort in the fact that you are making yourself faster, safer, and more efficient with every quality jump you take!
Matt Neufeld is a personal trainer, metabolic technician, and run club coach at Life Time Fitness in St. Louis Park, MN. He has been teaching and practicing plyometric training for several years. Matt has over a decade of competitive running behind him, with no impact related injuries. If you would like to learn more about plyometrics or running-specific training, please feel free to email Matt (MNeufeld@lifetimefitness.com), or check out the Enhanced Conditioning for Runners class at St. Louis Park.