Burn Calories and Build Power With Plyometrics

Roll Ups with Burpees

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

If you've ever seen a basketball player jump to throw the ball into the net or watched a runner jump over a hurdle in a track event, you've seen plyometrics. Many of us even do plyometrics without even realizing it. If you've ever jumped up to reach something on a high shelf, you've done a plyometric exercise.

Plyometrics Definition

Plyometrics is a type of high-impact activity that takes impact to a whole new level. It's not just jumping jacks or jump rope, it involves movements like jumping, bounding, and pushing exercises that focus on maximizing the stretch reflex of the muscles.

The stretch reflex is also called the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). It occurs when a you lengthen a muscle (stretch) followed by an immediate contraction (or shortening) of that same muscle.

The purpose of plyometrics is to teach the muscles to produce maximum force faster, which enhances performance for athletes and exercisers alike.

What Happens During a Plyometric Exercise

This stretch reflex happens when you jump, one reason we often refer to plyometrics as jump training. For example, if you jump up onto a box and then jump down, the quads stretch as your knees bend and then quickly contract again with the next jump. It's the prestretch of the first jump that enhances the second jump. The stretch reflex (SSC) is an essential component of plyometrics.

While plyometric training is something athletes use for training, the average exerciser can reap the benefits as well in the form of more power, more strength, more endurance and burning more calories. In fact, adding plyometric training to your workouts can also increase the afterburn—the calories you burn after the workout.

When you do tough, powerful plyometric exercises, your heart rate soars, sometimes taking you into the anaerobic zone. You only stay there for a short period of time, but it's long enough to burn mega-calories while building more power and strength to your body.

Plyometric Precautions

While plyometric training is great for some people, it isn't for everyone and, like anything in life, there are some downsides to this type of training.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Higher risk of injury - Anytime you jump, you risk an injury but this type of training, which often involve very deep squatting, lunging, and jumping can put a strain on your joints. Each time you land your joints sustain about seven times more force than your body weight.
  • Not for beginners - If you're just getting started or you haven't done this kind of training before, it's important to ease into it. A personal trainer or coach is a great resource for helping you set up a plyometric training program that fits your fitness level and goals.
  • It's really hard - Plyometrics are very taxing on the muscles, connective tissue and the heart and the fact that you do them repeatedly makes them even harder. This type of training may not appeal to people who prefer more moderate workouts. Give yourself a 1–2 minute rest interval between sets to recover adequately so that you perform them well. Plyometrics are designed to be performed at maximum intensity.
  • It can lead to overtraining - Plyometrics isn't something you want to do every day unless you're a professional athlete. Trying some plyometrics in 2 or 3 workouts per week, with rest days after, is probably enough for the average exerciser. More than that and you risk burnout.
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  • American Council on Exercise. ACE Personal Trainer Manual, 3rd Edition. San Diego: American Council on Exercise, 2003.

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."