Are Plyometrics Good for Sprinting?
BY DESTINY OGALI
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF PLYOMETRICS FOR SPRINTERS?
Plyometrics, or "plyos" as it's more commonly called, is a form of exercise that incorporates powerful and fast movements to increase an athlete's speed, strength and power.
This training method has many proven benefits to aid a sprinter's performance. Performing plyometric exercises regularly can help with improving an individual's explosiveness, which is the ability to apply high amounts of force and power in quick short bursts. This is particularly beneficial for a sprinter as they would need a powerful push out of the blocks at the beginning of the race.
There are also many other advantages from carrying out plyometrics exercises, such as increased power and strength in the muscles, overall body control improvement when starting and stopping movements, faster muscle contractions and decreased risk of injury to the joints and muscles. The power and strength capabilities of the muscles are very important to a sprinter.
As a sprinter, you want to be strong enough to maintain your technique during the duration of the race whilst being able to put force into the track in each stride. You would also want adequate body control, which signifies a strong core and solid balance. A strong core and balance will help your stability when sprinting, which is critical to avoid any wasted movement when running. Fast muscle contractions are directly related to your ability to move the muscles quickly, which is imperative to sprinting. The quicker the muscles contract, the faster the athlete will go! This also relates to muscle fibres with sprinters more commonly having either type type 2a (400m/800m) or type 2b (60m/100m/200m).
WHAT EXERCISES INCREASE SPRINT SPEED?
You can do plyometrics in various ways, which is especially helpful when you're training in a group of mixed abilities.
Exercises such as skipping are an excellent to begin with, as they help with coordination, muscular endurance and strength. The continuous jumping motion helps improve strength in the calf (gastrocnemius) region, aiding a sprinter massively as they progress in their training. This exercise can be used as a warm-up or cool-down before or after the session.
Concerning the various exercises which could be added into a sprinter's training to implement plyometrics, I would suggest the following:
Most tracks have a set of hurdles available for use. To ensure safety, please have a coach or parent alongside you.
For this exercise, you would set out some evenly spaced hurdles (6-8) and jump over these continuously until the end. The emphasis should be on proper technique more than anything else. The landing should take place on the ball of the foot to reinforce the upright running position whilst also strengthening the foot in the process.
The arms should be relaxed, and the movement should be explosive and continuous. Also, depending on your level and age, you can adjust the height of the hurdles to suit your needs. An ideal progression for this exercise is to add a pause within each hurdle. You can then jump and hold the ¼ squat position for 2-3 seconds and immediately jump from that squat position to the next hurdle and continue on from there. This is a more challenging exercise as you're putting more strain on the quads whilst still performing an explosive movement. This can be done with all ages and abilities by simply adjusting spacings, height and the number of hurdles.
The hurdles can also be placed into side-on positions, requiring you to jump over the hurdles from a sideways position. Doing this helps with stability and can also help your coach spot any potential weaknesses in the hips, glutes, quads and hamstrings. Adding as much variation as possible is vital to keep it fun and exciting but also challenging at the same time!
You'll need a low and/or high box to carry out the following. You can also progress this exercise later down the line!
The athlete will be encouraged to jump onto the box with the feet landing in a square position with the knees bent to absorb the impact. With this exercise, you can progress by increasing the number of boxes or increasing the height of the box. The box measures the stature, so it's a great way to track your progress. You can also alternate between double-footed jumps and single-leg jumps. This will help address any weaknesses you may have on one side of your body and help with overall balance.
Adding a pause/hold once you have jumped onto the box is essential to help improve your core stability and balance. You can also experiment with setting up multiple boxes and having the athlete jump from one box onto a lower platform and back over a higher box to really challenge yourself. This will help improve the athlete's strength, power and muscular endurance.
This is a fantastic way to test your power and strength levels!
There are various formats for this, but they've all proven to be a great way of seeing where you are with power and strength.
An excellent measure for testing your power is through the sand pit test. For this, you will jump as far as you can into the pit from a standing long jump. With measuring equipment, your coach can measure and note down their scores and use this data to make training adjustments and track your overall progress. Online information regarding what is considered a "good" score is available to help determine where the athlete is at with their training.
These jumps can also be done from a box (the same one we spoke about earlier). You will stand on the box with your hands on your hips, drop to the floor, and explode back into the air with straight legs as high as you can. The key is to ensure you explode straight into the air as soon as your feet touch the ground. Force plate measurements are typically placed beneath yourself, which will provide data related to your jumps that can be used as feedback. If force plates are unavailable, the alternative would be the vertical jump test using a wall and some chalk. This tests your overall vertical jump and can be tracked and measured over time.
Staircase training is a widely used method by sprinters and other dual sport athletes. You will be looking to jump up the staircase one at a time or up to four at once. This, accompanied by leg weights/ankle weights, makes for an excellent strength and power exercise as you will have to lift your legs and drive off the ground quickly to keep your rhythm for the next stride.
This exercise also helps with muscular endurance and strength. The higher the staircase, the more challenging the exercise! This can also be altered to suit your age and abilities. Starting with 1-2 steps initially can help build up the strength needed to then progress to 3-4 steps as time goes on.
These are smaller hurdles compared to competition and training hurdles which are adjustable.
Mini hurdles are brilliant for shorter and faster movement jumps. They are also a decent bit of equipment for younger athletes that aren't quite able to jump over the full-sized hurdles yet.
It's a great way of practising the movement and learning the proper jumping and landing technique. For athletes returning from injury or within a rehab stage, this is a great way to reintroduce some of the key movements at a reduced intensity. These mini hurdles can also accompany the larger hurdles to vary the jump heights and distances. You can jump over these using double-footed and single-footed landings.
HOW MANY TIMES A WEEK SHOULD A SPRINTER DO PLYOMETRICS?
Regarding how often you should do plyometrics, this massively depends upon how much you would be training.
For example, an elite athlete is likely to train 6-7 days a week, so they're likely to implement plyometrics in their training at least 3-4x within that week if possible. For younger athletes training 2x a week at club level, I encourage plyometrics to be done in one of the two sessions weekly to really reinforce those movement patterns and exercises. The truth is, the more often you can do them, the better. Consistency is key! Repetitions and progressions accompanied by testing will all prove beneficial for each and every athlete as they grow and develop.
It's important to understand that different athletes will respond to plyometrics differently. Some athletes will need help doing the same movements as others. As a result, your coach would need to make some minor alterations and adjustments to ensure that you can truly reap the full benefits of plyometrics training. Injury risk with jumping movements is high, so it is also vital to ensure that a coach or guardian is present when doing these movements/exercises to observe and make any necessary adjustments.
HOW TO IMPROVE SPRINTING TECHNIQUE
Ultimately, technique is essential. Proper take-off and landing techniques should be taught and demonstrated to all young athletes to minimise the risks of injury and bad practice.
If you haven't incorporated any form of plyometrics into your sprint training yet, I would recommend looking into this sooner rather than later, as I am sure that you would learn a thing or two, all while having a good deal of fun at the same time!
ABOUT DESTINY OGALI
Destiny is a sprinting athlete who competes for Harrow AC, and he is incredibly passionate about helping other sprinters and athletes go further in their athletic journeys!
He already has experience in discussing athletics topics with others through The Visions Podcast, where he has sat down and spoken with some great athletes, including Desiree Henry and Aidan Syers!
You can find Destiny's sprint performances on his Power of 10 profile.