Maximizing Athletic Power with Plyometrics: Key Exercises for Enhanced Performance

Mike Pawlawski
Speed Training
December 18, 2023

Plyometrics training changed the way American athletes performed on the international stage.
Plyometrics training changed the way American athletes performed on the international stage.

My Favorite Way to Train!

I'm going to come right out and say it, I love plyometrics. I was introduced to these intense movements during my college years at Cal, where the magic of human kinetics became a staple in my training. I had learned during high school that putting in hard work in the weight room paid off big dividends as my bench press went from 135 lbs at the beginning of my sophomore year to 335lbs by the time I was done with high school and my squat improved dramatically, from around 185lbs to 435lbs. I understood that hard work and maximal effort would make me a better athlete. But far from just building strength, as I began incorporating plyometrics into my regimen, I got more explosive, faster, improved my lateral movement, increased my vertical jump, and helped me improve performance in my flexibility as well.

As an athlete looking to attain peak performance, plyometrics were an incredible addition to my training. They not only helped me physically but also emotionally, as I accomplished every new goal, whether it was enhancing my tuck jump, box jump, explosive running or broad jump. A great plyometric workout would leave me feeling like a world-beater, which is exactly where you want to be emotionally as a competitive athlete.

The History of Plyometric Training in The USA

Plyometric training, a form of exercise that involves rapid and repeated stretching and contracting of the muscles, is designed to increase muscular power and explosiveness. Often referred to as "jump training" or "plyos," these exercises are a staple in athletic training programs. The underlying mechanism of plyometric exercises is the stretch shortening cycle (SSC), which exploits the muscles' stretch reflex to generate stronger contractions.

The roots of plyometric training can be traced back to the early 20th century in the eastern parts of the world, where these techniques began to take shape. However, it wasn't until the 1950s and 1960s that plyometrics gained recognition, largely through the successes of Soviet athletes in Olympic competitions. The Soviet Olympians' dominance in events requiring explosive power was partly attributed to their incorporation of plyometric exercises into their training regimens.

In the United States, plyometric training was relatively unknown until American coaches and trainers observed the impressive performances of Eastern European athletes, particularly the Soviets, and began to investigate the methods behind their success. The term "plyometrics" itself was coined in 1975 by Fred Wilt, a former Purdue University women's track coach. Wilt observed these athletes performing exercises that involved jumping and rebounding movements, which he then termed "plyometrics" to describe the explosive power they seemed to develop.

Bringing Explosive Training Home

The introduction of plyometric training to American athletes marked a significant shift in sports training paradigms. Coaches and trainers started to incorporate plyometric exercises into their programs to improve the explosive power and agility of their athletes. Plyometric training typically involves a variety of movements such as jumps, bounds, and skips, which are designed to work various muscle groups and improve coordination and speed. These exercises often use the athlete's body weight to provide resistance, making them accessible and convenient for a wide range of sports and skill levels.

One of the key components of plyometric training is its focus on the stretch shortening cycle. The SSC is a natural, elastic response of the muscles and tendons. When a muscle is quickly stretched before a contraction, as in the preparatory phase of a jump, stored elastic energy is created, which can then be released to produce a more powerful movement. This phenomenon is harnessed in plyometric exercises to enhance muscular power.

Putting Our Spin on Plyos

As plyometric training became more popular in the United States, sports scientists and coaches began to refine the techniques to maximize safety and effectiveness. They developed protocols for plyometric exercises and

Plyometric training is your ticket to elevating athletic performance, harnessing the innate power in your muscles through activities that might already be part of your routine. Picture yourself mastering movements like skipping or bounding, activities that not only build strength but are fundamentally geared towards optimizing your muscles' explosive potential. Ideal for athletes, these exercises enhance your ability to execute quick, forceful actions, essential for a broad spectrum of sports.

When you practice plyometric exercises, you’re engaging in a fitness regimen that uses the natural stretch and recoil of muscle tissues to amplify your power. This training takes advantage of a phenomenon known as the stretch-shortening cycle, where your muscles are first stretched, then contracted, to release powerful movements. By alternating between these actions rapidly, you teach your body to summon strength quickly and efficiently, resulting in enhanced muscular power and refined athletic prowess.

Understanding Plyometrics

Plyometrics or plyometric exercises are explosive exercises by nature
Plyometrics or plyometric exercises are explosive exercises by nature

Before diving into the mechanics of plyometric training, it's crucial to grasp the foundational concepts and the intrinsic cycle that enables the significant gains in explosive power they're known to deliver.

