Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Plyometrics: Becoming A Stronger Runner

Hurdle Drill
As a runner, it's easy to get caught in the trap of doing nothing but running for workouts.  We're kind of conditioned to think that at all cost we must get our mileage in.  Plus, the idea of injuring ourselves doing something other than running is enough to make us stick to the road putting one foot in front of the other.

But this summer I wanted to be in the best shape of my life to attempt the fastest marathon of my life in the fall.  So I decided to add more mileage per week, a little more core work before runs, extra leg workouts with and without weights, and Plyometric work one day a week.  Each of those different aspects definitely increased my overall fitness level - but by far, the Plyometric work made me more of a complete athlete from head to toe.

Plyometrics are exercises designed to improve strength and stability with short and quick explosive and powerful movements.  These exercises are typically performed by athletes who need these movements for sports like football, basketball, and the greatest sport of all ... baseball.  They're designed to improve our "fast-twitch" muscle fibers, or
Box Jumps (without a box)
 the muscles that fire very quickly for fast movements. These muscle fibers are utilized more by sprinters as opposed to distance runners.

Distance runners, on the other hand, use "slow-twitch" muscle fibers, or the muscles that are conditioned to use oxygen more efficiently.  These muscles are longer and leaner and are conditioned to repeat a motion for long periods of time, such as running a marathon.

The two key things that Plyometrics did for me were this:

1) It taught my old legs and tired body a few new movements other than running forward in a straight line.  Distance runners are very strong in one direction, but introduce side-to-side motion and we topple like a house of cards.  Teaching my muscles these new movements created muscle confusion and allowed new growth.

2) It increased balance and joint health.  I'll admit, the first couple of times I did the exercises my ankles, knees, and hips weren't very happy with me.  There's quite a bit of jumping and landing and I didn't do very well with the jarring.  But I took it slow, and over time the small connective muscles and tissue became stronger improving balance and stability.  Most importantly, I noticed that as I strengthened these smaller muscles, I felt better after long runs.

Power Skipping Drills
Typically I do Plyo work on Sunday afternoons at a local Jr. High Track as part of my second workout for the day.  It takes a lot of focus to do them correctly without injuring myself because I'm usually pretty tired from a long run the previous day.  Here are some of the main Plyometric exercises I do:

Box Jumps - Standing in front of an elevated surface and jumping up on it with both feet

Standing Broad Jump - Just like in elementary school, jumping forward as far as you can with both feet

Single Leg Jumps - Hopping on one leg straight ahead for about 30 seconds, and then the other

Lateral Shuffle - In a crouched position moving laterally in one direction for about 30 yards, and then the other

Hurdle Drill - In a rhythmic motion, lifting each leg over hurdles that are lined up in one direction, and then the other

Power Skipping - Skipping just like a kid but bringing the knees high and extending the motion much further

Stairs - Several reps of up and down the stadium stairs (not really Plyo - but it's a good butt exercise)

Karaoke - Lateral movement crossing one leg over the other while rolling your hips

Fast Feet - Simultaneously alternating your feet on an elevated surface in front of you, almost like you are quickly kicking it with each foot, as fast as you can

I also do quite a few other hopping drills from side-to-side to increase foot speed and ankle strength.  Basically hopping back and forth over a line side-to-side, and over small objects in various patterns and motions.

The one bit of caution I would offer if you don't already incorporate Plyometrics into your workout is TAKE IT SLOWLY!!!  If you're like me, you haven't used a lot of these muscles since high school football ... or maybe never.  It's a good way to hurt yourself and stop your running completely for a while.  But for me, Plyometrics have increased my overall strength, and while improving my agility and balance, I've become a better runner.
... be great today!


  1. I never rally worried about that kind of stuff until I got injured this year and now I am paying way more attention to all my other muscles!

  2. Sometimes we do plyo drills before track as a warm up and they always make me realize how inflexible and weak I am ;/

  3. amen!!!i just started back up plyos yesterday!

  4. Thanks! I need to do something more than run!

  5. Very impressive! I do core and upper body work for ultras but other than that I only run.

  6. Rockstar! Cross training is the best for running. That looks intense!

  7. strength training, including plyo, has made HUGE improvements in my running this year. good stuff!

  8. I too have added some plyo work and boot camp (lunges, squats, push-ups, etc.) this summer/fall. I realize more and more that, for me, it's critical in getting to "my" next level.

    I really just want to run, but I know I must do yoga, strength work, plyos, etc. to be my best.


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