Of the many different types of muscles present in the human body, the ones known as skeletal muscles are the ones associated with movement, sports, and fitness. Within those muscles are two types of fibers that determine the activity and function of the muscle – slow twitch and fast twitch. Generally, fast twitch muscle fibers are involved in activities that require speed, agility or great force applied in a rapid manner. Plyometrics exercises, for example are fast-twitch muscle exercise as it releases a tremendous amount of downward pressure in a short instance to lift the body off the ground. Similarly, sprinting, tennis, and hitting a baseball engage your fast-twitch fibers. Slow twitch fibers on the other hand, are primarily concerned with strength or endurance activities. Carrying or holding a heavy weight for an extended period of time, holding a position of balance, swimming or running a distance all put your slow twitch fibers to work. Everyone uses both types of fibers in everyday activity. But for those of us looking to improve our fitness or sports performance, we typically want to focus on fast-twitch ability.
Plyometrics are a specific set of exercises designed for exactly that purpose. By working out these specific fibers, muscles become more adept at responding to the demands of various sports and fitness activities. People find they can run faster, jump higher or further, get around on a baseball swing, make better contact with a tennis racket and enhance response time on things like a starting pistol or blocking jump shot.
To get started with plyometrics, begin by thinking about whether your sport requires more upper body power, lower body power, or a combination of both. The following are a few exercises to get you started.
- Squat Jumps: Begin in a half-squatted position. Legs should be bent at approximately a 90 degree angle with thighs parallel to floor. Rapidly jump up, extending the body fully until legs are straight and arms are outstretched overhead. Repeat 5-10 times.
- Bounding: Start in an easy running motion and steadily lengthen your stride until you are leaping from foot to foot. Attempt to increase the distance between footfalls as you go. Continue for 6-8 full-distances strides. Rest. Repeat.
- Lateral Jumps: select a small obstacle such as an exercise mat or towel and lay it on the floor. Stand along the long edge of the obstacle with both feet together. Jump, lifting both feet off the ground, as you travel to the opposite long edge of the obstacle. Repeat. As your ability increases, you may select a larger (wider) or taller obstacle.
-Plyo Pushups: Assume a traditional pushup position. Lower body to ground as usual, then push up with great force. The object is to be able to lift your hands from the ground even for just a few seconds before returning to a starting pushup position. Repeat up to 8 to 10 times before a short rest period.
- Overhead Slams: Take a rubberized medicine ball (one that can bounce) and hold it with both hands at chest height. Extend arms overhead and then bring them down forcefully, releasing the ball to bounce against the ground in the downward motion. Then, aim to catch the ball on the rebound before it reaches chest height. Repeat up to 6 to 8 times before resting. Intensity can be increased by upping the weight of the medicine ball.