The 7 Best Plyometric Exercises for Runners

I started doing plyometric training years ago when I discovered it by going through a P90X program—a defining moment of my fitness life. In fact, Tony Horton has changed my life and the way I see fitness. Drastically.

So what is plyometric training? How can it help you become a better a runner? And which plyo exercises should you be doing?

Keep on reading for the answers…

What is plyometric training?

Plyometric training is a high-velocity movement that relies on power generated through what is called the “stretch-shortening cycle.” This is the definition I found on the Runner’s World magazine website, and the first time I read that, I felt intimated and a bit perplexed in spite of my years of doing plyo training.

But fret no more, I’m not the theory guy, and by the end of this post, you’ll not only understand what plyo training is all about, but also have the exact plyometric routine you need to help you run farther, faster and with less fatigue.

(If you don’t want to learn more about plyo theory, then just skip the next paragraphs and head straight to the training routine).

The Exact Definition

The brainchild of Russian Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky (about 40 years ago) plyometric movements, also known as explosive or jump exercise is a general term that’s usually used to describe and refer to any sort of explosive, jumping exercise.

This form of training forces the muscles to lengthen and contract over and over again at maximum speed.

With consistent plyo training, you can increase the force you can produce with each movement, therefore, improve upon all of your athletic endeavors, whether it’s weight training, basketball, MMA, or running.

Plyometrics for Runners

Running is, in its basic form, an extended series of hops from one leg to the other. Not convinced? Just take a look at your gait next time you go for a run.

With plyometric training, you can isolate and intensify the jumping element in your running, therefore, boost running performance without logging in more mileage.

The majority of plyometric exercises that are a must for runners are the kind of plyo moves that improve push-off power, ankle range of motion, increase stride length and improve overall cardiovascular conditioning.

That’s why adding plyometric exercises into your training program can help you increase speed and run more efficiently.

Not convinced yet?

Sure this may sound far-fetched from the truth, but there is sound scientific proof and research backing this claim.

And here are a few studies.

The Benefits

Study I

A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that runners who opted for a 6-week plyometric training routine improved their 2400m race times by roughly 4 percent.

According to the research, this improvement is the results of increased lower body power and explosiveness, which is the baseline on which top speed is maintained throughout a run.

This can also racers finish strong in the final stretch.

Study II

Plyometric training improves running economy more than lifting weights, according to an 8-week study conducted at the University of Montreal.

If you are not convinced yet, you can always do your own research. In fact, I encourage you to do so.

When to add a plyo session

Please keep in mind that plyo training is high impact training. Not only that, it also require a base level of general endurance and strength.

As a result, if you are a beginner, then take at least two to three months to build the foundation by working on your overall endurance and strength before adding explosive training into your training program.

Add a plyo session once you have a solid foundation of cardio (you can run up a half an hour without losing your breath), and strength (Do at least 8 weeks of bodyweight training, think squats, pushups, planks, core and leg work) before you proceed to plyometric training.

In the beginning, you might only do a 5- to 10-minute circuit once a week for a couple of months before you up the ante. It’s really up to you and your fitness level.

For instance, if you are running three times a week, do one plyo session and use the other remaining days for total body strength and core training.

Start with three sets of 10 to 12 reps of each exercise, then gradually increase the number of repetitions and sets as you get stronger.

Proper form, please

And please bear in mind, that like any other form of training, proper execution is where the rubber meets the road.

So make sure to do the exercises with the right form at all times.

That’s why I have included video tutorials (the best YouTube has to offer) along with sound and practical tips on how to develop and keep good training form.

The Plyometric Exercises Workout Routine

Here are the seven plyo moves you need to do.

1. Jump squats

Ideal for strengthening the glutes, which can provide you with power on the run and reduce the risks of overuse injuries like runner’s knee and IT band syndrome. This move also works the quads, hamstring, calves and most core muscles.

Proper form

Start with your feet turned out slightly, toes pointing forward, arms extended and back straight.

