Plyometric Exercises for the Runner
We have previously blogged about the evidence and various benefits of strength training here. The research has shown that both heavy resistance training and plyometric exercises are beneficial in improving running performance and reduce injury risk (1,2). Today we discuss some of the beneficial explosive or plyometric exercises to help your running. To look more detail of the evidence behind these exercises please see previous blog on the Evidence for Strength Training in Runners.
What are plyometric exercises?
Plyometric training consists of high velocity movements performed in rapid succession, with a lengthening (or eccentric) muscle contraction followed quickly by a shortening (concentric) contraction (3,4). The most common application of plyometrics is jump training, which consists of sets of jumps, skips, bounding and hops performed with high velocity and or maximum effort. Plyometric training is commonly utilized by athletes in sports where jumping and explosive lower body movements are important. Short-duration studies suggest that plyometric training can enhance muscular and neuromuscular function, thereby improving lower limb strength, power and speed (5). Plyometric training has been shown to improve running economy (RE) and performance in races up to 5-km in length, as well as performance on a number of lower limb power tests in competitive runners (2). Both heavy and explosive strength training can improve performance and RE in distance runners (3).
A note before we describe some helpful plyometric; start gradually. Begin with 1-2 sets and 5-10 reps before building towards 5 sets. Those with a history of tendon pain, particularly Achilles tendon should exercise some caution before heading into a program of explosive movements, hops and jumps. Here are some of my favourites
Countermovement Jump (Jumping Squats)
To perform a squat jump first begin by finding your comfortable squat position, your feet roughly shoulder with apart. They can be slightly wider or narrower depending on what is comfortable for both your hips and ankles. Descend into your squat, then rapidly jump straight up, staying in the same place. As you land again descend into a squad before repeating for 10 reps. To progress jump height can be increased or weight can be added.
Double leg jumping/Skipping
Simple skipping is a great exercises to increase strength and power in the plantarflexors. Performing stiff leg skips (minimal bending at the knee) to really focus on this area. Again to focus on power perform less reps, aiming for increased height.
A great exercise to combine gluteal strength, knee control and explosive strength. To perform a skater jump, place a lighter band around your lower thigh. Perform a small lateral jump, land on the leg in the direction of the lateral jump, descend into a small single leg squat keeping the knee from collapsing inwards, then quickly hop laterally towards the other leg and repeat. Other keys include minimising trunk sway (side to side) and short contact time on the ground. The exercise can be completed in a set of 2 (i.e left , right, pause – repeat) or 3 reps (left, right, left, pause – repeat) at a time or continuous without pausing.
Bulgarian Split Squat Jumps
The bulgarian split squat is a great exercise to target quadriceps and gluteal strength. It’ll also target single leg stability, necessary for all runners. Place your back foot on the chair (top surface of your foot or big toe, whichever feels most comfortable for your foot). Moving your hips down and back towards the chair, allow your trunk to pivot forwards at the hips, keeping a nice flat back and your shin close to vertical. Lower slowly down then drive back up into a hop (as shown below), keeping your foot on the chair. Land and control the descent as your knee moves towards the ground before repeating.
Single leg hops
Single leg hop variations can progress from single leg hops in place, then into small side to side or forward-back hops. Once you have a good ‘springy’ quality to your hop and are not landing heavy footed, you can progress to higher single leg hops or repeat hops for distance (2-5).
The kettlebell swing is a great exercise to work the posterior chain (hamstrings and glutes) as well as the ‘core’ muscles. Begin by standing tall, gripping the kettlebell with a neutral wrist and shoulder blades set back. Soften the knees, keeping weight in the heels, push hips backwards into a hip hinge, with a straight back and neck (not a squat). Drive the hips back to the starting position using your glutes, as you do swing the kettlebell to shoulder height. Let the kettlebell descend, control the movement by being tight through your abdominals, let the bell move back between your legs as you move into a hip hinge, then fluidly repeat into the next rep. On the final rep place the bell on the ground after it passes between your legs. Begin by practicing with a light kettlebell. If you are unfamiliar with a hip hinge then this movement will need to be practiced first.
Lewis Craig (APAM)
Masters of Physiotherapy
Featured in the Top 50 Physical Therapy Blog
- STØREN, Ø., Helgerud, J. A. N., Støa, E. M., & Hoff, J. A. N. (2008). Maximal strength training improves running economy in distance runners. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 40(6), 1087-1092.
- Blagrove, R.C., Howatson, G. & Hayes, P.R. (2017). Effects of Strength Training on the Physiological Determinants of Middle- and Long-Distance Running Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Med. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0835-7
- Lundstrom, C. J., Betker, M. R., & Ingraham, S. J. (2017). Effects of Plyometric and Explosive Speed Training on Recreational Marathoners. Journal of Sports Science, 5, 1-13
- Sáez de Villarreal, E., Requena, B., and Cronin, J. 2012. “The Effects of Plyometric Training on Sprint Performance: A Meta-Analysis.” J. Strength Cond. Res. 26 (2): 575-84.
- Markovic, G., and Mikulic, P. 2010. “Neuro-musculoskeletal and Performance Adaptations to Lower-extremity Plyometric Training.” Sports Med. 40 (10): 859-95.
- Saunders, P. U., Telford, R. D., Pyne, D. B., Peltola, E. M., Cunningham, R. B., Gore, C. J., and Hawley, J. A. 2006. “Short-term Plyometric Training Improves Running Economy in Highly Trained Middle and Long Distance Runners.” J. Strength Cond. Res. 20 (4): 947.