When you think of “plyometrics,” explosive squat jumps, lightning-fast high knees, and powerful burpees are likely the first to come to mind. But those well-known moves are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to plyometric exercises, which, for the record, can be valuable additions to anyone’s workout routine.
To help you add variety to your workouts when those well-known moves start to feel boring, Shape tapped Bianca Vesco, a NASM-certified personal trainer and fitness instructor in Nashville, to break down and demonstrate nearly a dozen of the best plyometric exercises that will make you feel like the collegiate athlete of your fitness dreams. Plus, Vesco gives the summarized version of what plyometric exercises involve, their key benefits, and how to safely and effectively incorporate these heart-pumping moves into your fitness routine.
Plyometric Exercises, Described
In case you’re unfamiliar with this unique workout style, here’s a recap: Plyometric exercises are movements that require your muscles to generate the maximum amount of force in a very short period of time, according to Vesco. Research shows that in order to produce as much force as possible, you’ll engage in the stretch-shortening cycle. This involves lengthening your muscles to build up potential energy (the eccentric phase), and then rapidly shortening them to release this energy (the concentric phase).
The primary goal? To increase power, train your cardiovascular system, and enhance athletic performance, says Vesco. But plyometric exercises can even provide benefits for non-athletes looking for a quick yet effective workout, she adds. “You can exert more energy and power in a shorter amount of time, which is something I strongly support.”
Typically, plyometric exercises involve jumping (which is why the workout style is also referred to as “jump training”), leaping, bounding, or changing directions quickly, so it’s no surprise that these moves are both high-intensity and high-impact, says Vesco. They primarily target and rely on the strength of your lower body. “Your legs are the largest muscle group in your body, and they are responsible for supporting your entire life,” she explains. “However, it’s challenging to add explosiveness with your upper body. There is a bit of a disproportion in that regard.” Just compare a jump squat to a plyometric push-up, for example. Lowering down into a squat, pushing into your heels, and explosively springing upward is generally easier than lowering into a push-up, pressing into your palms, and powerfully lifting your hands briefly off the floor. Even explosive, strength-building upper-body exercises like thrusters and dumbbell snatches still rely on the power generated from your legs to create momentum, she explains.
Regardless of the precise movement, plyometric workouts are typically performed utilizing only your body weight since adding more load does not provide any functional (re: everyday movement) advantage, even for athletes, according to Vesco. In fact, adding resistance may raise the risk of injury, warns Vesco. “I would advise against it,” she cautions. “For instance, if you’re doing a weighted box jump, when would you ever need to jump onto something while simultaneously holding weight? I cannot think of a situation where you would need to do that in real life.”
How to Integrate Plyometric Exercises Into Your Routine
Given their high-impact and high-intensity nature, plyometric exercises should not be added to your fitness routine without careful consideration. Instead, you should familiarize yourself (and actually utilize) these tips to ensure you avoid injuries and achieve an effective workout.
Evaluate Your Fitness Level First
Prior to adding Kriss Kross’ song “Jump” to your playlist, you must first practice a few fundamental plyometric exercises. Vesco suggests trying out high knees, jumping jacks, and skaters to assess if your joints are prepared for the high-impact and high-intensity movements. “Ask yourself, ‘Do my feet, ankles, knees, and joints feel okay?'” she says. “The most important thing about plyometrics is their high impact, which leaves considerable room for injury if your body is not ready.”
While experiencing some discomfort is normal when engaging in challenging plyometrics, experiencing pain is a different matter. If you feel sharp pain anywhere, particularly around your joints, or if you feel short of breath even after rest breaks, it’s advisable to take a break. On the other hand, if your muscles simply feel a bit tight, that may be an indication to incorporate some simple warm-up exercises into your plyometrics routine.
If you feel comfortable with those exercises, then you may be ready to incorporate plyometric exercises into your workout routine. If you’re unsure, it’s recommended to consult a certified fitness trainer who can assist in determining where you should begin.
Prioritize Control Initially
When you initially start incorporating plyometric exercises, it’s important to prioritize control over speed and power until you have learned how to control your body during these high-impact movements, as advised by Vesco. This approach will help you perfect your form and reduce the risk of injury.
