I had a conversation with one of my co-workers today about the use of the term Plyometrics in describing exercise and training. It seems to me that there has been an increase in not only the use of the term Plyometrics, but also the associated exercises.

Perhaps it is an attempt to inject a breath of fresh air into exercise and training.

From my point of view, Plyomtric training and exercises are gaining in popularity for a number of reasons, the 3 that jump to mind are:

  1. People are looking for something new and different to incorporate into their training routines.
  2. Trainers are using the exercises and the routines used by athletes as a tool to market their “brand” of training.
  3. There always seems to be a new “best kept secret” that makes its’ way into the mainstream, helping millions worldwide finally reach their training goals (Remember the Swiss ball? How about kettle bells?)
Please do not get me wrong, I am 100% for new approaches to exercise and training, and am always keen to learn about shifts in paradigm when it comes to exercise and training.

Even new gadgets have been known to tweak my interest. They can make the workout that little bit more interesting and challenging.

But let’s clear a few things up: Plyometrics (like the Swiss Ball and the Kettle Bells) are not a new phenomenon. In fact Plyometrics have been around for the better part of 70 years (originally called Jump training).

Jump training / Plyometrics became recognized as a legitimate training methodology in the 1960’s when the Russian high jumpers started kicking everyone’s b**t in competition.

Obviously over the past 50 years a huge amount of research has been done on Plyo training and the techniques used have been refined. The results from incorporating Plyos into training, have indeed been shown to be impressive.

What I am struggling to comprehend is the use of Plyometrics in any and all training programs.

It seems that whether you are an elite athlete, or a house wife, Plyos have made their way into your training.

My question is why?

If we have a look at what Plyometric training entails, its primary purpose is to develop the muscles capacity to use stored elastic energy before it is released as heat energy. The result: faster and more explosive movements.

I am sure we can all agree that these 2 components of conditioning (speed and power) are essential to all human beings, and should not be trained by athletes only.

But sarcasm aside, the question still remains whether there is a need for this type of training in average Joe and Josephine’s training program.

My reply is no.

I can her many of you saying, “why not?” There are a few reasons why I believe this type of training should not be marketed to the masses as the “next best thing in exercise and training”.

  1. High Intensity: It is an extremely high intensity mode of training, and the risk of injury is just as high. Damage to connective tissue can occur as a result of the large forces being generated by muscles and by the impact that is associated with the movements.
  2. There is a high degree of competency, skill, strength and conditioning required before Plyomtric exercises can, and should, be incorporated. These elements cannot be taught and learned in a few minutes.
  3. The NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association), recommends a participants have a minimum of 2 years of training experience before embarking on a Plyometric program.
  4. Coaching and practice: Developing these competencies and skills and the level of strength and conditioning necessary to execute these exercises correctly and effectively requires expert coaching hours of practise.
  5. Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced: Just like any other exercise there are any number of ways to make the movement easier or more difficult. Plyometrics have beginner movements and advanced movements, with a very specific progression in place to lead users safely through the continuum.
  6. Muscle soreness: Plyometric movements have been shown to be responsible for post exercise, Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), and recovery from DOMS can take a couple of days, which will impact your other training.
  7. Risk vs Benefit: The bottom line is that for most of us, this type of training presents more risks than benefits, and though they do deliver a very tough session, there are any number of ways to get a great workout.

If you are still not convinced, and feel that Plyometrics certainly do have a place in your program:
  1. Make sure that your execution of each exercise is flawless.
  2. Do not do Plyo training more than once every 7 – 10 days
  3. Be sure to warm up thoroughly before you commencing the session, and stretching the upper and lower body after training.
  4. Start with the most basic Plyometric movements and give the body sufficient time to adapt to the stimuli (both between Plyo sessions and before moving to more difficult movements). Skipping is a really good low level plyometric movement that will certainly challenge you.
  5. Don't let your better judgement fly out the window while doing these exercises.If there is any sign of joint or muscle pain during movements, stop immediately, and take the necessary steps to avoid injury.
If there is a need for sport specific performance improvements, Plyometrics are for you. If you are exercising for improvements in your health and wellness, then I recommend you stay away from them.

James Greenwood is a competitive tri and multisport athlete currently training for Ironman Canada 2009. A level 1 Triathlon Coach, he holds a post graduate degree in Exercise Science, and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA. James is also currently the resident health and fitness programs expert at MyPypeline.com, and has starred in a number of multisport specific fitness videos.
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