Plyometric Training for Runners

Plyometric training series - Improve power, speed, running economy and form
Plyometric Training for Runners

Plyometrics come naturally to all humans, as we learn it in early childhood like - jumps, hops and bounding movements. These movements and activities involve projection of our body’s center of mass either horizontally or vertically by increasing the magnitude and rate of stretch on the muscles. Plyometrics are easily approachable by runners of all levels of expertise, and can be done without no or minimal equipment.

We are collaborating with one of the India’s finest fitness & running coaches, and will be publishing a series of posts on Plyometric training for runners. This first post highlights the what and why of plyometric training. Following this, a series of posts cover integration of plyometric workouts into runners’ training based on their level of expertise and their current conditioning.

How runners’ generate power?

Large portion of energy required for running stride comes elastically, by storing the energy when landing, and then releasing it as we push forward. This process is called Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC). It is the same mechanics behind how a mechanical spring works. When applied to running stride it is commonly called Triple Extension. Triple extension is quick succession of contraction (eccentric phase) and then extension (concentric phase) of muscles, tendons and three joints of lower body hip, knee and ankle (please see the picture below).

Stretch Shortening Cycle / Triple Extension

Hence training our muscles to store the energy when landing and then releasing it efficiently is an important part of generating the power required for a powerful stride. Training for SSC also means we can generate higher pace with lesser energy. Such training makes effective use of fast twitch muscles for power and makes the slow twitch muscles do faster concentric movements.

Basics of Plyometrics

Plyometrics are the best training to improve the triple extension. Plyometrics consists of 3 basic movements

  • Jumps - which is characterized by two-foot landings. The jump is the least stressful activity because on landing body weight is distributed over both legs.
  • Hops - characterized by one foot landing. Hops are the most stressful because all landing forces are absorbed on one leg.
  • Bounding - characterized by alternate-leg landing and subsequent takeoffs. The bounding is more stressful than jumping but not as stressful as hopping because landing forces are alternated off one leg onto the other leg.

Benefits of Plyometrics for Endurance Runners

Sprinters know the benefits of Plyometrics and is an important of their training. Long distance runners however rarely include it as part of their training. There are many benefits associated with plyometrics for long distance runners training for 5k and beyond.

  • Improve Endurance & Running Economy - Foremost benefit of Plyometrics for long distance runners is the ability to utilize the elastic energy stored during the eccentric phase in a very efficient way, in other words, building a better spring. Musculotendinous stiffness is the body’s ability to store and reuse elastic energy from running and jumping (Eg: a basketball with air will have more bounce than the one with less air). By building stiffness runners will spend less energy in each stride and hence improves running economy and endurance.
  • Improve explosiveness - Plyometrics also trains the glute muscles to generate more power helping better stride during the triple extension, thereby improving the pace and speed.
  • Tolerate greater loads & Reduce risk of injury - Plyometrics help our muscles adapt to load better during the eccentric phase (while landing), thereby absorbing the shock better and reducing the risk of injury.
  • Improve Running Form - Plyometrics aids the running form by improving stride mechanics by bettering the knee drive, hip extension, and ability to land smoothly. Plyometrics also helps build better coordination, balance, body control and awareness.

Integrating Plyometrics into Running Training

Goal of plyometric training is to produce power and force using as many joints as possible. To achieve maximum force production, we need to compress all those springs and then sequentially release that tension, resulting in triple extension. Transferring of momentum from one body part to another, glutes, knees to ankle is an important goal of plyometric training.

Contextualizing Plyometric training based on where a runner is in their fitness journey is important to ensure its effectiveness and to prevent injuries. Progression of plyometric training starts with better landing. This is followed by improving balance and stability. Then follows improving the vertical displacement and short ground contact time.

Coming up next..

In the next set of posts in this series, we will cover

  • How plyometrics can be added to runners’ workout regime to improve your overall running
  • Dos and Don’ts of plyometric training
  • Key plyometric workouts and drills for runners of all levels

Compiled by Team GeeksOnFeet for the love of running

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