Plyometric exercise is a method of exercise that uses speed, strength and coordination to help improve functional activities. It is usually used if you had an injury and are returning to high-demand work or athletic activities.
Plyometrics is also known as stretch-shortening training since the muscles quickly move from a stretched position to a shortened position and back again. Since this method of exercise puts excessive stress on the body, it is only used during the later parts of your physical therapy program, after significant healing has taken place and when you are returning to demanding activities.
The simplest way to understand plyometrics is to think about jumping types of exercises. For example, quickly hopping onto and off a platform or box is a form of plyometric exercise. During the jumping exercise, the muscles of your legs are forced to react quickly and move rapidly from a shortened position to a stretched position.
Plyometric training can be used in the legs and arms. For the legs, activities like jumping, cutting, starting and stopping while running all have a plyometric component to them. In the arms, activities like throwing, swinging a golf club or baseball bat, or setting a volleyball all require plyometrics.
Benefits of plyometrics include:
- Improved coordination
- Improved stress and load tolerance in the body
- Improved reaction time
Remember that plyometric exercise is an advanced form of exercise and is used only during the late stages of your rehabilitation. If you start plyometric training too early in the healing process, you may cause re-injury or a repetitive strain injury.
When starting plyometric type exercises, make sure that you have good range of motion (ROM) and strength in the body parts that are to be trained. Your physical therapist can measure your ROM and strength and offer suggestions to ensure safety during plyometrics. Be sure to follow the advice of your doctor or physical therapist before starting any plyometric exercises.
A few guidelines should be followed to ensure safety.
- Be sure that the activity you are performing mimics the functional activity you wish to return to. For example, if you wish to return to basketball after an ankle fracture, you would start plyometric exercises that include jumping.
- Be sure that an appropriate amount of muscle strength and endurance has been achieved before starting plyometrics.
- Always warm up before starting plyometric exercises.
- The exercise should be performed as quickly as possible to improve reaction time and agility.
- Start plyometric exercises bilaterally. That is, in the lower body, both legs should do the exercise together; in the upper body both arms do the exercise. Progress to single leg or arm plyometrics after the exercises feel easier.
- Resistance may be added with weights or rubber tubing, but caution should be used to prevent injury from using too much resistance.
Plyometrics can be an excellent form of exercise to improve power, strength, muscular endurance and reaction time. If you are planning to return to high-level athletics or work activities, plyometric training can help ensure that you are ready to proceed to normal function.
If you have suffered an injury, be sure to ask your doctor or physical therapist if plyometric training is appropriate in your rehabilitation program.
After my knee surgery, I performed plyometric exercises that required me to jump and hop rapidly. This helped prepare me to return to running normally.