Everything You Need to Know About Plyometrics (Plus Knee-Friendly Exercises)

There are many ways to get a great sweat, but plyometrics have an X factor that a lot of other workouts don’t: Making you super-sculpted and very agile.

Because plyometrics generally recruit the fast-twitch fibers in your muscles—the same ones you use for sprint speed—and train the nervous system to be more efficient at recruiting those fast-twitch fibers, the exercises are key for tapping greater force from your muscles. In fact, a new study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that female volleyball players who did twice-a-week plyometric workouts (25 to 40 minutes of plyo drills—for example, explosive moves like jumps) significantly improved their sprints, but those who did other conditioning did not. That means your plyo reps are doing double duty, making you firm up and faster too.

Here, the ideas you need to elevate your squats, lunges, and planks with these plyometric variations, below, from Jesse Jones, the program director for Basecamp Fitness in Santa Monica and other California locations. Swap them in as high-intensity intervals in your routine, or try the drills and videos on these pages to net all the plyo benefits.

Photo: Warwick Saint

  1. Crisscross Squat: Stand with feet hip-width apart and arms by sides. Jump, crossing right leg in front of left, landing in that position for a brief second, then jumping to uncross legs and landing in a squat. That’s 1 rep. Without pausing, switch sides; repeat. Continue quickly alternating sides for 1 minute.
  2. Up-Down: Start on floor in plank on palms. Jump feet toward hands. Immediately jump feet back to start position. That’s 1 rep. Continue quickly for 1 minute.
  3. Side Lunge to Tuck Jump: Stand with feet hip-width apart and arms by sides. Turn toward right and step right leg forward, pivoting on left foot, to come into a long lunge with right knee bent and left leg straight and bent left arm forward and bent right arm back. Push off right foot to return to start position and quickly jump as high as you can, tucking knees in to chest. Land softly. That’s 1 rep. Switch sides; repeat. Continue quickly alternating sides for 1 minute.

Knee-Friendly Plyometric Exercises

Yes, you read that right. “Plyometrics are one of the best ways to build the functional muscle strength around the joint, which helps support it,” says Dr. Metzl, who is also a Shape Brain Trust member. Caveat: Stick the landing. If your knees cave inward as you land a jump squat or a burpee, build your butt and quad strength. Dr. Metzl recommends doing single-leg squats with a chair behind you, taking a seat for a split second and then standing up.

Choose Your Shock Absorbers

Running is a plyo fest. “It’s like a series of plyometric lunges,” Dr. Metzl says. But the cushioning in your sneakers is up to you: An American Council on Exercise study says even übercushioned ones won’t affect your speed, form, or energy expenditure. Try: Sketchers GOrun Ride 7 ($95; sketchers.com), Brooks Glycerin 16 ($150; brooksrunning.com), or Hoka One One Clifton 4 ($140; hokaoneone.com).

The Best Plyometric Training Gear

There’s a world of plyometrics beyond burpees. Try these catch-air tools.

  • Platform: Plyo boxes—from six inches and up—can boost your intensity. Try this quick drill from Becca Capell, the head trainer at iFit virtual training: Warm up with 1 minute of step-ups on a box. Then do 3 rounds of 10 box jumps, alternating with 10 side-to-side step-overs.
  • Jump Rope: Jumping rope can burn a blazing 13 calories per minute. Try Capell’s rope mix: Do 3 rounds of 100 rope jumps and 10 modified (on knees) plyo push-ups; follow with 3 rounds of single-leg rope jumps, alternating 25 right and 25 left each round.
  • Rebounder: Start with this fun circuit from Fayth Caruso, a master trainer for Bellicon rebounders. Do 60 seconds each of jump squats from floor to rebounder, plyo push-ups on frame, and sprinting in place. Then do 90 seconds of bouncing. Do circuit 4 times.

You’ll Need Joint Fuel

Now you know plyometric drills done right won’t cause joint pain. But eating your way to stronger knees can’t hurt either—especially if aches are keeping you grounded. Athletes with exercise-related joint pain who took 10 grams of collagen hydrolysate a day reported a reduction in symptoms over the course of a 24-week Penn State University study. You can get the collagen—which builds up cartilage tissue in the joints—from fish, egg whites, bone broth, gelatin, or a collagen powder, says Susan Blum, M.D., the founder of the Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, New York. Also get antioxidants from brightly colored fruits and veggies to protect joints from any oxidative damage that they might incur, she says.

 

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