Foundations of a Plyometric Training Program

When you engage in plyometric training, you're essentially participating in high-intensity exercises that demand your muscles to exert maximum force in short intervals. Think of activities that propel you off the ground—like jump squats or clap push-ups. These dynamic movements cause your muscles to stretch and contract with more power, and over time, they can enhance your muscle strength, allowing you to perform with more force and speed in your chosen sport.

The Stretch-Shortening Cycle

The stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) is central to understanding how plyometric workouts bolster your power. During plyometric exercises, your muscles go through a quick pre-stretch or loading phase, known as the eccentric phase, where they lengthen under tension. Immediately following this is the amortization phase, a brief moment where the muscle is static before springing into action. Lastly, the concentric phase sees your muscle fibers rapidly shorten to produce a forceful movement. This SSC process trains your muscle tissues and nerves, optimizing performance and power output in explosive, sport-related actions.

The Mechanics of Plyometric Movements

When you engage in plyometric training, you are essentially training your muscles to produce a lot of power quickly. This is achieved through specific muscle contractions and reflexes. Let's break down how this works.

The Three Phases of Plyometric Contraction

Eccentric Phase: This is the initial phase where your muscles lengthen rapidly. It's like winding up for a pitch in baseball or squatting before a jump. During this phase, you're preparing your muscles for the explosive action to come. It’s essential for storing the kinetic energy that you'll use in the third phase.

Amortization Phase: Here's the brief moment between the stretching and contracting of your muscles. Think of it as the calm before the storm. It's very short because any longer would lose the stored energy.

Concentric Phase: This is the final act where all the stored energy is released. Your muscles shortening rapidly generates the explosive movement needed, whether that's in a powerful sprint or a high jump. This phase is where you see the actual plyometric movement - the jump in your jump squat or the push in your push-up.

Let's Do A Box Jump

Here's an example of a box jump and how the process works.

  1. Starting Position: Begin by standing with your feet shoulder width apart in front of a sturdy box or platform that is of an appropriate height for your fitness level. Ensure your knees are slightly bent and you're ready to move.
  2. Eccentric Phase (Loading): Initiate the box jump by entering into a quarter squat, hinging at the hips slightly, and swinging your arms back. This phase involves an eccentric muscle contraction as your muscles lengthen under tension, preparing for the explosive movement.
  3. Transition Phase (Amortization): This brief moment is your transition phase where you switch from the eccentric contraction to the concentric muscle action. It's crucial to minimize the time spent in this phase to maximize the plyometric effect.
  4. Concentric Phase (Explosive Movement): Explosively reverse the motion by performing a concentric muscle contraction of the legs and hips to propel yourself upwards. The concentric contraction is where your muscles shorten as they generate the force needed to push off the ground. Use a powerful arm swing to add momentum and help lift your body as you jump onto the box.
  5. Landing: Aim to land softly on the box with your knees slightly bent to absorb the impact. Your feet should land roughly shoulder width apart to maintain balance and stability.
  6. Finishing the Movement: Stand up straight on the box, fully extending your hips and knees to complete the concentric muscle action.
  7. Return: Step back down to the starting position carefully, resetting your posture and preparing for the next repetition.

Remember, the efficiency and effectiveness of the box jump rely on the seamless integration of these phases, with particular attention to the rapid transition from the eccentric contraction to the powerful concentric muscle contraction.

Muscle Groups and the Myotatic Stretch Reflex

Working across various muscle groups, plyometric exercises not only enhance your strength but also improve coordination. This is in part due to the myotatic stretch reflex, an involuntary response where muscles contract in response to being rapidly stretched. When you perform these exercises, the stretch reflex helps your muscles contract more forcefully and quickly, giving you that explosive power you need on the field or court.

Designing Plyometric Workouts

Squat jumps, box jumps, vertical jumps or any other jump training would fall under the category of lower body plyometrics.
Squat jumps, box jumps, vertical jumps or any other jump training would fall under the category of lower body plyometrics.

When setting up your plyometric workout, you must include exercises that target both your lower and upper body for comprehensive power development. Each exercise should leverage the stretch-shortening cycle to fuel explosive strength and enhance your performance in sports.

Exercises for Lower Body Power

To build lower body power, incorporate movements that require your leg muscles to generate force and extend forcefully. Squat jumps and box jumps, for instance, can significantly enhance your leg strength. These exercises quickly load and release the muscles in your legs, offering an intense workout aimed at increasing speed and power. Tuck jumps are another dynamic option, where you explosively jump upwards, pulling your knees to your chest.

