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Jump, squat and twist your way to power and strength

Woman jumping rope

Woman jumping rope Purchase photo reprints »

One of the big trends in fitness training this year is plyometrics, which registered dietitian and personal trainer Tina Marinaccio describes as “any exercise that involves jumping, punching and medicine ball work to improve the body’s ability to perform dynamic moves.”

For example, a golfer’s swing needs to be a dynamic, explosive movement to achieve the desired distance and aim. Marinaccio says that “explosive movement” is the key phrase for plyometrics, which is why athletes incorporate plyometric moves such as jumping, squatting and twisting with a medicine ball to add power to their needed performance.

Plyometrics increase the stretch-and-spring reflex in the legs, and one of the key exercises in this fitness regime involves jumping up and down in place or onto a box. Upon each landing, the leg muscles stretch and contract for your next jump. Another form of the jumping exercise is to stand on a platform, jump down to the floor and then jump up onto a higher platform. Jumping rope is also a plyometric exercise.

Medicine ball exercises may involve catching and throwing a weighted ball for plyometric results to the upper body, waist, back, abs and lower body.

This style of exercise may be a favorite of athletes, but it’s also being employed in gentler trainer-guided workouts for all exercisers. Baby boomers are enjoying the benefits of these “softer” workouts — under the supervision of a trainer and with physician clearance — as are less-conditioned adults. In addition to delivering “explosive performance” ability, plyometrics also provide:

∎ Increased muscle strength
∎ Improved flexibility
∎ Greater agility
∎ Joint stability and flexibility
∎ Lower-body power
∎ Cardiovascular workout benefits, for heart health
∎ Strength training benefits
∎ Endurance for everyday tasks, such as household chores or yard work
∎ Improved metabolism
∎ Variety in your workouts, to keep you challenged and motivated
∎ Improved calorie burning during your workouts
∎ The good-for-your-brain benefit of learning a new skill, especially beneficial for baby boomers
∎ A new workout to share with a spouse, partner or friend at the gym.

Important precautions

Marinaccio says, “Any exercise can pose some kind of risk (of injury), so always be sure to first consult with your doctor for medical clearance,” especially if you have arthritis, osteoporosis or any other condition that could pose a risk to your health.

Working with a qualified and licensed professional trainer affords the dual benefits of having safer plyometric moves chosen for your fitness ability and being carefully monitored as you’re working out. Because this fitness regime incorporates a lot of jumping, landing and other weight-bearing moves, your trainer would watch your every move, correct your form so that you are landing correctly with “soft joints” and not stiff legs, and end the repetitions if the move is too challenging for you. That’s much safer than popping in a workout DVD and trying plyometric moves that are not tailored to, nor safe for, your physical abilities.

Plyometrics are considered an advanced, high-impact exercise, so avoid them if you have chronic joint pain or injuries, previously injured knees or other health challenges. Strength and endurance are required for this workout, which is designed to improve your existing fitness level, so consider plyometrics only if you’re already a regular and healthy exerciser. Your trainer may decide to start you with simple in-place jumps rather than jumps from platform to floor.

Marinaccio says plyometrics should be done only when you’re fresh and not already fatigued from a workout, and only after you’ve thoroughly warmed up to both protect and get maximum results from your muscles and joints. Other smart tips for preparing to do plyometric exercises:

∎ Plan to do them only once or twice a week. As it is an intense workout, it’s best to practice moderation, allowing yourself a day of rest after these exercises.

∎ Wear quality athletic shoes. Never do plyometrics barefoot. You need well-constructed, shock-absorbing fitness shoes to minimize the impact on your body.

∎ Exercise on the right surface, such as a cushioned gym floor with a bit of give, not on a concrete floor.

It can’t be emphasized enough: Plyometrics are to be undertaken only with medical clearance and with a professional trainer’s guidance. As you gradually incorporate these exercises into your regular fitness routine, you’ll enjoy the strength and health benefits they deliver.

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