by Ryan Unverzagt
Spring is in the air and hopefully all those heavy snow storms will be a distant memory. April is one of my favorite months because the weather is usually making a turn for the better (my birthday is in April too!). If you like the warmer weather, chances are you will be spending much more time outside, which means less time at the health club; but don’t let your fitness routine melt away like the winter snow!
If you are a weekend warrior who loves to compete in various sports throughout the year, or just an Ordinary Joe who’s looking for something new, you should consider adding plyometrics to your exercise program. Plyometrics is a form of jump training that has been proven to increase the muscle’s ability to produce power. Why is this important? An increase in power results in an increase in speed, strength, or a combo of the two, which means you will have an advantage over your competition and be lighter on your feet. Another benefit of plyometric training is it can be performed outside (where it will soon be nice) with minimal equipment needed.
There are a few things to remember before even trying plyometric exercises – age, strength, body weight, previous injuries and training experience. Because of the intense nature of plyometrics, the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA) recommends a lower-body strength prerequisite before starting any jump training. A person must be strong enough to free-weight squat at least 1.5 times their own body weight. For example, a 180 lb person must be able to squat a minimum of 270 lbs! Don’t worry; you will need about six months of progressive resistance training to reach this strength guideline.
The minimum age requirement depends on the physical and mental maturity level of the adolescent. Please check with your family physician to help determine if your child is physically ready to start with basic plyometric training. The maximum age relies heavily on current health conditions such as obesity, arthritis, or past joint surgeries. Several studies have shown that low-level plyometrics can help increase bone density in older participants.
The NSCA recommends those who weigh more than 220 lbs should not depth jump from a height higher than 18 inches. Depth jumps are one of the most advanced techniques in which a person stands on a higher surface, steps off, lands on a lower surface and jumps as high as possible. This should only be performed after a solid strength base and previous training experience has been established.
Besides having a solid strength base, you must also have great technique, especially upon landing from a jump. Most injuries happen during the landing and rarely on the take off. Landing mechanics need to focus on proper foot placement and flexion of the hips, knees and ankles. Foot placement should be shoulder-width apart with hips flexed about 130 degrees, knees flexed to 110 degrees, and ankles flexed about 75 degrees. I always teach my clients to “land softly” as to absorb the impact by pushing the hips back and flexing the knees, similar to sitting in a chair. Your torso should be leaned slightly forward at the waist with good posture in the low back. Avoid slamming your feet down on the landing surface. A correct landing should be as quiet as a mouse.