If you are like most runners, your training plan probably focuses on logging miles each week, perhaps with some speed or tempo work sprinkled in here and there. If you are ahead of the curve, you may even include some strength training into your week. While this can be a recipe for a good running season, if you are willing to take your training one step further, you can make this next season your best yet.
Training for explosive power – plyometrics – is one of the most underutilized aspects of training for runners. There are countless studies demonstrating that training of this type no only improves explosive strength, but also facilitates endurance and running economy. So why don’t more runners include this in their training? My guess is that the general running public is unaware of the benefits and exactly how to make plyometrics part of your training.
As we age – for you twenty-somethings out there, it will happen eventually – the body progressively loses muscle mass, and to a greater proportion those muscle fibers responsible for explosive strength. As a runner, these are responsible for short bursts of powerful running, such as hill climbs, finishing sprints, and remaining on your feet when you stumble over rocks and roots on your regular trail run. We know from research that there is no way to prevent the loss of these fibers as we age, but we can increase the number of fibers in our youth and middle-age so that when we begin to lose them our starting muscle fiber count is significantly higher, making for a less dramatic decline and a longer athletic life.
Incorporating plyometric training into your routine may require a major shift in your training mentality, especially if you currently include no strength training into your week. For those of you already training for strength, this will be a nice change of pace for you and will also be an easier transition. Whether you are currently strength training or not, remember to go easy as you begin the exercises described below – the last thing you need is a muscle strain, or worse.
The following routine should be performed once per week, on a day when you will not be running with a high level of speed or intensity. As with any power training, this workout should be done before your endurance workout to maximize the benefit and reduce the chance of injury. If any of these exercises cause pain, listen to your body and rest. If the pain persists, get it checked out by your local sports chiropractor.
BOX JUMPS – Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, about 20 inches from a small box (12-24 inches high depending on your athletic ability – start low and work your way up). Bend down into a squat position, and then jump up onto the box landing squarely and lightly on both feet. The key is to make the jump onto the box as explosive as possible. Step softly off the box back to the ground, and repeat 10-15 times.
HILL SPRINTS – One a steep hill, perform sprints between 50 and 80 meters. Focus on running as quickly and lightly as possible with high knees. Note that this is not how you want to run normally, but is an exaggeration of running mechanics with the additional load of overcoming gravity. If you feel yourself losing good running form, you are going too fast. Repeat this drill 4-6 times.
BOUNDING – On a soft surface, cover 25-30 meters with as few strides as possible. Stay light on your feet with knees high and a short contact time for each bound. Repeat each set 4-6 times.
SINGLE LEG HOPS – Similar to the bounding drill, but this time you hop on a single leg for the entire 25-30 meters. Again, stay light on your feet with a short contact time. Repeat 4-6 times.
Remember to include a 10-15 minute warm-up prior to this workout and to choose a soft surface such as grass or a synthetic track. Too much of a good thing can hurt you here, so build slowly and rest as needed.