Last Updated on January 10, 2019 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
Want to become a faster, stronger runner? Then you absolutely HAVE to do more than simply run all of the time. Cross training, speedwork, and strength training are imperative in ensuring you are the best runner you can be. One of my favorite types of workouts to incorporate into my training regimen is a once a week plyometric session. Plyometrics are typically jumping or dynamic movement exercises, in which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time, with the goal of increasing power (again, speed and strength).
We’re going to get a little science-y for a minute! Not all muscle is created equal. In fact, in our bodies we have three muscle fiber types: slow twitch fibers (Type I), fast oxidative twitch fibers (Type IIA), and fast glycolytic twitch fibers (Type IIB). For sake of keeping this very reader friendly, let’s break it down in easy to understand terms:
Slow oxidative twitch (Type I) contract relatively slowly, and use aerobic respiration (oxygen and glucose) to produce ATP (“energy”). These are the muscle fibers mainly recruited for doing what we love to do best: long, slow, endurance runs (like ultra running). They provide continuous energy, and do not fatigue quickly.
Fast oxidative twitch fibers (Type IIA) fibers contract faster, and primarily use aerobic respiration. However, because they may switch to anaerobic respiration (glycolysis) Type IIA fibers can fatigue faster than slow twitch fibers.
Fast glycolytic twitch (Type IIB) fibers have fast contractions and primarily use anaerobic glycolysis. The FG fibers fatigue more quickly than the others. These are the muscle fibers used for explosive, powerful movements, like sprinting or Olympic lifting.
There is a lot more detail to the how and why of these different muscle fibers, but for the purpose of this post, that’s all you need to know.
NOW, when we go for our long runs, and even our shorter 3-5 mile runs, we’re constantly strengthening those slow twitch muscle fibers. But in order to become faster and stronger, sometimes we need to challenge those fast twitch muscle fibers as well. The most obvious way to do that is through speed work training.
However, for my clients, I also love to incorporate plyometric workouts. Not only do these workouts challenge those fast twitch muscle fibers, but the very nature of the movements is INCREDIBLE for challenging agility, balance, and proprioception (essentially, your body being aware of where it is in space at any given time). All three of these factors are important for allowing you to tackle a gnarly, technical trail without falling.
8 No Equipment Necessary Plyometrics Exercises for Runners
Disclaimer: I am a certified exercise physiologist and running coach. This workout below is a suggestion, and not a specific recommendation. Always consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise program, and always listen to your body to exercise within your own particular fitness abilities.
Begin with some sort of cardiovascular warm up. Run, elliptical, bike, prancercise…it doesn’t matter. Get your heart rate up and get the blood flowing to your muscles to help warm them up before performing any exercise.
Then, work your way down this list of exercises. Perform each exercise for 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds, before moving on to the next exercise. Once you’ve worked your way through all 8 exercises, take a full minute break. Then, repeat the list.
Of course, you can change the interval times to whatever you prefer, and repeat through the workout as many times as you feel comfortable. I find the 20/10 interval to be great for beginners, as it allows you to push hard in a very realistic time frame before becoming too fatigued.
Start in squat position, with feet slightly wider than hip width apart, toes pointed slightly out, butt back and weight in your heels, core held tight and torso/gaze upright. With big, powerful movements, jump into the air pushing up and through the toes. As you land, allow your body to sink into soft knees back into squat position, allowing for a soft landing. Avoid locking knees and slamming back down to the ground.
Channel your inner Apolo Ohno! Take a big lateral jump to the side. Bend your supporting knee as you allow the opposite leg to tuck behind the supporting leg, almost like you are speed skating. Keep your core tight, back flat, and gaze forward.
Start in lunge position. Supporting leg is bent at the knee, at or close to 90 degrees. Try to keep your knee over your heel, and not bending far forward past your toe. With one big powerful movement, jump into the air, bringing your back leg forward, switching lunge sides, and landing on the ground as the supporting leg. Again, land with soft knees, as opposed to slamming your foot into the ground.
Start in squat position, with feet close together, butt back, weight in the heels, and arms tucked in tight. With one big, powerful movement, jump into the air extending both your arms and legs out wide, like you are a star. As your body returns to the ground, tuck everything back in tight. Again, soft knees, soft landing. Bonus points if you yell “I’M A SHOOTING STAR” while you perform this exercise.
In an upright position, “march” as fast as you can in a dynamic fashion. I encourage you to hold your hands out directly in front of you as a target, to try and ensure your knees come up over your hips. The weight in this exercise will be on your toes/forefoot.
Head on down to the ground, and put yourself into plank position. Back is in a neutral position, core is held in tight. Then, hop your feet out wide, then hop them back in. It’s almost as if you are doing a jumping jack…while in a plank. Try to avoid letting your hips/butt creep into the air or sink towards the ground.
Jacks with Floor Touch
This is a fun twist on the standard jumping jack. With this one, when you jump your feet wide, you are going to reach towards/touch the ground. KEEP YOUR CORE TIGHT and back flat throughout this exercise, do not arch your back to reach the ground. If you can’t touch the ground, no worries, just aim your hand towards the floor. Pop your feet back together and stand up to return to starting position.
Ahhh mountain climbers, everyone loves to hate them! Start in plank position, then, run your feet towards your chest, one at a time, as fast as you can. TRY to keep your hips low and back in a neutral position, although the hips will definitely rise to accommodate your knees (especially if you have long legs, like Geoff, below!)
If you give these exercises a try, definitely comment below and let me know how it went!
Do you incorporate plyometrics into your run training? What’s your favorite exercise?