The gym is a place we usually associate with lifting weights or doing cardio. However, every so often, you might see someone jumping around the gym like they’re at a trampoline park. When we see this we often think, ‘they must be an athlete’, or simply have no idea of what they're doing!
Well, this type of jump training is referred to as ‘plyometric’ training. Plyometric training can be very beneficial for both athletes and gym-goers. But before we get into that, let’s start by discussing what plyometric training is.
What Is Plyometric Training?
By definition, plyometric training is a form of jump training that involves rebounding off the ground quickly (2). Remember hopscotch? That might jog your memory on the different types of jumps that exist. Hopping is performed on one leg, and bounding is performed on alternating legs, whereas jumping is performed on both legs.
Plyometrics can be classed as ‘slow’ or ‘fast’ actions based on how quickly you rebound off the ground (6).
Slow plyometric exercises have a ground contact time of 251 milliseconds (0.251s). or longer.
Fast plyometric exercises have a ground contact time of 250 milliseconds (0.25s) or quicker.
Now, of course, you’re not going to attempt to measure how quickly you’re getting off the floor when jumping in the gym, and don't worry, you won't need to do that. So how would we know if we’re potentially doing slow or fast plyometrics? Here’s a simple explanation:
Slow plyometrics feel like you’re jumping with your muscles. These are the plyometrics that are going to be the best exercises for explosive leg power. You jump high or far and feel like the hulk when doing so. A term I use for slow plyometrics is ‘muscular plyometrics’.
Fast plyometrics feel like you're jumping with your ankles (i.e. Achilles tendon). You feel like you’re jumping on a pogo stick (If you know, you know. If not, Google it). These are going to be the best plyometric exercises for speed, teaching you how to be elastic when jumping and sprinting.
Another simple name I use for fast plyometrics is ‘springy jumps.’ You feel more like a kangaroo when doing these, which is not as cool as the hulk, but the benefits are, believe me.
Benefits of Improving Speed and Power
Let’s jump a little deeper into the benefits of improving speed and power (no pun intended).
From the age that we can run like Bambi up into our late teens, many of us participate in sports inside and outside of school. We would jump, hop, skip, and cartwheel on a daily basis.
In the transition from finishing education to becoming gym-goers, many of us who don’t pursue sports completely stop doing all of these activities. But shouldn’t we strive to maintain the ability to be able to do these things for as long as possible? And on the other hand, athletes want to showcase superior speed and power to get ahead in their sports.
In both scenarios, speed and power training with plyometric exercises should probably find their way into gym workouts for many of us.
Rather than listing the benefits of improving speed & power, I’ll list the benefits of adding plyometrics to your workouts:
Increase bone density (8)
Improve balance (7)
Increase strength and power (4)
Improve speed and change of direction ability (3)
Fire up your nervous system for lifting weights in your workout (5)
The Best Plyometric Exercises for Speed and Power
Most plyometrics aren’t speed exercises. Plyometric speed exercises do exist, but in the form of bounding and sprinting at high speeds. Technically, the best exercise to improve speed would be sprinting itself.
However, this article's purpose is to provide you with gym-based plyometric exercises, so let’s discuss the best plyometric exercises for speed that nearly anyone can do in the gym.
Prowler Sprint or Bound
Exercise #1 - Plate Pogo
This is a springy plyometric exercise to help develop speed. It’s submaximal in effort which means 15-20 reps could be performed per set.
The Plate Pogo provides the opportunity for lots of practice and builds rhythm in movement, and being able to build up the height of the plates is a motivating gauge of progress.
As the height of the plate increases, repetitions can decrease down to 10. Try to imagine the floor is hot lava, so you have to spring back off it quickly.
Exercise #2 - Drop Jump
Another springy plyometric exercise is the Drop Jump.
This effort is maximal, and you should perform fewer repetitions of just 3-4 per set.
The Drop Jump exercise is all about getting off the floor as quickly as possible after the drop to rebound back into the air as high as you can. Again, imagine the floor is hot lava for the quick rebound off the floor.
Start out with lower drop heights of 30 cm. The higher the drop height, the harder the quick rebound becomes.
