Best plyometric exercises to boost reactive strength
Plyometrics exercises, or jump exercises, or are one of the most effective ways to increase your reactive strength in sport, athletics and general fitness. Increasing your reactive strength means you can run faster, kick harder and move more forcefully and efficiently. Performing any explosive movement, such as changing direction rapidly, sprinting and kicking will benefit from practising plyometrics exercises. Plus, they are a fun addition to your exercise routine.
Athletes, basketball and football players all need the capability to hurdle over someone, reach for a ball, or jump on command. These types of elite athletes are asked to have great body control in unpredictable circumstances; that’s why these types of athletes incorporate plyometric exercises in their training regimes.
The science behind plyometric exercises
Plyometric training teaches our bodies how to stretch our muscles before they contract them after a jump. These types of jumping movements require whole muscle groups to work at once, which involves learning to move the whole body as one unit rapidly. The muscles apply maximum force in short intervals of time which stretches the muscle and immediately demands a powerful concentric contraction allowing the muscle to move more forcefully.
For example, imagine the jumping movement onto a box. The very first phase of this movement is a downward thrust. Don’t believe us? Try it. Try jumping off the ground without first bending your knees. As you bend down just before a standing jump you are stretching muscle groups like the quadriceps and hip extensors. These are the muscles that will contract very forcefully a split second later to produce the jump. The shorter or more rapid this downward movement or pre-stretching phase is, the more forcefully those muscle groups can contract and therefore propel you into the air.
Best plyometric exercises for reactive strength
Here are some of the best plyometric, or jump training, exercises to increase reactive strength and body control.
Run in 'slow motion' landing on alternate feet. Aim to achieve as much height and distance with each stride as possible. For every right and left foot strike, count one repetition.
Mark out a series of small cones or obstacles about 3 feet apart in a straight line. The number of obstacles depends on the number of repetitions you are performing. Start behind the first obstacle in a semi squat position. Jump as high and far as possible over each obstacle. It's a good idea to practise first to determine how far apart you should set the markers. Again, try to minimise ground contact time.
Mark out a small box shape on the floor (about 2 feet square) with cones or chalk. Keeping your feet together, start at one corner of the box and perform small jumps from corner to corner in a random manner. For this exercise the emphasis should be on speed and rate of leg movement rather than height. Each ground contact is 1 repetition.
Stand alongside a bench, box or cone approximately 30cm high. Keeping your feet hip distance apart jump sideways as high over the obstacle as possible. Immediately jump back to the start position minimising ground contact time. This counts as one repetition. This is an advanced plyometric exercise so aim to build up to it over several weeks. You can use anything to jump over, a training top or even just a line on a track. Try to discipline yourself to jump as high as possible.
This is another advanced plyometric exercise. Stand on a box or bench approximately 30-40cm high. Step off the bench (don't jump off) and as soon as you land explode vertically as high as you can. Try to minimise ground contact time i.e. don't sink down into a deep squat before jumping up.
Tips for getting the most out of plyometric exercises
- Develop a good strength base before you begin plyometric exercises.
- Plyometrics converts existing strength into reactive strength; the strength must be there initially. You should be able to squat, lunge and complete press ups with good form before trying these plyometric exercises.
- Warm up with 5-10 minutes of light dynamic drills before exercises.
- If you’re a footballer, perform plyometrics at the start of a training session.
- During the eccentric or loading phase, weight should be on the heels.
- The knees should be forced away from each other, as you want to avoid side-to-side motion during the take-off and landing.
- The transition phase takes place where our weight is transferred to our toes and we fully extend our hips.
- The concentric phase is where we catch the energy created from the jump on our heels, while landing with soft knees.
- Actions should be performed at high speed and with maximal effort while maintaining good form.
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