Next, squat down until your butt is just lower than your knees, then press up through the heels jumping off the ground as high as possible, then land softly without letting your knees fall in toward each other, then descend into the next squat. That’s one rep.

Do 12 to 15 reps to complete one set. Aim for two to three sets.

2. Burpees

There is a reason why this move is the baseline most CrossFit WODs: it delivers.

The burpee is total body conditioning per excellence. This is one of the best exercises for the core muscles, thighs, shoulder, arms, and chest—and if you only have 5 minutes of free time for plyo training, then do the burpees, please.

Proper Form

Assume a feet hip-width apart stance, then bend your knees and place your hands on the floor.

Next, while you transfer all of your weight into your hands, jump your feet back so that you end up in a push-up position. Then, bring your knees to your chest, assuming a low squat position, and press up and jump as high as you can with hands overhead, feet going airborne.

Clap your hands overhead for more challenge (and sound effect!).

Without delay, hit the ground again to perform the next burpee.

3. Jumping lunge

This is one of the most running-specific exercises you can do since jumping lunges target all of your running muscles in the most efficient and explosive way.

Proper Form

Begin in lunge position, weight distributed equally on both legs

Next, jump straight up into the air as high as possible, reversing the position of the legs and landing with your feet in the opposite positions, then immediately lower down into a deep lunge.

Make sure to land with a good lunge from—knees behind or in line with the toes—and to use your arms to help you jump higher.

Do three sets of 12 to 16 reps, alternating sides on each jump.

4. Side hops

This plyometric exercise works all of your lower body muscles, including your hamstrings, glutes, calves, and quads—all key muscles for running and most of athletic activities.

Proper Form

Start by standing on your right foot with your right knee slightly bent and your left foot up.

Next, begin hopping on the right foot as fast as you can with minimum ground contact. Imagine that you are jumping over a set of hot coals.

Hop in one place for 12 times, then hop side to side for 12 time then hop forward and backward for another 12 times.

That’s one set. Aim for two to three sets on each foot.

Make sure to keep your hips steady and nearly motionless through the exercise. Do not move them up or down.

5. Single Leg Lateral Jumps

Along with increasing power in the legs, this plyo move also improves balance. Plus, this plyo moves boosts ankle strength and stability as well as control and proprioception, which is your own sense of the relative position of your body and strength of effort being employed in each movement.

Proper Form

Begin standing on your right foot with your left knee slightly bent and left foot off the ground. Then, drop into a half squat and jump diagonally as high as you can to your left, landing in a half squat on your left foot.

Repeat, jumping diagonally while engaging the whole core to your right. That’s one rep. if this is too easy for you, then do it with eye closed.

Aim for at least 10 reps, and aim for three sets.

6. Box Jumps

These build explosive speed, rev up your body’s ability to absorb force, and they target the muscles that contract the most when running, the hamstrings and glutes.

Proper Form

Pick a jumping box of challenging height or stack aerobics steps 6 to 14 inches high. Just be careful here.

From the ground, squat downward and jump with two feet onto the box, swinging your arms forward to generate enough momentum.

Next, jump backward off the box, and land softly on the ground with knees slightly bent.

That’s one rep.

For more challenge, jump onto the box on one leg.

Do 12 reps aiming to complete three sets.

7. Bleacher hops

Another powerful exercise to add to your arsenal. This one works you on all level.  It’s also a great cardiovascular and endurance exercises—just like hill sprint on steroids.

Proper Form

Find a set of steps—whether at the nearby park or at your local high school stadium, stadium or even a building with a large flight of stairs—then with feet shoulder width apart,  hop up the steps with both feet together and as fast as you can with no breaks until you reach the top.

Next, walk back down and repeat.

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Here you have it

I hope you enjoyed reading my post, and you are serious about adding a plyometric workout into your training schedule so you can become the best runner you can be.

Please share with us some of your favorite moves in the comments section.

Thank you for reading my post

David Dack.

Featured Image Credit – J.Stephan through Flickr.

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