Lower body plyometrics training is a dynamic and powerful form of exercise designed to produce maximal force and maximum power in athletes. This type of training often includes a variety of plyometric exercises that target different muscle groups and enhance overall athletic performance.

For instance, a training session might start with squat jumps, where an athlete rapidly squats and then jumps as high as possible, harnessing the power of their lower body. Depth jumps are another advanced plyometric exercise, where an athlete steps off a box and immediately jumps upward upon landing, which can significantly improve explosive strength.

For those looking to add variety, tuck jumps, where knees are brought to the chest during the jump, and lateral jumps, which involve some type of jumping side to side, provide a comprehensive workout. Jumping rope is a simpler yet effective plyometric exercise that helps with coordination and stamina, while box jumps, where athletes jump onto and down from a sturdy platform, and broad jumps are excellent for developing power.

When combined into a regular exercise program, these plyometric movements can lead to significant improvements in speed, strength, and agility.

Some Lower Body Plyometric Exercises to get you Started

Squat Jump

Box Jump

Lateral Jump

Countermovement Jumps

Exercises for Upper Body Strength

Upper body plyometrics can be just as vital as their lower body counterparts. Plyometric push-ups, including the clap push-up, force your upper body muscles to exert a burst of power to propel you off the ground. This not only strengthens your arms, chest, and shoulders but also engages your core. Additionally, medicine ball throws work effectively to develop explosive arm strength.

Integrating Plyometric Drills in Your Routine

To incorporate plyometric drills into your training, start slowly with lower impact exercises, gradually increasing intensity and complexity.

It's crucial that these workouts are not overused; two to three times per week is sufficient for most athletes. Always ensure sufficient warm-up and cool-down to prevent injury and maximize the benefits of these drills.

Consistent practice will lead to improvements in your speed and power, directly translating to better performance in your sport.

Plyometric Training for Various Sports

Though plyometrics are not a sport specific movement pattern they develop power, improve force production, and improve athletic performance for athletes that use them as part of their training.
Though plyometrics are not a sport specific movement pattern they develop power, improve force production, and improve athletic performance for athletes that use them as part of their training.

Plyometric training bridges the gap between strength and speed. As an athlete, embracing these exercises can significantly boost your dynamic movements, directly translating to better performance in your chosen sport.

Benefits for Team Sports Athletes

Your success in team sports hinges on your ability to execute explosive starts, jumps, and directional changes. Plyometric training equips you with the enhanced muscle power necessary for these sudden, intense bursts of activity.

These exercises, particularly jumps and bounds, condition your body to unleash rapid force, improving your game in sports like basketball, soccer, or football.

Advantages for Track and Field Competitors

Track and field athletes benefit from tailored plyometric routines that target specific movements used in their events.

Sprinters, for instance, can develop quicker starts and more powerful strides.

Hurdle jumpers can see improvements in their takeoff speed and jump height, thanks to the enhanced neuromuscular coordination offered by plyometrics.

These finely-tuned workouts boost your athletic performance on the track, contributing to faster sprints and more effective jumps.

Maximizing Performance and Safety

To achieve maximum benefit from plyometric training without compromising your safety, there are specific strategies you should employ.

By focusing on injury prevention, gradual progression of intensity, and blending plyometrics with strength training, you can boost your performance effectively and safely.

Preventing Injury During Plyometric Sessions

Remember, your primary goal is to train without getting hurt.

To prevent injuries during plyometric exercises, always ensure you're performing on a surface that provides adequate cushioning.

Start with low-impact exercises and gradually increase the intensity. Proper footwear that offers good shock absorption is also crucial to protect your joints.

Progressing Through Plyometric Intensity Safely

Increasing plyometric intensity too quickly is a common mistake. Progress should be incremental to allow your body to adapt. Begin with simpler movements and, as your strength and technique improve, introduce more complex exercises. Keep the volume of repetitions low to high; this helps maintain a high quality of movement and reduces the risk of injury.

Balancing Plyometrics with Strength Training

While plyometrics can significantly enhance your power, they should not replace strength training. Incorporate plyometrics into your routine strategically, balancing them with regular strength exercises. This combination leads to better overall muscle development and performance, as strength training prepares your muscles for the high-impact demands of explosive movements.

Advanced Plyometric Techniques

When you're ready to take your plyometric training to the next level, it's important to focus on techniques that challenge your body in new and dynamic ways. These advanced methods aren't just about jumping higher or farther; they're tailored to enhance your athletic performance with more sophisticated movements.

