Plyometrics: Increase Running Efficiency By Building Power with Depth Jumps

 For many of us if we talk about or think about the term the power in running we do not immediately conjure up images of distance runners.  Many of us might think right away of Usain Bolt. Power though does have a place in training for distance running. Power or (Speed Strength) is important in helping the body reduce ground reaction forces. Speed Strength is a high priority in most functional activities.¹ It is defined as the ability of the neuromuscular system to produce the greatest possible force in the shortest amount of time.²  It also can play a role in the ability to have a kick at the end of the race or power up a steep incline. I feel that power begins to play less of a role and loses some of its importance as the distance increases, but is still important no matter what distance you train for.

Power can also help a runner to run more efficiently as some studies have shown. For running purposes and how it can translate to distance running we will be focusing on one aspect of Power or Speed Strength, and that is Reactive strength. Reactive strength is the ability of the neuromuscular system to switch from an eccentric action or deceleration and then as quickly as possible switch to a concentric or production of force portion of a movement. There is a short period of time between both the eccentric and the concentric movements called the amortization phase. The more neuromuscular efficiency one has the better and faster they can move between the eccentric and concentric movements.  This allows the body to store energy during the eccentric phase or loading phase, and then releasing that stored up energy to help produce force and to continue doing so once a certain movement pattern has started.

One way to increase power, and again here we are discussing Speed Strength, and neuromuscular efficiency is through training. Plyometrics can be a great way to build that power. Plyometrics can be defined by certain exercises that allow a muscle to reach its maximum strength as quickly as possible.

One study used the plyometric exercise the Depth Jump to see how it helps runners. The depth jump did prove to help to make them run faster. You can read over the study here.

There are a couple key things to keep in mind when performing the depth jump.

*One is the height of the box does not need to be extreme. In fact in the study the box height was 20, 40, and no more than 60 centimeters. The goal is not a higher and ever higher box but rather being as quick and explosive as possible.

*Step off the box and do not jump up. We are not looking to add the height you drop from.

*Be sure to not allow your knees to collapse inward, valgus, as the photo on the left depicts.

 

*Land softly absorbing the impact and then as quickly as possible jumping back up as high and as quickly as possible. I like to have clients picture hot coals.

*Plyometrics is a high intensity exercise so you should not repeat another bout of the same exercises for between 48-72 hours between bouts.

*The goal is also not more and more repetitions. In fact the study reference only had the participants perform 6 total sets of 10 repetitions each.

For further reading on plyometrics you can read one of my previous blog posts linked above here.

I also highly suggest the following two books both of which I still often go back and reference.Jumping into Plyometrics, 2nd Edition and High-Powered Plyometrics 2nd Edition

References:
1. Tidow. G. Aspects of strength training in athletics. New Stud Athl  1990;5:93-110
2. NASM OPT Manual Chapter 9 Integrated Strength Training Concepts pg.415