How Plyometrics Works

Plyometrics is all about fast, powerful and explosive movements.
Plyometrics is all about fast, powerful and explosive movements.

Not all athletic training or conditioning programs are created equal. Some help you improve your general fitness, some prepare your body for a specific sport or competition, and others are aimed at giving you that extra physical edge in your sport of choice. Plyometrics falls into the latter category.

Plyometrics is a training program that teaches and conditions the body to produce fast, powerful and even explosive movements that wouldn't be possible with traditional exercise programs. Plyometrics encorporates a series of challenging stretches, muscle-contracting drills, and rapid exercises focused on a part of the body vital to performance in a particular sport. But it's not to be confused with weight-training or strength-building -- plyometrics is aimed at making muscles work better and more efficiently rather than making them bigger.

The system is a combination of repetitive training of the brain, along with muscle conditioning. In each drill, exercise, or stretch, the targeted muscle is loaded and contracted -- repeatedly. This means that the muscles for a particular sport's skill set (lower leg muscles to help with vertical leap in basketball, for example) are stretched to their maximum, then held for a second -- virtually spring-loading them -- then released. The result is a precise, yet explosive muscle response. Target the right muscles with enough plyometric training and the result is consistently faster running, higher jumping, more fluid swimming, harder throws and stronger hits … and all with extremely focused control.

Plyometrics was developed by Soviet physiologist Yuri Verkhoshansky, who published his first studies in 1964. Plyo is Greek for "more," metrics is Greek for "length," because it's about getting "more length" out of muscles. If you're a long-time sports fan, you've probably even seen plyometrics' results in action: It was one of the secret weapons of Eastern Bloc and Soviet trainers in the '70s and '80s, and is one of the reasons why Communist nations dominated track and field, gymnastics and weightlifting in the Olympics in those years. It made its way to the West in the '70s [source: Baggett].

Can plyometrics work for you? And how exactly does it work? Read on.