There are many ways to be a faster runner. However, there are some that take a lot of effort and return only marginal gains. What we should often looked for, are changes to what you can do that are small in themselves but when done consistently they return big results. Enter Plyometrics...... or jumping/bounding for speed.
Many of you embarked on our challenge which had an aspect of skipping to it. Not only was this beneficial to your cardio system, but it worked specific muscles in the legs repetitively making them stronger and less prone to injury. Skipping is classed as a plyometric exercise.
Plyometric exercises and drills decrease the reaction time of the nervous system in response to external stimuli. This allows the muscles to contract faster in order to prevent falling or twisting an ankle. The technique was first used during the 1960's and 70's by eastern European athletes, who organised hopping and jumping techniques into specific plyometric drills. As the athlete plants their foot before jumping, the muscle that will produce the jump is stretched. As the muscle contracts, the pre-stretched energy is released, producing kinetic energy (movement) which enhances muscle power. By doing plyometric drills the time taken for the stretch to be converted into kinetic energy is decreased. The result is a faster muscle contraction and a quicker recovery when carrying things out such as running up a hill, sprint finishing, cycling more powerfully etc. So as well as skipping your way to fastness, here are one or two other types of exercises a runner can do to supplement their training. Let it be your secret weapon!
Where do I start?
Before initiating plyometric activities there must be a sound strength base, otherwise the risk of injury is increased. No one should dive in at the deep end, having never done any strength work and expect their muscles to hold up against repeated contractions.
As a general rule of thumb an athlete should be comfortable in squatting 60% of their body weight, at a rate of 5 repetitions in 5 seconds, before the plyometric exercises below are carried out. They should also be able to stand on one leg with eyes both open and shut, for 30 seconds and should be able to long jump the distance of approximately their own height. If you are pretty confident that you can tick these boxes, then you have a sound strength base and plyometrics is for you.
The plyometric exercises are as described below:
1 Quick feet drills
Quick feet drills can be done using a rope ladder or markings on the floor. Dashing through the ladder by going forward is good for runners. Lateral (sideways) movements are functional for most team sports such as football, basketball etc.
The progression is to multi-directional patterns using the rope ladder, moving from left to right while contacting each square with both feet…then back, from right to left…continuing the sideways pattern. Note the muscle work in the quads to control the movement. This lateral exercise puts a controlled load through the collateral ligaments of the knees and ankles. You will be surprised at how this also raises your heart rate quickly.
2 Forward jump drills
Double footed forward jumps (x3) over a 30cm barrier. (eg a cane/ribbon across two cones)
After some practice, the three barriers should be cleared as quickly as possible. The progression of this exercise is to do it using one leg and again, after some practise, the hurdles should be cleared as quickly as possible.
3 Cross jump drills
Cross jumps help to train power. The starting position is with one leg in front and the other behind. Power is generated through a vertical jump with the front leg moved back and the back leg moved forward to land:making a quick switch over in the air. It’s the equivalent of the lunge squats we do in our hiit videos.
4 Box jump drills
Those of you familiar with Crossfit will know all about the box jump. Double footed box jumps encourage explosive power and the use of the arms to help generate force. The height of the box denotes the explosive power one has to jump on it.
The knees are tucked in as the box is cleared and the landing is controlled by eccentric muscle work.
Consecutive box jumps can be undertaken using a sequence of boxes in a row. The jumps can be modified so the player lands on the box, then off the box, then back on, then off again.
The same exercise can be done on one leg.
5 Multi-directional jump drills using a trampette or BOSU ball.
The progression from straight line jumps, is multi-directional jumps and, as an advanced exercise, multi-directional jumps can be done on one leg.
Using a trampette, on one leg, hops off and then back on, then off again, moving round the trampette in a multidirectional fashion.
How long should I do these for?
For all the different exercises choose a set number of reps for a specific amount of time.
Eg. 5 reps of 30 seconds depending on the intensity of the feeling in the muscle, or 3 to 5 lots of 10 reps each. Set something achieveable. You might just concentrate on one particular exercise.
Set yourself a target of doing them 3 times a week. Don’t overdo it. You are aiming to enhance your fitness, not trying to accrue an injury or fatigue.
After a while your calves should feel great. In the last section of your longer runs, you should feel fresher in the lower legs, as well as noticing more of an explosive push-off the ground within your shorter runs. Hope that's something to think about.