Strategically Place Plyometric Exercises Throughout Your Workout
The appropriate timing for adding plyometric exercises to your regular workout depends on your fitness goals, according to Vesco. If your primary aim is to increase strength and lift progressively heavier objects, it’s best to save your favorite plyometric exercises for a “burnout” towards the end of your training session, she suggests. Placing them at the start of your workout will deplete your energy on moves that may not necessarily align with your fitness goals, she points out.
On the contrary, if you’re focused on enhancing your endurance, you have the green light to commence your workouts with plyo. “If the objective is athletic performance and cardiovascular well-being, you would place the plyometric exercises at the beginning of the workout when you have the most energy to perform them,” says Vesco. Alternatively, on days when you simply desire a sweaty, high-intensity workout, consider incorporating them into your HIIT or Tabata sessions, she adds.
Make a Selection Between Rep- or Time-Based Sets
Uncertain whether you should perform your plyometric exercises for a certain duration or number of repetitions? There isn’t one “optimal” approach to structure your sets, so opt for a style that feels suitable for your physique, says Vesco. For instance, you could execute eight to ten repetitions of a single-leg deadlift, followed by 30 seconds of a single-leg hop, a plyometric exercise that complements the strength-building motion, she says. Alternatively, you could perform 30 seconds to a minute of those deadlifts, succeeded by 12 hops. “There’s no definite, correct or incorrect way to do it — only the way that works for you,” she says.
Don’t Neglect Your Feet
Surprise: Your feet play a vital role in ensuring your safety and well-being during plyometric exercises. “When you jump, I believe the landing is where there’s the most potential for error, so you must be extremely aware of landing on your entire foot — all four corners,” says Vesco. “Your stability will arise from the inner and outer sides of the ankles, knees, and hips. And you activate your adductors and abductors [muscles that maintain stability in your lower body] by truly focusing on pressing all four corners of your foot.” Opting for appropriate footwear can also aid in keeping your joints secure and stable. Choose a shoe that’s specifically designed for HIIT or jump training and provides ankle support to ensure stability while moving laterally, suggests Vesco.
While it’s simple to space out during your workout and delve deep into thoughts about your upcoming lunch, Vesco advises against performing plyometric exercises absentmindedly. “One of the most common injuries I observe with plyometrics is individuals jumping too high too quickly, jumping when fatigued, or jumping without paying attention and scraping their shins,” she says. “You have to be completely attuned to every single minute of your exercise, especially if it’s something like box jumps or even burpees… You have to move with as much purpose as possible and genuinely assess from head to toe what your body is doing.” So, view your plyometric exercises as an opportunity to incorporate a bit of mindfulness into your workout.
11 Plyometric Exercises to Experiment With
Are you ready to give plyometric exercises a try? To assist you in embarking on your jumping journey, Vesco has shared and demonstrated her preferred plyometric exercises, which can be adjusted to meet you at your current stage in your fitness journey.
Opt for smaller leaps or eliminate the leaps completely if you wish to diminish the effect or simply focus on your technique initially, she recommends. Alternatively, you can decelerate the movements so that the exercise becomes slightly gentler on the cardiovascular aspect, she states. On the other hand, you can introduce a plyometric box to your jumping regimen to enhance the level of difficulty.
A. Take a stance with your feet spaced apart, arms by your sides, and engage your core.
B. Lower your body slightly by sitting back into your hips and bending your knees, then swiftly pivot 180 degrees to the right to face the opposite direction with an explosive movement.
C. As soon as you land, quickly shift your weight back into your feet and explosively rotate 180 degrees to the left to return to the starting position. Repeat this alternating movement, always returning to the starting position between each repetition.
A. Stand with your feet spaced apart, knees slightly bent, and arms by your sides. Engage your core.
B. Swiftly swing your arms backward while bending your knees even more, then explosively leap forward while swinging your arms forward.
C. Land softly with bent knees and stretch your arms forward, aligned with your chest. Lower your arms back to your sides and quickly backpedal to the starting position.
