Plyometric Exercises for Cardio

Young woman performing squat jumps in gym
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If you've ever been at the gym and spied someone in the corner jumping up and down on boxes, hopping around wildly or catching and throwing medicine balls, you've seen plyometric training. You may have been curious but, more than likely, you wondered, "Why would anyone do that to themselves?"

One reason? To burn more calories. Another? To increase power, strength, and mobility. Adding even a few minutes of plyometric training to your usual routine can add intensity to your workouts while building more power and strength in the legs, two things that can make your other workouts easier. The key is to ease into it to avoid injury.

The Basics 

Plyometric training has long been a staple of athletes and exercisers to work on their explosive strength. It may sound strange, but one way to enhance power is to increase the stretch reflex in your legs. This is what happens with repetitive jumping (one of the hallmarks of plyometric training): Each time you land from a jump, your quads stretch and then contract for your next leap. It's that stretch from the first jump that makes your second jump even higher.

With athletes, plyometric training involves intense exercises specifically designed for their particular sports such as jumping off a platform and rebounding off the floor onto a higher platform. Most of us don't need exercises of that level of difficulty, but you can incorporate basic plyometric-type moves into your workout to add more intensity and challenge.

Just a few reasons to try plyometrics:

  • It's a way to change your workouts, adding both challenge and intensity
  • It enhances neuromuscular proprioception, a fancy way of saying you'll have better joint stability
  • It increases power in the lower body. You'll feel this extra power in everything else you do — Cardio workouts, strength training, and even daily chores
  • It increases strength which, again, pays off in your other workouts and daily life
  • It increases mobility in your joints
  • It can help you burn more calories during your workout


Plyometric training:

  • Is advanced, intense and involves high impact exercise. Don't try this type of training until you've been consistently exercising for several months and avoid it completely if you have any chronic joint pain or injuries.
  • Requires strength and endurance, so make sure you build both with a complete program of both cardio and strength training before you try it.
  • Can cause injury —Elizabeth Quinn, Sports Medicine Guide, cautions in her article, Plyometrics-The Controversy Continues, "Most athletic injuries are caused by forces upon musculoskeletal structures that exceed the structure's tensile limits...This means the injury is caused by excessive force. What could be more forceful than bounding off a 2 to 3 foot box and back up onto another box?" Ease into this type of training, starting with simple exercises (e.g. jumping in place with squat jumps) and master those before moving on to more complex exercises.
  • Should be done when you're fresh, not when you're already fatigued, and should be followed by a day of rest to let your body repair and recover.
  • Should only be done about once or twice a week. It's easy to injure yourself with this type of training, so be cautious.

Again, being cautious and doing basic exercises at first can help you ease your way into plyometric training. Now, how can you incorporate plyo into your routine? 

While plyometric exercises are advanced movements, if you're in good condition, have no injuries and you're looking for a challenge, adding them to your regular workout routine can add depth and intensity to your overall program.

Preparing for Plyo

  • Warm Up: Add plyo exercises after you've had a very thorough warm-up so your body is ready for the exercises
  • Quality Athletic Shoes: Wear good quality, shock absorbing shoes and do these exercises on a softer surface: A hardwood floor, a gym floor, track, etc. rather than on concrete
  • Prepare for Impact: Plyo exercises are high impact, requiring jumping and landing with soft joints to avoid injury. Elizabeth Quinn, Sports Medicine Guide, recommends "...the athlete lands softly on the toes and rolls to the heels. By using the whole foot (and a larger surface area) for landing it helps dissipate the impact forces on the joints." You should also avoid twisting as you land, which can also cause injury
  • Ease Into It: Don't forget, plyo is taxing on the joints, as well as the muscles and connective tissue. It's best to start small, trying light jumping exercises to condition your body for this type of movement and gradually adding intensity over time.
  • Plan Your Workouts: If you do them right, plyo exercises are hard and take a lot out of the body. When planning your workouts for the week, schedule high-intensity plyo workouts after a day of rest so your body is fresh. Keep this type of workout to about 1-2 non-consecutive days a week to give your body time to recover.

    Adding Plyo to Your Workouts

    There are a number of ways to incorporate plyometric training into your current routine.

    • Interval Training: Interval training involves alternating a high intensity with a recovery period, a great way to try plyo in your own workouts. Start with a plyo exercise, such as Squat Jumps, repeating for 30-60 seconds. Follow this with an easy exercise, such as walking, for about 2-3 minutes and repeat.
    • High-Intensity Bursts: Another option is to sprinkle plyo exercises throughout your regular workout for high-intensity bursts. For example, warm up for at least 10 minutes, then move into a brisk walk or jog (on a treadmill or outside) for 5 minutes. At that point, hop off and do 1 minute of plyo jacks (or another plyo exercise). Go back to your walk/jog and do it again in another 5 minutes. You can also change your intervals throughout the workout (e.g., a plyo move in 3 minutes, then 6, then 10, then back to 3, etc.).
    • Short, High-Intensity Workouts: Another option is to do plyo for your entire workout. Put together 10 or so plyo exercises and do each one for 10-60 seconds, resting as long as you need to between exercises to fully recover. You might want to keep this short, around 20-30 minutes to avoid overdoing it.

      Those are just a few ideas and, if you need more direction, you're a good candidate for home exercise videos. The right video can teach you a variety of exercises and show you good form as well as how to get the most of the exercises. 

      Below are some instructors and websites for finding great plyometric workouts:

      Mindy Mylrea offers several advanced interval videos. "All Out Cardio" offers a number of high energy options, "Tabata Trek" is perfect for spinners and cyclers and "Awesome Intervals," says it all.

      Cathe Friedrich offers a wide variety of plyo and interval training, some videos using a step and others using nothing but your own body. Stand outs include "Interval Max," "IMAX 2," and a very challenging HIIT video, called, well, "Hiit — High-Intensity Interval Training" that includes three different workouts and tons of plyo exercises. Cathe is a solid choice for high intensity, high impact plyo workouts.

      Here at VeryWell, you'll find a variety of workouts and ideas including:

      Remember, plyometric training is an advanced activity and most of us don't need to do too much of it to reap the benefits — once or twice a week is enough. Easing in a few plyo exercises is a great way, however, to raise your heart rate quickly and to improve your stamina, strength and muscle endurance.

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      View Article Sources
      • American Council on Exercise. ACE Personal Trainer Manual, 3rd Edition. San Diego: American Council on Exercise, 2003.
      • Fowler K, Kravitz L. "Explosive Power." IDEA Fitness Journal. Volume 8, Number 9 September 2011.