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Core Knowledge


Plyometrics: A Primer


When most people hear the word "plyometrics," they immediately think of repeated tuck jumps or, in more extreme cases, YouTube clips of athletes jumping out of pools or over cars. But walking and running are essentially plyometrics (both involve a bound). For instance, running a mile is the equivalent of about 1500 plyometric repetitions at two to five times your bodyweight. When you think of it this way, it’s no wonder so many recreational runners suffer from ankle, knee and hip ailments. Any plyometric activity is dynamic, and you need to prepare for it appropriately.

Dave Cruz

But plyometrics are also extremely effective. When performed properly within a well designed workout, plyometrics can help improve your strength and power, and add an exciting twist to conventional training. EXOS workouts and training programs often feature a series of plyometric jumps. These jumping exercises — up and down, side to side, twisting back and forth – activate your central nervous system, stimulating the body’s fast-twitch muscle fibers so that you can generate force as quickly and as efficiently as you need. Although plyometrics are typically thought of only as explosive leg exercises, you can also perform plyometric exercises for your upper body, such as plyometric push-ups. (Video below.)

Plyometrics can also teach your body to reduce force more efficiently, which is just as important as generating it. A lot of injuries occur because you can’t decelerate quickly enough. The elasticity developed from plyometrics helps you slam on the brakes.

What You'll Need

To perform the plyometric portion of your workout, you’ll need two things. The first is appropriate space above and beside you. The second is a plyometric box or a stable, secure elevated surface for take-off and landing. The rule of thumb on the box height is that you should be able to land in the same position that you take off from. If you have to compensate or pull your legs to your chest, the box is too high. A 6- to 12-inch box is a good place to start, especially since getting huge air shouldn't be your top priority. Instead focus on your landing mechanics. Land softly, with your hips back and knees slightly bent.

Example of a plyometric exercise with a plyo-box:

The Benefits

  • Better explosiveness for sports
  • Stimulates strength and power gains
  • Improves elasticity (the ability to rapidly absorb and produce force)
  • Quicker acceleration and deceleration

Plyometrics and Injury

Injury Prevention

Plyometric exercises are popular and effective, but when they are done improperly or without supervision, they are dangerous. Shin splints, lower back problems, and injuries involving the knees or ankles are all possibilities. The following are recommendations to avoid injury:

  1. Preadolescent boys and girls should avoid plyometrics unless other factors indicate more advanced maturity.
  2. Plyometrics should be postponed for athletes who do not have a sufficient strength and conditioning base.
  3. Athletes over 200 pounds who may be more susceptible to injury should avoid high-volume, high-intensity plyometric exercises. Very large football players, such as interior linemen, must also take extra precautions.
  4. Precede a plyometric workout with a general warm-up consisting of walk-jog-stride-sprint cycles for one-half to three-quarters of a mile, followed by dynamic stretching or movement prep.
  5. Wear shoes that provide good ankle and arch support, and a wide, non-slip sole, such as a basketball or aerobic shoe. Do not perform plyos while wearing running shoes.
  6. Perform plyometrics only on surfaces with good shock-absorbing surfaces, such as grassy areas, well-padded artificial turf, and wrestling mats.
  7. Use only plyometric boxes that are sturdy and have a non-slip top.
  8. The average recommended heights for depth jumps are .75 to .80 meters for athletes under 220 pounds. The height for those weighing more than 220 is .5 to .75 meters. (One meter is equal to 39.37 inches.)
  9. The number of weekly sessions should not exceed two or three for a maximum of 20 minutes per session.

Plyometrics After an Injury

If you can squat without pain, you're ready for plyometrics, but how you make that comeback is key.

Start with just absorption. You can work on standing tall and dropping into a squat and stabilizing both with two feet and one foot. From there, you can jump up to a short box or step, working on the same eccentric absorption. You can also start by stepping off of one foot, absorbing and balancing on another—similar to walking.

As you build confidence, strength and stability, you can increase the distance and amplitude by using a measuring stick or various sized hurdles or boxes. As amplitude begins to increase, make sure you do not do a lot of volume. Two to three sets of four to eight reps are good for an exercise, especially when you are trying to build up tissue tolerance. This is not only a good progression for rehab patients, but also people who have not done plyometrics for a long time or not at all.

Stick to a certain set and rep scheme two to three times per week with at least a day of rest between sessions.

Sample Workout

This workout includes lower body plyometric moves to increase your vertical leap.

Jim Brown, Ph.D. has written 14 books on health, medicine, and sports. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, New York Post, Sports Illustrated for Women and Better Homes & Gardens. He also writes for the Duke School of Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine, Cleveland Clinic and Steadman-Hawkins Research Foundation.

Tags: Calves, Lower Body, Plyometrics, Power, Upper Body, Lower Body Push, Football, Volleyball, Plyometric Box, Training, Sports Performance, Strength, Upper Body Push, Basketball


  1. Verstegen, Mark, and Pete Williams. Core Performance: The Revolutionary Workout Program to Transform Your Body and Your Life. Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 2004.
  2. George Dintiman and Bob Ward, co-authors Sports Speed (Human Kinetics Publishers)
  3. Sue Falsone, PT, ATC, CSCS, director of performance physical therapy for Athletes' Performance