A. Stand with your feet spaced apart, arms by your sides, and engage your core.
B. Sit back into your hips and bend your knees to perform a squat.
C. Place your hands on the floor directly in front of and just inside your feet. Transfer your weight onto your hands.
D. Jump your feet back to softly land on the balls of your feet in a plank position. Simultaneously, lower your chest to the ground, similar to the bottom position of a push-up. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your heels.
E. Push through your hands to lift your body off the ground and return to the plank position. Then, jump your feet forward so they land just behind your hands.
F. Extend your arms overhead or swing them back behind your body, and explosively jump into the air. Land and immediately lower back into a squat to start the next repetition.
A. Stand with your feet spaced apart, arms by your sides, and engage your core.
B. Drive your right knee towards your chest explosively while raising your left arm up.
C. Switch by driving your left knee towards your chest and raising your right arm up.
D. Keep alternating quickly, pumping the opposite arm with each leg.
A. Take a stance with feet shoulder-width apart, hands clasped in front of the torso. Sink into the hips and flex the knees to lower the body into a crouch.
B. Powerfully push upwards and swing the arms backward, propelling yourself to jump as high as possible. Ensure that the force is generated through the heels rather than the toes. Land gently with the knees bent and immediately crouch down, bringing the hands back in front of the chest.
Step Thrust Step
A. Assume a stance with the feet wider than shoulder-width apart, with the toes slightly turned outward. Clasp the hands in front of the chest.
B. Sink into the hips and bend the knees to lower the body until the thighs are parallel or nearly parallel to the floor. Keep the chest raised and prevent the back from rounding.
C. Swiftly thrust through the feet to straighten the legs and prop yourself into the air, simultaneously rotating the body to the right. Upon landing with the right foot in front and the left foot extended behind the body, immediately lower into a lunge. Descend until the right thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees form 90-degree angles.
D. Push through the middle of the right foot to rise out of the lunge, simultaneously rotating the body back to the center.
E. Perform one squat, then replicate the lunge on the left side. Continue to alternate which leg executes the lunge each time.
A. Stand with the right foot in front, knee slightly bent, and the left leg fully extended behind the body with the toes resting on the floor. Bring the left hand up to the ear and fully extend the right arm behind the body. This constitutes the initial position.
B. Rapidly propel the left leg up towards the chest, extend the left arm behind the body, and bring the right hand up to the ear. Immediately exert pressure on the right foot and leap into the air. Lightly land on the right foot and return the left leg to the starting position for the subsequent repetition.
A. Assume a stance with feet shoulder-width apart, with the knees slightly bent and the elbows bent, and the hands in front of the chest.
B. Laterally jump to the right and maintain balance on the right leg as the left leg crosses behind the right, ensuring that the left toes do not touch the floor.
C. Expeditiously jump laterally to the left and maintain balance on the left leg as the right leg crosses behind the left, ensuring that the right toes do not touch the floor.
Reiterate, alternating flanks.
Part the Frog
A. Take a stance with your feet positioned hip-width apart and your arms resting at your sides.
B. While keeping your core activated, your chest lifted, and your shoulders aligning with your hips, initiate a significant stride forward with your right foot. Descend until your right thigh becomes parallel to the ground and both knees form angles of 90 degrees. This will serve as your initial position.
C. Slightly lower yourself by 1 to 2 inches to gather momentum, then exert force through your feet and propel yourself upward, towards the ceiling. As you are airborne, swiftly switch the position of your feet so that your left foot is leading. Gently land and repeat the sequence, alternating sides.
A. Position yourself with your feet placed hip-width apart and your arms resting at your sides.
B. Gently flex your knees, then propel yourself upwards, reaching towards the ceiling. While doing so, spread your legs sideward and lift your arms simultaneously, extending them outwards and overhead.
C. Rapidly reverse the movement of your legs and arms, and softly land.
A. Adopt a stance with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, with your toes pointing slightly outwards, and have your hands clasped in front of your chest.
B. As you take a breath in, distribute your weight to the hips, bending your knees until your thighs are either parallel or nearly parallel to the floor. Maintain an upright posture and prevent your back from curving.
C. As you breathe out, forcefully propel yourself off the ground, aiming to jump as high as you can. During this motion, swing your arms and draw your knees towards your chest.
D. Gently land and swiftly descend into a squat position in preparation for the following repetition.