The amount of time your foot is in contact with the ground is directly proportionate to the speed which you will run and the effort it will take. A light and quick bounce on the ground is much faster and more pleasant than a slow, deliberate plod. It’s therefore surprising that many Coaches don’t do more work with their athletes on speeding up ground contact, particularly when plyometric training is proven to improve performance over middle and long distances.
What Do We Mean By Plyometrics?
Plyometrics is a series of jumps which force the muscles to lengthen and contract at a high speed. Hopscotch is an excellent example of plyometrics.
Why Should Distance Runners Do Plyometrics?
The benefit of plyometrics to triple jumpers or basketballers is obvious in that it gives them more explosive power when jumping off one leg. However, when you think about it, the benefit to runners – even slow ones – is equally obvious: Remember how I’ve written in previous blogs that running was basically a series of continuous hops? Imagine those hops were more powerful – your stride would be quicker and longer, wouldn’t it? If your stride is quicker, your run will take less time and if your stride is longer it will take less effort.
How Do Plyometrics Benefit Runners Exactly?
A lot of joggers/plodders blame their lack of speed on poor ‘fast-twitch’ fibres – the explosive fibres of your muscles which make your limbs move quickly, as opposed to ‘slow-twitch’ fibres which keep them moving for a long time. Plyometrics encourage your body to utilise your fast-twitch fibres more. But don’t worry; you won’t lose your slow-twitch fibres.
Plyometrics develop the elastic energy of your legs. Imagine dropping a golf ball and tennis ball on a concrete floor together. Which would bounce the highest? The answer is the golf ball, because the golf ball spends far less time on the ground as it bounces. If you watch them in slow motion you can see the tennis ball compress as it touches the ground, whereas the golf ball has a hard exterior which means it doesn’t waste any energy as it hits the floor and it bounces to almost the same height from which it’s been dropped.
You might ask – well how about cricket balls, they also have a hard exterior, why don’t they bounce as high as golf balls? The answer is that golf balls contain rubber inside and cricket balls contain cork – and rubber is more bouncy than cork. Plyometrics encourage your legs to bounce like a golf ball as you run. This means you’ll need much less downward effort to achieve the same result – this is a key factor towards giving you a better running economy.
Do Plyometrics Reduce Injury Risk?
Yes. Plyometric exercises strengthen the muscles that protect the anterior cruciate ligament – the knee ligament that is probably most prone to injury. They also increase the range of movement in your ankles which will help you stop twisting and spraining them. Plyometrics are also an alternative to running extra miles if you’re looking to improve your times.
If you’re new to plyometrics, you’d be well advised to approach them cautiously. Ease yourself into plyometric workouts, and always ensure you’re thoroughly warmed up before you start.
Plyometrics are a series of jumps which force the leg muscles to lengthen and contract at a high speed
Plyometric exercises will give you more power in your stride, making it longer and more effortless
Plyometrics will engage your fast twitch fibres and develop the elastic energy of your legs
They can reduce injury risk by; strengthening the muscles which protect the ACL, and increasing the range of movement in your ankles which reduces the risks of sprains
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