Plyometric Exercises to Prevent Knee Injuries

woman jumping rope
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Plyometric exercises, which also have been called "jump training," are explosive moves that help build power, strength, and speed. The series of plyometric exercises that follow are designed to help strengthen muscles that protect the knee, lowering the risk of harm to the ligament in the knee that's most prone to injury—the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

As for equipment, the only thing you'll need is a six-inch fitness cone (or some other object that's comparable in size). You can purchase cones online or in sporting goods stores. Do 20 repetitions of each exercise. You should be able to complete the entire routine in a little under an hour. And if at any point during the routine you feel pain, stop immediately.

For all plyometrics, landing properly will help reduce your risk of injury. Throughout these exercises you are reminded to land with soft knees. But be mindful of alignment as well. Feet should be shoulder width apart, knees align over the toes, shoulders stacked over the knees. Keep your butt back, torso slightly tilted forward and slight flexion at the hips. Try not to lean side-to-side with the upper body, and keep pelvis parallel to the ground.

Lateral Hops Over Cone

Purpose: Increase power/strength emphasizing neuromuscular control.

Safety Tip: Good technique is essential when performing these exercises—especially how you land.

Landing properly promotes safety when doing plyometric exercises. Always land softly, feeling the weight on the balls of your feet first, then slowly roll back to your heel while keeping your knees bent and your hips straight.

  • Stand to the right of a 6-inch cone 
  • Hop sideways and to the left over the cone
  • As soon as you've cleared the cone and both feet have touched the ground, hop over it sideways and to the right
  • Repeat for 20 continuous reps

Forward/Backward Hops Over Cone

Purpose: Increase power/strength emphasizing neuromuscular control

  • Hop over the cone, softly landing on the balls of your feet and bending at the knee
  • As soon as both feet touch down in front of the cone, hop backward over it, being careful not to snap your knee backward in order to straighten—in other words, maintain a slight bend in your knee 
  • Repeat continuously for 20 reps.

Single Leg Hops Over Cone 

Purpose: Increase power/strength emphasizing neuromuscular control

  • Hop over the cone with your right foot
  • As soon as you land, hop backward over the cone, maintaining a slight bend in your knee
  • Continue jumping back and forth over the cone using just your right leg for 20 reps
  • Repeat with the left leg

Vertical Jumps With Headers

Purpose: Increase the height of the vertical jump

  • Stand with your hands at your side
  • Bend your knees lightly and push off with your feet to jump straight up
  • Land on the balls of both feet, keeping your knees slightly bent, then roll back onto your heel so that your entire foot takes the weight off your body
  • Repeat 20 times

Scissors Jump

Purpose: Increase power and strength of vertical jump

  • From a standing position, step forward into a lunge with your right leg, being careful to keep your right knee in line with your ankle—in other words, don't allow your knee to go beyond your ankle
  • From the lunge, push off with your right foot and propel your left leg forward into a lunge in which your left leg is in front and your right leg is back
  • Continue lunging, alternating legs, for 20 repetitions
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  • PEP Program, Santa Monica Sports Medicine Research Foundation, April 3, 2016.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.