Exercise #3 - Prowler Sprint or Bound
In the gym, prowler sprints and bounds might be the best plyometric exercises for speed.
They mimic the action of acceleration well over short distances (~10 meters). The sprints have a fast and repetitive piston-like leg action, whereas bounds are a cross between a sprint and a jump.
Research has used loads between 120-150% of bodyweight for heavy prowler pushes (1), and loads of 60-100% of bodyweight could be appropriate for sprints and bounds.
Perform three single repetitions with rest in between until feeling fully recovered.
Exercise #4 - Broad Jump
This is one of the best exercises for explosive leg power in a horizontal (forward) direction, meaning that this is more of a muscular jump.
It mimics early explosive acceleration to be quick off the mark. Using a tape measure can make this plyometric exercise fun for tracking your distance and adding a little bit of personal competition.
Try to imagine you’re jumping up and over a river of crocodiles. To not fall in on the other side, land in a balanced half-squat position. Shoot for 3-4 reps per set.
Exercise #5 - Jump Squat
Want another one of the best exercises for explosive power? Jump Squats require repeatedly storing energy in your legs before using it to explode back off the floor.
Begin with higher repetitions of 8-10 with submaximal effort and then reduce the repetitions down to 5-6 with more explosive, maximum-effort jumps.
You can even add a little bit of weight by holding a dumbbell in each hand or a very light bar on your back.
Exercise #6 - Step-Up Jump
This muscular jump is a little bit more advanced. It requires more strength and coordination to explode off one leg and land again.
What’s great with this plyometric exercise is that there’s the action of striking your foot down into the step, which somewhat mimics the action of striking your foot down into the floor when sprinting.
Using an exercise step, aim to complete 3 repetitions on each leg per set.
You have a basic understanding of plyometrics and the benefits of speed and power training. You also have six of the best plyometric exercises for explosive leg power.
So how should they be implemented into a workout? Following your warm-up, pick one option from exercises 1-3 and then one from exercises 4-6 to include at the start of your workout for 3-4 sets each.
Do this three times per week consistently, and you might be hard to spot from a kangaroo or the hulk when jumping around the gym or sprinting at your local track.
. . .
Written By: Andrew Hyde
Andy has a BSc (Hons) in Exercise Science and an MSc in Strength & Conditioning. He has worked with Leeds United, Science for Sport, the NHS and more. Andy works privately with elite football players and gym goers who want to improve their performance, fitness, and body composition.
. . .
Hicks, D.S., Schuster, J.G., Samozino, P. and Morin, J.B., 2020.
Improving mechanical effectiveness during sprint acceleration: practical recommendations and guidelines. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 42 (2), pp.45-62.
Lundin, P. and Berg, W., 1991.
Plyometrics: a review of plyometric training. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 13 (6), pp.22-34.
Pardos-Mainer, E., Lozano, D., Torrontegui-Duarte, M., Cartón-Llorente, A. and Roso-Moliner, A., 2021. Effects of strength vs. plyometric training programs on vertical jumping, linear sprint and change of direction speed performance in female soccer players: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18 (2), p.401.
Ramírez-Campillo, R., Andrade, D.C. and Izquierdo, M., 2013. Effects of plyometric training volume and training surface on explosive strength. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27 (10), pp.2714-2722.
Seitz, L.B. and Haff, G.G., 2016. Factors modulating post-activation potentiation of jump, sprint, throw, and upper-body ballistic performances: A systematic review with meta-analysis. Sports medicine, 46, pp.231-240.
Turner, A.N. and Jeffreys, I., 2010. The stretch-shortening cycle: Proposed mechanisms and methods for enhancement. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 32 (4), pp.87-99.
Witzke, K.A. and Snow, C.M., 2000. Effects of polymetric jump training on bone mass in adolescent girls. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 32 (6), pp.1051-1057.
Zribi, A., Zouch, M., Chaari, H., Bouajina, E., Nasr, H.B., Zaouali, M. and Tabka, Z., 2014. Short-term lower-body plyometric training improves whole-body BMC, bone metabolic markers, and physical fitness in early pubertal male basketball players. Pediatric exercise science, 26 (1), pp.22-32.