Complex Movements for Seasoned Athletes

If you've been practicing plyometrics and have mastered the basics, it's time to introduce complex movements into your regimen. These multi-part exercises will not only test your vertical jump and power training, but also improve your force development essential for high-level sports performance.

For example, imagine performing a jump squat with an added lateral twist to mimic game-like movement patterns. This isn't just about higher jumps; it's about integrating various muscle groups to work together more efficiently.

Sports-Specific Plyometric Programs

The true value in advanced plyometrics is found within training specificity. It means making your plyometric exercises reflect the movements and demands of your specific sport to improve your functional power.

For instance, a basketball player could benefit from a routine focused on repeated vertical leaps to simulate rebounding, while a soccer player might perform plyometric side lunges for better lateral field movement.

By aligning the explosive and quick movements of your exercises with the actions in your sport, you'll notice significant enhancements in how you play.

Plyos Can Help You in Your Sports Performance too

Here are a few examples of how plyometric exercises can help you in your sport.

1. Basketball


  • Vertical Jump: Plyometrics can significantly improve an athlete's vertical leap, which is crucial for rebounding, shot-blocking, and dunking.
  • First-Step Quickness: Quick plyometric drills enhance an athlete's ability to explode from a stationary position, which is vital for breaking away from defenders or closing down on defense.
  • Endurance: Repeated plyometric exercises can help basketball players maintain their explosive power throughout the game.

2. Soccer


  • Kicking Power: Plyometrics strengthen the muscles used in kicking, which can increase the force and distance a player can shoot or pass the ball.
  • Agility: Soccer requires quick changes of direction; plyometric training can improve an athlete's ability to rapidly change direction while maintaining speed.
  • Endurance and Speed: Soccer players often benefit from the improved muscular endurance and sprint speed that result from plyometric exercises, aiding in both defensive and offensive plays.

3. Track and Field (Sprinters and Jumpers)


  • Explosive Starts: For sprinters, plyometric drills can enhance the explosive power needed for the initial burst out of the blocks.
  • Jump Height and Distance: Jumpers can see improvements in the height of their high jumps or the distance of their long jumps due to the increased leg power from plyometrics.
  • Running Economy: Plyometric training can improve running mechanics and efficiency, which is beneficial for middle and long-distance runners.

4. Volleyball


  • Spiking Power: The explosive power generated through plyometric training can help volleyball players spike the ball with more force.
  • Block Jumping: Plyometrics can improve the height and speed of a player's jump when blocking at the net.
  • Defensive Moves: The quick, explosive movements practiced in plyometrics can enhance a player's ability to make rapid defensive adjustments.

5. American Football


  • Tackling/Blocking/Running Power: Plyometric training can increase overall power output as well as enhancing overall muscular strength and speed, helping you bring more power to the party no matter what your position
  • Acceleration: Football players can benefit from improved acceleration, allowing them to reach top speeds more quickly, which is crucial for outrunning opponents or closing the gap on defense.
  • Lateral Movement: Plyometric exercises that focus on side-to-side movement can significantly improve a player's ability to perform quick lateral cuts, an essential skill for evading tackles and enhancing defensive positioning.
  • Sprinting Speed: Through plyometrics, athletes can develop faster sprinting speeds, which is critical for wide receivers to create separation from defenders, and for defensive players to keep up with fast-moving offensive players.

Frequently Asked Questions About Plyometrics

Before you start adding plyometrics to your training regimen, it's important to have a clear understanding of what they entail and how to approach them safely. Below you'll find targeted information to dispel any confusion and ensure that you are both mentally and physically ready for plyometrics.

Common Concerns and Misconceptions

You might have heard that plyometrics are only for elite athletes, but that's not strictly true. While professionals use them to enhance performance, these exercises can benefit anyone looking to increase their power and explosiveness.

One misconception is that plyometrics are detrimental to your joints because of the impact involved. However, when done correctly and with proper form, the risk is minimized. Your body weight plays a significant role in how much stress is placed on your joints during plyometrics, so starting with lower impact exercises is key to building up your tolerance.

Assessing Readiness for Plyometric Exercises

Before you leap into plyometric workouts, it's critical to assess whether you're ready for this kind of activity. It's not just about how fit you are – you need good coordination, stability, and strength as a foundation. Rehabilitation professionals might recommend plyometrics as part of your recovery process to rebuild power and function. If you're new to plyometrics or coming off an injury, consult with a trained professional who can advise on when and how you should incorporate these exercises into your training.