Plyometrics for Runners

This article originally appeared on Womens Running

Running requires a unique blend of strength, endurance, and agility. With its explosive and power-building exercises, Plyometric training can be a game-changer for runners aiming to improve their performance. Despite the hype around plyometric training, many runners still don't understand the when, why, and how behind incorporating this into their strength program and overall training routine. Here's what the science says about adding plyometrics to your running training.

The Current Scenario on Plyometric Training for Runners

  • A self-reported study in 2021 revealed that only 35.1% of runners incorporate plyometric training into their routines.

  • In contrast, 62.5% of runners engage in resistance training.

  • Understanding the benefits of plyometrics, especially in conjunction with strength training, can help bridge this gap.

Dr. Jesse Rile is the owner of Modern Movement Clinic and specializes in working with runners. She says, “I think even more recently, runners have become more accustomed to adding strength training. This is a great thing; however, if we asked runners what plyometrics means, they may say things like box jumps and burpees tied in with a HIIT workout. We ideally want to stay away from those types of workouts simply because the heart rate is already too high, and the recovery from said workout really interferes with the volume of running someone is trying to do.”

Dr. Riley says that strength training needs to be in service of the runner's ultimate running goals and not to overdo it, especially when starting out.

What The Science Says About Plyometrics

Concurrent Complex (Strength Training) and Endurance Training (CPX)

  • A 2021 study by Li et al. in the European Journal of Sport Science investigated the effects of Concurrent Complex and Endurance Training (CPX) on marathon runners.

  • The CPX group combined heavy strength training and plyometrics with running endurance training.

  • Results showed that CPX and heavy strength training improved running economy (RE) and maximum strength.

  • CPX and heavy strength training also led to greater eccentric strength and RE improvements compared to endurance-strength training alone.

  • Takeaway: Incorporating CPX or heavy strength training alongside endurance training can significantly improve RE, maximum strength, and eccentric strength.

Sprint Training and Plyometrics

  • A 2019 Journal of Sport and Health Science study comparing intermittent sprint training and plyometric training on endurance running performance showed promising results.

  • Despite a reduction in training mileage, both training groups experienced improved 10-km running performance and peak power.

  • The relative peak power showed a significant correlation with improved running performance.

  • Takeaway: Incorporating intermittent sprint training and plyometrics can improve running performance, even when reducing weekly training mileage.

Dr. Riley backs this up: “By doing plyometric training, you’re essentially creating more capacity or tolerance in your tissues for the loads associated with trail running.” He underscores the pivotal role of plyometrics in enhancing tissue tolerance, aligning with the demands of trail running, and contributing to injury prevention.

How to Incorporate Plyometrics into Your Routine

Despite knowing the benefits of plyometrics, runners often wonder, "How do I incorporate these into my routine?" Below, we outline some of the top plyometric exercises and some tips to make these a part of your strength program.

Plyometric Exercises for Trail and Ultra Runners

  1. Squat Jumps: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, lower into a squat position, and explosively jump as high as you can. Land softly and repeat.

  2. Lunge Jumps: Start in a lunge position, hopping up into the air and landing with your opposite arm forward as your leg (similar to running). Stick the landing, then repeat on each side.

  3. Single-Leg Pogo Hops: Balance on one leg and perform quick, springy hops while maintaining balance. Switch legs and repeat.

  4. Box Jumps: Find a sturdy box or platform. Stand before it, then jump onto the box, landing softly and standing up fully. Step (do not jump) back down. Repeat.

  5. Lateral Bounds: Leap horizontally from one foot to the other, landing softly and maintaining balance. Consider skater jumps involving tucking the other leg behind you as you alternate legs.

  6. Jump Rope: Be sure to stay light on your feet, minimizing ground contact time for efficiency.

  7. Depth Jumps: Find a sturdy box or platform and drop forward off of it, landing on the ground briefly and jumping upwards rapidly. Start with a lower box and progress from there.

Dr. Riley says his favorite exercises are pogo jumps,"(double and single leg) along with jumping rope are some of the best you can do because they ultimately load the calf and foot complex the highest. I think depth jumps work well also because you can pair that into a depth jump with a vertical jump and land. Lastly, bounding, alternating, and single-leg bounding help develop the power to get you up that climb much easier.”

Ideas to Incorporate Plyometrics into Your Strength Routine

  • Perform a set of plyometric exercises immediately following a strength exercise. For example, after completing a set of goblet squats, follow with a set of squat jumps.

  • Combine single-leg pogo hops alongside step-ups, enhancing balance and leg power.

  • Use plyometrics as an active recovery between sets of strength exercises. For instance, perform high knees for 30 seconds between sets of bench presses.

  • Gradually increase the intensity and complexity of plyometric exercises as you progress in your training plan.

Dr. Riley says plyometrics should be folded into a runner's strength routine. When it comes to combining the two exercises (pairing a strength move with a plyometric exercise), he says, “I wouldn’t do it any other way! Squats and deadlifts are really the foundation for most of the plyometric movements. Overall, they work well being combined, but just like with running, ease into them.”

Plyometric training, when incorporated strategically into your running routine, can improve running economy, strength, and power. By understanding the research findings, applying the recommended strategies, and incorporating specific plyometric exercises, you can take your running performance to the next level. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced runner, plyometrics, such as squat jumps, single-leg pogo hops, and lateral bounds, could be the missing piece in your training puzzle, helping you confidently conquer those challenging trails and ultra distances.

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