Plyometric Training To Improve Running Performance

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This is my first attempt at offering some training advice, so let me know what you think. The idea is to use some of the science and skills I picked up from my degree and relay some of the interesting stuff hidden amongst the hundreds of journal articles I’ve read (that’s right, sometimes I’ll tell you something useful!). My first piece of training advice is about plyometrics and running, a topic I briefly touched on in my dissertation so if you want to know any more or get any references just get in touch.

Plyometrics are a type of training that use maximal jumps to increase muscle strength and speed, aka power. It’s been known since the 90s that this type of training improves endurance running performance and not just sprinting (which is actually a form of plyometrics). This is because plyometric training improves running economy (the amount of oxygen used at a given pace) and maximal speed.

Being able to use less oxygen at a set speed is particularly useful for distance runners and it often sets apart runners at the top end of the sport who have similar levels of fitness (well, those with homogeneous VO2maxs). The good news is research has shown runners of various levels can improve their performance after a programme of plyometric training. For example, one study showed that time over 5km was decreased by 3.1% in well trained runners and another showed that time over 3km was decreased by 2.7% in less trained runners.

So what should I be doing? Studies have used training blocks of 6-9 weeks with 2 or 3 plyometric sessions a week, often as short as 30 minutes. So the simple answer, add 30 minutes of plyometrics to one of your run sessions 2 or 3 times a week, every week. This can be done easily as plyometric training requires no additional equipment, just the use of bodyweight. Get on to youtube and find some plyometric drills, squat jumps, bounding, hopping and sprinting are probably the most common and easiest types to pick up. Just make sure you familiarise yourself with the drill before going all out so you don’t injure yourself.

So plyometric training is all positive? Well no, while there are clear performance benefits, there are also side effects, namely exercise-induced muscle damage. This is basically a fancy word for the way you feel the day after any hard session… sore muscles and a loss of strength until your body can fully recover (a few days later). But, if you weren’t prepared to face this, then you wouldn’t be training for a long distance run. All you have to do is phase out the plyometrics as you taper down for competition to prevent any effect on your performance.

Ultimately, plyometric training can improve running economy and maximal running speed, improving performance. Seeing as it’s free to do and the only negative is some soreness, I’m going to be adding some plyometrics to my training over the coming months. I hope you found this blog useful and if you want to know more, or you disagree with anything I’ve said, let me know!

Ed.

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