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|May 14-20, 2009
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Make you jump, jump
Plyometrics starting to explode
by Joanne Kempinger Demski
Would you like to give your softball opponents a real run for their money? Or maybe just jump a bit higher at that next game of hoops?
It can happen.
Especially if you train the way athletes do, by adding plyometric exercises to your workouts.
These moves, made up of powerful leaps and jumps, can help you perform better playing sports and can also make your body stronger, so you’re less prone to injury, said Robert C. Farentinos, author of “High-Powered Plyometrics: 77 Advanced Exercises for Explosive Sports Training” (Human Kinetics, $19.95).
“Injuries — on all fitness levels — can be prevented through plyometrics because the moves get your body used to fast changes in direction... like cutting back and forth in basketball, darting around on a tennis court or overextending on a golf swing,” he said.
Farentinos is a seven-time national champion in cross-country skiing and was a trainer for the U.S. National Ski Team. He co-authored the book with James C. Radcliffe, head strength and conditioning coach at the University of Oregon.
An example of a plyometric exercise: a jump squat in which you start in a half-squat position then “explode upward” as high and as fast as possible, and return to a half-squat position, then repeat, according to Farentinos.
There are also exercises in which you leap up, and then off, benches, and jump sideways over objects or on the floor.
Most of the more common plyometric exercises involve the lower body, but some work the upper body — pushups in which you burst upward and clap, as well as throwing moves that use medicine balls, according to Lori Witmer, a nationally certified personal trainer.
She said plyometrics, also called “jump training,” is good for some individuals, but not for everyone.
Plyometric training is good for those who have a “good basic foundation of strength” or those with a specific goal in mind, such as improving their performance in sports, she said. Others who can benefit are those in the military, firefighters and police officers because “these people have to be in their best shape. They have to be able to move quickly,” Witmer said.
For some older people, though, it can be stressful on joints and knees.
“As we get older, our muscular skeletal structure gets older, too, and the risks far outweigh the benefits,” Witmer said. “The weight coming down on their joints could be dangerous.”
Because this workout is considered challenging, Witmer said it’s vital to do the moves correctly and safely.
She said they should be done on a surface that is not hard, such as concrete, or slippery, and good shoes are important. Exercisers should also keep their bodies aligned correctly when jumping.
“Don’t let your knees flex forward past your toes... and make sure your weight is in your heels, not your toes,” she said.
What you jump onto — or over — is also an issue.
For those who do plyometric moves in which you leap up onto a bench, Witmer said it’s important to make sure your bench isn’t too high.
“You have to be able to execute the exercise. The bench has to be proportionate to your height. You don’t want to fall or miss the step,” Witmer said. The same holds true when you’re doing side-to-side jumps, she added.
For those just learning the steps, it may be best to try the moves on the floor first, she said.
Witmer, who is 50 and has been involved in teaching fitness classes and personal training for 23 years, said she demonstrates some plyometric moves on the floor for the advanced students in her group fitness classes.
She shows plyometric jacks, for which she bursts upward into the air, and side-to-side leaps. When she demonstrates the advanced
moves, she instructs students to leap and land softly, as if they were landing on a piece of glass.
In addition to these aggressive actions, Witmer said moves we did as children can also be plyometric.
One of her favorites is skipping while using a lot of arm movement.
“It’s a wonderful plyometric,” she said. “It’s simple because we all know how to do it.”
Farentinos said those wanting to start plyometrics should first master basic moves such as the jump squat. Later, workouts can be advanced by doing the same moves over a shorter period.
He explained there are more than a dozen basic moves for both athletes and non-athletes. Once these are mastered, sports-specific exercises can be added.
For example, someone who is involved in tennis, racquetball, squash or handball could do the side hop, in which exercisers leap sideways over cones. In the first few weeks, they would jump a few inches off the floor in three or four sets of six to eight or eight to 10 repetitions. The drills would be done two or three times a week, in conjunction with a strength program, he said.
“You could warm up, do weights, stretches, then plyometrics, then warm down. Or you could do plyometrics by themselves after a warm-up,” Farentinos said.
For a complete workout, add cardio training to plyometrics.
He added that even though this workout tires muscles and increases the heart rate, it’s not considered either a strength or cardiovascular workout.
“It’s a whole different category — it’s a power workout,” he said.
While plyometrics is only recently being seen at gyms, it’s not new.
Farentinos said athletes have been using plyometrics as part of their training programs for centuries. But in the last 40 years, it’s been formalized by fitness professionals, and research has looked at the training.
“Now we understand it better and apply it more effectively,” he added.
Carla Edwards, a sophomore in high school, said she has been doing plyometrics training for three to four months to enhance her high jump.
So far the workout has helped and she’s increased her jump by four inches. “I’m more confident in my jumping ability now. My jumps feel more powerful from this training,” she said.
Edwards said she trains with personal trainer Jeff Lacey for one hour twice a week doing different plyometric drills along with weight training.
She said she plans to continue her workouts and hopes to increase her jump by another four inches.
—(c) 2009, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
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