One of my favorite groups back in college was Van Halen. Not only did I have a huge crush on ex-Mr. Valerie Bertinelli — a.k.a. Eddie Van Halen — I loved the music. One of my favorite songs was “Jump,” in which the chorus was simply “Go ahead and jump, might as well jump.” Lately, I find myself humming this song during my weekly “Plyocide” workout courtesy of P90X2.
Jumping, or to be more precise, plyometric or “plyo” training, is a fun and low-tech way to get some great exercise. Plyometrics, which simply means jump training, was developed by the Russians in the early 1980s. This original form of the exercise was high impact and high intensity and mostly reserved for elite athletes. It involved jumping off or onto various heights of platforms in an explosive manner. The idea was to increase strength as well as jump height.
The unfortunate side effect of this type of high-impact training was the potential for injury to knees, ankles and backs. Since those early days, however, plyo exercise has become more mainstream, lower impact and safer to incorporate into a workout routine. Let’s look at the fitness benefits of putting a little “jump” into your workout routine:
— Increased lower body strength: Plyo exercises train muscles in the lower leg by contracting one set of muscles to perform the jump and the opposite set of muscles to land. It is essentially like training two muscle groups at once, making them stronger.
— Increased vertical jump: For athletes playing sports such as basketball, volleyball, football and track and field, an increase in vertical jump height is an advantage. Plyo training can help an athlete jump much higher.
— Cardiovascular fitness: A 30-minute routine utilizing plyo exercises can really get your heart pumping. A plyo workout can replace your normal run or bike ride while providing strength benefits.
— Joint protection: The strength developed through plyo training can protect joints from injury by strengthening the surrounding muscles.
— Increased balance: Single leg and double leg hopping that is routinely part of a plyo workout can greatly increase balance.
In addition to the lower body variety of plyometrics, there are also exercises available for the upper body. For example, medicine ball routines are considered plyometic in nature. While plyo exercises are not for everyone, they can be a great addition to your fitness routine. I do the P90X2 version of plyo training once a week and find it fun and a great cardiovascular workout.
As with starting any exercise program, check with your doctor before adding plyo to your routine and make sure you have a baseline of fitness and strength training before you attempt it.
Kathy Hansen has over 25 years of experience in the health and fitness field and is getting pretty good at not falling over doing single leg hops. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.