Most important to a runner’s ability to perform effectively is the ability of the muscles and tendons to store energy. Improvements in the muscles’ ability to elastically store energy has incredible benefits for runners, wherein, the more energy stored, a runner would be more efficient at maintaining a set pace, but utilize less energy to get it done.
Studies have shown that incorporating plyometric training in your running workout can have a significant effect, by using less oxygen to maintain a specified speed. During a six-week experimental study, assessing plyometric training in runners, it was revealed that an improvement in leg cadence was achieved, which led the researcher to conclude that plyometric training could prevent the oxygen cost of running increasing (Edwards, 2016).
Another study showed that plyometric training improved running performance by enhancing peak power and muscular power (Lum, et al. 2016). The case is made showing the benefits of plyometrics in improving your muscle elasticity and your running economy, which is how far and fast you can run with a given amount of energy. Plyometric exercises can effectively bridge the gap between strength and speed, and improve your athletic performance.
Now, how do you incorporate plyometric exercises into your running workout to enhance your performance? Plyometric training is not a workout that is done through the entire year; instead, it is generally added to a workout program leading up to your “competition period” or a particular race, and is typically done 2 days per week and last 4 weeks. Here are some plyometric exercises and tips that you can use to maximize your performance as a runner:
Use Plyometrics for Power
Muscle power is developed through rapid and controlled exercises involving dramatic changes in the direction of the movement. Plyometric exercises increase the ability of the stretch-shorten cycle, in which the body rapidly contracts a muscle after it detects a stretch, and the more rapid the stretch of the muscle, the more forceful the contraction (Davies, et al. 2105) Quick and dynamic plyometric exercises equals power. Box jumps are excellent for building power.
Perform Plyometric Exercises at the Beginning of a Workout Session
The simple fact is that not all plyometric exercises are created equal, meaning that, while plyometrics are high impact exercises, some have much higher impact force than others. For optimal results, perform plyometric exercises when your legs are fresh at the start of your workout (Radcliffe, 1999). It is ideal to choose the higher impact exercises earlier in your workout program. Depth jumps, sometimes called drop jumps, for example, are far more taxing on the body than leg bounds. Jumping on legs that are fatigued can cause injury.
Build Speed with Plyometric Exercises
Plyometrics is not only ideal for developing power, but is designed to produce fast movement as well. To build speed, you have to do more work in less time. Less time spent on ground contact, requires the muscles to exert high force to create speed. The stretching and contracting of the muscles creates the force needed to go faster. Forward Bounds are excellent plyometric movements for developing speed.
Beginners, Start with Simple Jumps
It’s important that runners that are new to plyometrics ease their way into exercises, particularly those that are of higher intensity and force. Sticking to basic plyometric exercises in the beginning, will give you time to build your strength as well as prevent injuries. Start out slow, learn to use the right form, and perform the exercises in a controlled manner. A good beginner plyometric exercise to try is a squat jump.
Work Plyometric Exercises in with your Weight Training
Some research suggests that plyometric exercises that follow strength-based exercises could increase the power output of the plyometric exercises (Mihalik, et al. 2008). For example, follow low intensity lower body plyometrics with high intensity upper body strength training. For maximum benefit, incorporate the weight training into an overall training, and gauge rest and fatigue adequately.
Plyometric exercises can help runners get to that next level of growth and performance. Incorporate it into your running workout and reap the benefits as you transform into a more explosive and powerful runner.