What good is muscle if it’s not usable? All those lunges and leg presses, with isolated quad and hamstring conditioning, need to be good for something. Right?
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some way of putting all that hard work to the test? Well, tie your shoelaces tight and get ready to jump.
Jumping is a plyometric. Plyometrics rely on the muscles’ natural elasticity to generate power as part of their movement. All muscles have a certain amount of elasticity. To illustrate this, put your palm down on a table. Try to lift the ring finger up. It elevates a little, right? Now lift your finger with the help of your other hand. Notice how it lifts higher with the assistance.
More force can be produced when the muscles elasticity is recruited in conjunction with its contraction. Using the same example, how hard can you tap your straight ring finger by itself? Not very hard, right? Now pull your ring finger back with your other hand and let it snap to the table. That’s the difference between the muscle alone and the muscle with the help of its own elasticity.
When turning an exercise into a plyometric, it’s important that the body recruits all of the muscles involved properly.
When performing a squat, joint alignment contributes to proper muscle recruitment. If you have been working on your squat by practicing, foam rolling and stretching, your form should be pretty good by now. You have probably even added weight. It may be time to bump up to the next level. Jumping is the plyometric of the squat.
If your squat is still full of problems, then you shouldn’t be jumping. Injuries can abound if you’re not physically ready.
Plyometrics can be used to test muscle strength or take your workout to a new level. Test your lower body’s ability to generate power by doing box jumps. Start with a low box and progress to a higher one. Mix box jumps into your routine to help break through plateaus.
I like using “ice skaters” to help condition the legs as well as the ankle and knee joints. They require muscle recruitment, elasticity and a change of direction. The controlled direction change is also helpful for athletes who are working to prevent injuries.
Form is important when doing plyometrics, too. Perform them in front of a mirror or have your trainer evaluate your technique. General guidelines are to have the lower extremity joints in alignment. Watch the arch of the foot so that it doesn’t fall. Land softly so the kinetic energy transfers through the body instead of being absorbed into the knees and lower back.
Chris Huth is a Las Vegas trainer. You can contact him at email@example.com. Before beginning any exercise program, consult your physician.Photos for this column were taken at UNLV’s Student Recreation and Wellness Center. Although the facility’s primary clientele is students, faculty and staff, the center also welcomes community members 18 and older at a monthly fee of $25. You can contact the service desk at 774-7100 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.