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The How To Exercise (Part 5)

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

Years back when I was teaching Physical Education in a small private school, I would hear some of my younger students say with tremendous excitement "Look Miss D, I got some new run fast, jump high shoes!" As someone these kids saw as a role model and the most fun person on campus, who was I to tell them that although they had the coolest shoes in the world, they didn't drastically contribute to them being able to run any faster or jump significantly higher. For elite athletes though, attire does factor into the equation but that is only part of the picture.

Not too long ago we witnessed the world come together and participate in multiple track and field events at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. While every athlete strived to be atop the medal stand and bring home the prized gold, not everyone fulfilled their dream. Why is it that some competitors were able to set or break world records and others struggled? This answer is not always evident to the millions of viewers around the world, but for many athletes it comes down to training. Yes, they spend thousands of hours perfecting their technique or beating personal bests in practice, but have you ever thought about the kind of training they actually do? What makes these individuals excel in their specific sport and propel them to superhero status?

Just like many of the words in the English language, plyometrics (or jump training) originated from the Greek word "pleythyein" which means to augment or change. Modern day plyometric exercises are those which exert maximum force over a short duration. Simply put, they help increase a person's speed or ability to get higher off the ground. A great deal of professional sports teams use this as part of their normal training regimen in hopes of becoming faster, more agile, and improving reaction time to outperform opponents. Speed, agility and quickness are essential in almost all sports.

Breaking this concept down into even simpler parts, speed is how fast someone can get from Point A to Point B in a forward direction or straight line. Think of driving in your car and looking at the dashboard: you're on the freeway going 70 mph. At this pace, if you're heading to an out of town business meeting seventy miles away, it will take one hour to get there. The Olympian running from one end of the track to the other as fast as they can is speed.

Agility is the ability to change direction efficiently. Using the same car analogy, how fast you can safely make a U-turn without crashing would be agility. Picture that same track star having to change from a forward sprint to propelling themself over a high bar, hurdle or pole vault and you visualize agility.

Quickness refers to reaction time. You are sitting in your vehicle at a red light when it finally turns green. How many seconds it takes you to recognize the change in color and begin to move into the intersection is quickness. Applying this concept to the aforementioned athlete, they are patiently waiting on the block when the cap gun fires signaling the start of the race. The time it takes for them to get out of their crouched position to a stand and start running is quickness.

Putting this all together hopefully you understand that plyometric training entails multiple approaches and can be used in a variety of workouts. Although most of us are not world class athletes where milliseconds count, this type of exercise, as the definition suggests, augments or changes your overall fitness level. Implementing jump training, if done properly, will help you run faster and jump higher than you currently can.

Going back to the title of this blog, you're probably wondering how to include plyometrics into your fitness routine. Well, let me start by saying that this type of training is not for the faint of heart. It is remarkably more difficult than the previous formats in terms of intensity so those with joint issues proceed carefully. It is also known as jump training for a reason. As with most exercises, these have modifications, however, by opting for them you are not getting the full benefit of the formats design. Taking the impact out of jump training does not have much effect on helping with jump or speed gains but does, however, improve your cardiovascular endurance levels so the less intense versions can and should become part of a workout if that is your primary focus. In the next few paragraphs, I will give examples of various ways you can play around with plyometric training. My hope is for you to find one that meets your needs and enhances your current fitness plan.

Now that you recognize the many facets of plyometric training, I will cover how to incorporate each aspect into a workout by suggesting ideas and tools necessary to achieve a desired outcome. Do you remember the subject of calisthenics a few blogs back? One of the most commonly performed of this type was running a mile. If your goal is maybe to decrease the time it takes you to complete that distance, speed training would be best suited to accomplish this. The easiest way to get to your goal is to gradually increase the duration of each run until you have gone two miles. When that becomes easy extend the length again, then go back and see if your one mile run has become more like a sprint. Because your aerobic and anaerobic fitness has improved, it will take longer for muscles to fatigue so the shorter runs become easier and take less time to complete.

Another idea I like to use in my training, is to do a pyramid run. In this type scheme, begin with a one-minute walk as a warm up, then jog or run for one minute, the next walk/run cycle is two minutes followed by a three-minute portion and so on up to five minutes of each. Since you are now not by where you initially started, I recommend repeating the circuit in reverse order to return to your original spot. Although the distance is broken up into small sections, you will still find your endurance for each piece improves and overall time will, in turn, decrease.

Lastly, for any of you warriors out there that love adventure, try pulling or pushing a weighted sled over a grass or turf field for a couple minutes. Go up and back once or twice and then ditch your newfound friend and go, go, go! See how much faster you are now! My dad, when he knew I wasn't running my fastest, used to say "What's the matter, do you have an anchor tied to your backside?" In this case, yes you do.. Dragging an object behind you for a few minutes will slow you down quite a bit so imagine how much faster you'll be (and feel) when the excess baggage is gone.

While the speed training involves virtually no equipment other than a nice long flat area and fluids to keep you hydrated (with the exception of the final option I know you all are dying to do), agility training is facilitated by the use of cones, floor ladders, low hurdles, obstacle courses, and tape lines to name just a few. Those of you who have the luxury of a gym membership or the pleasure of plowing through a group fitness class have probably noticed at least a few of these modalities at your location or have possibly utilized them in some way. If you haven't been blessed with the opportunity to work with these exceptional pieces of apparatus, I encourage you to start with a fitness expert first who can suggest ideas appropriate for your goals and cater them specifically around any acute or chronic conditions that may exist. You'll love it, I just know it!

Being quick can be the difference between falling and not falling, possibly protecting yourself from a predator or becoming a victim, or winning or losing a match. The ability to react quickly can be a life or death situation so training in this area is rather important. The use of your own bodyweight, boxing bags, jump ropes, medicine balls, and plyo boxes require some hand-eye coordination and timing. Knowing when to bend your knees to avoid hitting your shins, extend your arms to catch or push away an item coming toward you, or how high you need to be to clear an object is quite instrumental in preventing major and minor injuries.

Basic bodyweight exercises like a boxer shuffle, football run, Heismans, tire drill or toe taps that don't require expensive paraphernalia are the easiest to execute anytime or anywhere. Other activities such as ball slams, box jumps, skipping rope, and throwing a weighted ball back and forth with a partner are fairly simple but do necessitate tools and are better served in a gym setting or outdoors with ample space. More advanced clap pushups mandate immense focus and pose the most risk so exercise extreme caution if selecting these for your workouts.

In wrapping up this series, you see numerous opportunities to change your body, your fitness levels, and your workouts simply by applying various formats or styles in your daily routine. The possibilities are, indeed, endless. Do you have a favorite? Which one will you choose? To close, I leave you with one final thought....

How will you get up, get out, and get moving?

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