The Ultimate Plyometrics Training Plan for Trail and Ultra Runners

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Cross Training For Runners
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David Dack

Are you ready to elevate your trail running game? Plyometrics might just be your secret weapon.

Think about the unique challenges of trail and ultra running – the unpredictable terrain, the relentless hills, and the sheer endurance needed for those long stretches. It’s a whole different ballgame compared to road running, isn’t it?

This is where plyometric exercises come into play. They’re not just about jumping around; they’re about building the kind of strength, power, and agility that make those steep inclines, rugged descents, and uneven terrains feel ALMOST like a walk in the park.

How come? Simple.  Plyometrics improve balance, coordination, and the ability to respond quickly and efficiently – all essential for mastering the technicalities of trail running.

In today’s deep dive, I’m going to share the full guide to plyometrics for trail runners. We’ll explore the benefits, understand the science behind it, and most importantly, discover how it can transform your trail running experience.

Ready to run trails like never before? Let’s jump right in!

Understanding Plyometrics

Ever watched a rabbit hop effortlessly or a kangaroo bound across the terrain? That’s the kind of explosive power and agility plyometrics can bring to your running game.

Plyometrics, or “plyos” as they’re affectionately known, are all about rapid muscle stretching and contracting, like springing and rebounding.

When you engage in these exercises, you’re tapping into the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). It’s a bit like pulling back a slingshot – the muscle ‘loads’ up with potential energy and then releases it explosively. This action cranks up the power output of your muscles.

Let me give you an analogy. Imagine your nervous system as a high-speed internet connection. Plyometrics help enhance this connection, making it faster and more efficient. This means your brain can send signals to your muscles quicker, engaging more muscle fibers, and doing it more effectively.

What’s more?

Plyometric exercises train your muscles to store and release energy like a tightly wound spring. This ability leads to more dynamic, powerful movements, giving you that extra ‘oomph’ in everything you do.

Why Plyometrics for Trail and Ultra Runners

For the trail and ultra-running warriors, the wild outdoors is your arena. But with the thrill of the rugged terrain comes a unique set of challenges, and that’s where plyometrics jump in (quite literally) to save the day. These dynamic exercises aren’t just about building muscle; they’re about crafting a body that’s as resilient and adaptable as the trails you conquer.

My journey into the world of plyometrics started after a particularly challenging trail run. A fellow runner, who effortlessly glided up steep hills, introduced me to these dynamic exercises. Since then, the transformation in my trail running was like night and day.

Here’s how plyometric improve your trail running game:

  • Enduring the Long Haul. Ultra distances test your endurance to the max. It’s not just your heart and lungs that need to endure; your muscles must be up for the long, grueling journey too. Plyometrics build muscular endurance, giving you the strength to keep going mile after mile.
  • Mastering Elevation Changes. Those breathtaking (quite literally) ascents and descents are no joke. They demand powerful legs for the uphill battles and controlled, strong muscles for downhill treks. Plyometrics help in building these very muscles, turning you into an efficient climbing and descending machine.
  • Boosting Explosive Power. Think of your legs as coiled springs, ready to launch you over obstacles and up steep paths. Plyometric training increases your muscles’ power and speed, making every leap and bound more efficient and effective.
  • Enhancing Balance and Stability. The unpredictable trail terrain is a balancing act, quite literally. Plyometrics improve your coordination and balance, key for staying upright and steady on the most rugged paths.
  • Agility on Varied Surfaces. From slippery mud to loose gravel, trail surfaces keep you guessing. Plyometrics train your body to react swiftly and adapt to these ever-changing conditions, enhancing your agility and reactive strength.

The Importance of Form

The first time I tried plyometric exercises like jump squats, I felt clumsy. But, it reminded me of playing hopscotch as a kid – simple yet exhilarating. Gradually, these exercises became a staple in my routine, adding a spring to my steps.

Here’s the lowdown on perfecting your plyo form:

  • Knees and Toes Alignment: Keep those knees behind your toes when you move. It’s like driving a car – your toes are in the driver’s seat, and your knees are just along for the ride. This alignment keeps your knees happy and healthy.
  • Core Engagement: Your core is your powerhouse. Keep it tight and your back flat, like a sturdy plank of wood. It’s the anchor that keeps your body stable when you’re bursting into action.
  • Heel Power: Ready to jump? Start by sinking into your heels. It’s like loading a spring – coiling up all that energy and then BOOM! You’re in the air. Remember to land softly, using those muscles as natural shock absorbers.
  • Quality Over Quantity: Don’t cheat your jumps. Plyometrics isn’t a high-jump contest. Focus on nailing each move with control and precision. It’s about making each jump count.
  • Footwork: Land on the balls of your feet, not flat-footed. It’s a bit like tiptoeing but with more oomph. This helps in absorbing shock and makes your movements more dynamic.
  • Ninja Landings: Aim to land as softly as a ninja – quiet and controlled. It’s not just about being stealthy; it’s about protecting your joints and showing off your awesome control.

Key Plyometric Exercises for Trail and Ultra Runners

Here’s a guide to some of the best exercises, designed to improve your running performance on trails.

