Plyometrics are well worth incorporating into your running training plan if you are looking to build speed and strength. In fact, calf jumps were highlighted as especially beneficial in our guide to the best leg exercises for runners.
This type of training has been used for decades by track and field athletes—the term “plyometrics” was coined in 1975 by Purdue University women’s track coach Fred Wilt—but has made its way into recreational road and trail running, with positive results.
A growing body of evidence suggests that incorporating plyometrics into your routine can increase power and velocity. For instance, a small study of 12 recreational runners published in Frontiers In Physiology found that a plyometric warm-up improved running economy.
Meanwhile, replacing a five-minute regular warm-up with jump-rope sessions over a 10-week period was found to improve amateur endurance runners’ 3km times, according to a study published in Human Kinetics Journal.
We spoke to England Athletics coach Louis Barnes about why plyometric training is great for runners.
Louis Barnes is founder and head coach at PB4U Run Coaching & Fitness. He is an England Athletics qualified coach in running fitness and has more than a decade of experience working in performance and development. He coaches athletes of all abilities and runs weekly group training sessions.
What is plyometric training?
Plyometric exercises use dynamic, rapid movements to help increase speed, power and strength. In particular, exercises which involve the stretching of a muscle followed by a rapid contraction. A classic example is a squat followed by a jump.
Why is plyometric training beneficial for runners?
One of the main advantages of plyometrics is that they can help to improve two key components of running: speed and power.
“Plyometrics increase the force you can produce. If you consider the basic mechanics of running, after each foot lands, there’s a push-off,” says Barnes. “Plyometric training will make that push-off more powerful in terms of the spring you produce, leading to a faster run.”
Thanks to the high intensity, plyometrics can also improve running economy—the amount of oxygen your body requires to run.
“One of the understated benefits of plyometrics is that you can work all three planes of motion,” says Barnes. “While running is primarily focused on the sagittal plane [forward and backward], by working on the frontal [side to side] and transverse [twisting] planes, you strengthen your body as a whole, improving running form, making you a more efficient runner and reducing injury risk.”
Does plyometric training pose any risks?
As with any training, runners need to ensure their bodies are prepared to handle the load that plyometrics will bring. These exercises will strengthen muscles, ligaments and tendons, but they do this by putting them under stress.
Barnes recommends taking the following precautions to prepare your body for plyometric training:
- Make sure you can do basic versions of the exercises first such as a squat or lunge before advancing to plyometric versions.
- Make sure you have a good base of fitness first.
- Perform with good form to reduce the risk of injury.
- Don’t perform through pain or injury.
How can runners incorporate plyometrics into their training?
Barnes recommends including plyometrics as part of regular strength work.
“Keep it simple to start. If you strength train twice a week, make one of these sessions plyometrics-based. If you’re training for an event I’d consider cutting back as race day looms, because plyometrics can leave muscles fatigued for a few days.”
Plyometrics can also be integrated into a single strength session, mid-workout, once your muscles are warmed up from less explosive compound exercises. Or they can be included as one or two exercises within a traditional strength circuit.
“The high intensity of an interval workout or a plyometrics session alone is demanding enough,” he says.
Plyometric Workout For Runners
To start, try the following plyometric exercises:
- Jump squat
- Speed skater
- Box jump
- Single-leg hops
- Plyo push-up—this is a difficult exercise, unless you can complete 20 regular push-ups, leave this out of the workout.
Complete the exercises in a circuit performing 8-10 reps to begin with. For exercises which involve single-leg movements, complete 6-8 on each side. Rest for 30 seconds between exercises and 2-3 minutes between rounds. Complete three rounds in total.
Progress this workout by either adding reps or rounds.
“Plyometrics are high-intensity so workouts don’t have to be too long. Thirty minutes is more than enough and that would include a warm-up and warm-down,” says Barnes.
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Lily Canter has worked as a journalist for more than 20 years and currently specializes in running and fitness. She regularly contributes to Coach as well as Runner’s World, Well+Good, Fit&Well and Live Science. Lily is a UK Athletics running coach, the founder of the Great Bowden Runners club and a participant in multi-day ultra races. Her biggest racing achievement to date is placing second at the Ultra Challenge 100km in the Lake District. She has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Print Journalism and a PhD in Journalism Studies. She is also co-host of the award-winning podcast Freelancing For Journalists and teaches feature writing, podcasting and freelancing to university students.