Dumbbell Squat Jumps

Begin by grabbing a pair of dumbbells and holding them so that your palms are facing the midline of your body while your feet are hip-width apart.

Keeping your chest raised and your spine long, lower your butt down to a full squat position, then explosively press your feet into the ground and jump as high as you can.

Land softly with knees bent, then immediately squat down and jump again.

Medicine Ball Slam

Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart and the medicine ball held directly overhead or tucked behind your head.

Reach back as far as you can, then explosively swing your arms downward to slam the ball to the floor in front of you as hard as you can.

Squat down, pick up the ball, and repeat as fast as you can without losing form.


Begin by standing with feet shoulder-width apart.

Lower slightly into a squat by bending your knees and hips, then jump forward and land softly in an athletic position facing the opposite direction (that’s your 180 degrees).

Immediately explode upward and turn 180 degrees in the opposite direction so that you’ve returned to your starting position.

Bench Taps

For this exercise, you can use a bench, box, or a chair if that’s all you have.

Begin by standing in front of a bench with feet shoulder-width apart and your hands on your hips or by your sides.

Keeping your core engaged and back flat, rapidly alternate tapping the top of the bench with each foot while staying light on the toes for extra agility.

Perform 30 to 40 taps.

Skier Jumps

Begin in plank position, body in a straight line from head to heels and feet together.

While activating your core, thigh, and gluteal muscles, jump your feet toward the outer side of the right arm (keeping the feet together), hop back to the starting position, then jump the feet into the left side.

Continue jumping in and out from side to side as fast as possible for one full minute to complete one set.

Lateral Plyo Jumps

To improve your agility and explosive power, do the lateral plyometric jumps (and other plyometric exercises such box jumps, jump knee tucks, lateral leapfrog squats, and hurdle jumps)

Start with a short box or a step next to you that you can clear in one lateral jump.

Dip into a squat position as low as you can and quickly explode upward and sideways to the left over the box and land gently on both feet.

Immediately squat down and push upward and back to the starting position.

Weighted Box Jumps

Stand in front of a sturdy jump box or a weight bench while holding a dumbbell in each hand by the sides.

lower into a quarter squat, then jump off with both feet and land softly with bent knees on top of the box, then come to a standing position.

Last up, step down slowly, and jump back again as fast as possible while keeping good form.

Plyometric Push-up

Begin by assuming a regular pushup position on a well-padded mat or carpet, arms fully extended, hands around shoulder width and body in a straight line from head to toe.

Set up in the standard push-up position on a well-padded carpet or exercise mat, perform a push-up, but explode off the ground enough for their hands to come off the floor and clap midair.

Next, lower the chest to the ground, push up explosively with enough force for the hands to come off the floor and catch some air, then land softly.

Once you hit the floor, have them go immediately into the next push-up, exploding up again as hard as possible.

Frog Jumps

Stand tall, feet hip-width apart, then squat down while keeping your back upright, head u.

Then jump into the air, raising your knees as high as possible.

Aim for 10-12 reps to complete one rep.

Alternating Split Lunges

Assume a split lunge position with the right foot forward, and the left knee is almost touching the ground.

While keeping the shoulders pulled back and back flat, jump as high as possible, scissoring the legs mid-air, and landing in a lunge with the left leg forward.

Then, explode back up and switch feet position, ending up with the right leg forward again.

Continue by alternating legs as fast as possible with good form.

Lateral Hops

Begin by standing on the left foot with the left knee slightly bent or micro bent and right foot an inch or two off the ground.

Next, jump off the left leg and move laterally to the right.

Land on the right foot and bring the left foot behind the right, pause for a moment, and then immediately hop back off to the left, landing on the left foot.

That’s one rep.

Do 12 to 16 reps to complete one set.

Creating a Plyometric Routine for Trail and Ultra Runners

Balancing plyometrics with running was crucial. I remember doing a plyo session right after a long run once, and boy, was that a mistake!

Learning from that, I started scheduling my plyometric workouts more strategically, ensuring they complemented rather than competed with my running sessions.

The trick lies in finding the sweet spot between frequency, duration, and intensity, and weaving these exercises into your overall training regime.

Let’s break down how to do this effectively:

  • Starting Point: Kick things off with one plyometric session per week, especially if you’re new to this type of training. As your body gets more comfortable and stronger, feel free to ramp it up to two sessions weekly.
  • Session Duration: Keep each session within the 20-30 minute range. Remember, it’s all about the quality and effectiveness of the movements, not how long you spend doing them.
  • Complementary to Running: The best time to schedule your plyometric workouts? Either on the same day or the day after a light run. This timing helps ensure your body gets enough recovery time before you hit another intense running session.
  • Strength Training Synergy: If you’re also lifting weights, a good strategy is to combine strength training and plyometrics on the same day. Start with your weight training, then move on to plyometrics.
  • Rest Days: Don’t forget to sprinkle in rest or light training days after your plyometric sessions. Your muscles will thank you for this recovery time.

In summary, by smartly incorporating plyometrics into your training schedule and adjusting their intensity and frequency based on your season, you can significantly enhance your trail and ultra-running performance.

Just remember, the key is balance and listening to your body’s needs.


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