Have you been frustrated that you should be training in order to run, but you’re not sure what exactly you should be doing? We are here to answer your questions about jump training or what we call plyometric training!
I’m going to sharing with you something I didn’t even get in PT school. The information I’m going to share with you tonight is information that I actually have received through continuing education courses that I signed up for after I became an adult onset runner.
Click the video below to hear the LIVE training I did on this topic within the Healthy Runner Facebook Group
I started running at age 32 and when I started running, I wanted to learn more about running. I took a running injuries course and a large majority of that was this topic that we’re going to be talking about in this post. Plyometric training for runners and adding it in from a prehab standpoint, performance standpoint and a rehab standpoint during a return to run program. We covered all of that in the course I took 10 years ago and I have implemented these strategies to help hundreds of runners over the years.
Adding in jump training to your training as a runner is our 2nd tip in our “SPARK Blueprint” for healthy running, In the first week, I laid the foundation and then we talked about how to strength train in order to run and we talked about actionable exercises for muscles groups that you should be doing as a runner.
Let’s talk about why I decided to include this topic of plyometric training or jump training into my five key tips for healthy running.
It is often missed in a lot of runners and their training programs. I noticed that this is something that a lot of runners are not doing. I’ve noticed this especially through the runners I’ve worked with.
This is so important for you as a runner. I hope that through this blog I can express just how important it is for you to be implementing this into your training from not only an injury prevention standpoint but in an overall healthy runner standpoint. My main focus is not just fixing injuries and fixing you as a runner when you get injured, but preventing those injuries because if we’re preventing injuries, that means you’re healthy and you’re doing what you love – running!
That also means that you’re hitting your goals. My goal is to be able to help you hit your running goals and prevent those injuries. So not only are we going to work to prevent injuries but improve your performance – so let’s get into those actual things that jump training can do.
Every step you take when you’re running, your muscles are reacting to the pavement and they’re springing back up. With every step you take, your muscles are lengthening. Then they’re contracting repetitively over and over again for that three mile run or for that 10 k or for that half marathon. Your muscles are going through this repetitive cycle of lengthening and then shortening and then stretching and contracting. That’s how your muscles actually function. That is really what the term plyometric means… that there’s lengthening of the muscles that then switches to contraction. When you muscle lengthens because you are standing and then you’re slowly lowering your foot to the ground, your muscles contract and that’s an eccentric contraction. When they’re lengthening, they’re actually contracting, and then they function concentrically when they shorten to propel you forward to push you off the pavement. So that’s what running is! Going from eccentric to concentric contractions functionally.
Let’s geek out a little bit and get into the physiology of our bodies for a minute. You have two types of muscles in your body. We have slow twitch muscles which are our type 1 muscle fibers, which are more aerobic in nature. Those are the muscles that are primarily used for most of us distance runners. If we’re running any length of time – if you’re running 30 minutes or more you’re using a lot of slow twitch, type 1 muscle fibers. Then we have our type 2 muscle fibers, which are our fast twitch fibers. These are used for more powerful explosive activities such as jumping, power lift cleans, jerks, all of those Olympic lifts as well as your speed work.
If you’re doing interval workouts, if you’re doing tempo runs, if you’re doing speed work then the fast twitch, type 2 muscle fibers are kicking in and are also known as your anaerobic muscles. This is a little muscle physiology for you and helping you to understand what your body is made up of.
Part of being an efficient runner is being able to recruit more muscle fibers because the more you can recruit, the better you can push off of the ground and the faster you’ll be. Let’s say you’re running 3 miles. You’re slow twitch muscle fibers are fatiguing out. Then you want to be able to kick in some of your fast twitch muscle fibers so you don’t slow down. I know for me, I really start fatiguing at mile 10 or 11 for a half marathon – that’s when I really start struggling with holding my pace. It’s hard for me to hold that pace later in the race. If you think about mile 20 for those that run the full marathon distance, in order to keep up that pace as your type 1 fibers start to fatigue, you want to have some reserves and kick in some type 2 muscle fibers to make sure your running economy holds. If you can kick in these type 2 fibers, you’re more efficient because you can actually use more oxygen and be able to feed your body so you’re not slowing down. Then, you’re able to maintain your pace later in the race.
Research has been done on plyometric training compared to other specific exercises and the results show that runners who add plyometric training into their exercise program can be more economical as a runner vs those runners who only do weight lifting.
If you are more of a 5k or 10 k runner, you really want to make sure that you’re adding in plyometric exercises. For those half marathon to full marathon distance runners, you should be thinking that adding plyometrics will help you in being able to maintain your pace later in your race. If you’re doing a 5k, you need to add plyometric training because you want to tap into those type 2 muscle fibers during that race. I know for me, a 5k feels like a sprint. So you want to be able to tap into those muscle fibers to allow you to move quickly.
So that is really the first benefit to plyometric training. It allows you to be more economical and more efficient as a runner!
The second benefit we’re going to discuss is strengthening your muscles and tendons in order to prevent injury. I’m sure you’re wondering, how does plyometric training strengthen your muscles?
As I mentioned before, when your foot hits the ground during a run, it springs right back up. So what we’re doing is exploiting the elastic properties of your muscles and tendons and how they utilize elastic energy. The better you are at producing force against the ground quickly the less time you spend on the ground. This allows your muscles and tendons to absorb that impact and take pressure off of the surrounding connective tendons. This is a big reason why we add plyometric exercises in any return to sport program for our athletes as a physical therapists.
For those of you who have torn your ACL earlier in life or you may have a child who tore their ACL, hopefully the surgeon refers them to physical therapy before they clear them for sport. In Physical Therapy, they will add agility and plyometric training in order to strengthening the surrounding tissues. This is an essential component for any athlete going back to their sport.
Don’t forget – running is a sport. A sport that is plyometric in nature. Consider a runner with an achilles injury. That’s a big important tendon as a runner. Let’s say it’s achilles tendinitis or an achilles tendon pain and it has been going on for months. You’re stretching, you’re doing your strengthening exercises, but you’re not feeling much better. What you actually need to be doing is training the tendon plyometrically in order to safely go back to running. If you are going to challenge that tendon when you’re running, you need to make sure that you’ve built up the strength and resiliency in that tendon with plyometric training. That’s how we’re going to build up the elastic properties in the tendon and show that it can withstand the demands of running.
Don’t you want to get faster as a runner? I’m not sure I know a runner who doesn’t want to get faster. As a runner myself, this is how I compete. When I do run races, I like to challenge myself. I like to see how much I can improve my time from the last race.
As we mentioned before, with plyometric training, your foot is hitting the ground, you’re producing forces against the ground quicker and quicker as you train. The less time you spend on the ground, the faster you’re going to be running.
I think about the Disney half I ran with my wife recently. I was on mile one or two and there were literally finishers on the other side of the road, coming back already and they were looking pretty fast! If you’re ever doing a race and you see the winners passing and how fast they look, going at a much faster pace than you are, it looks like they’re booking it, right? Well consider this: how much time do you think they spend on the ground? Not a whole lot! They look pretty fast because they’re popping up with each step. They spend as little time on the ground as possible.
Plyometric exercises help your muscles ability to absorb that impact and then pop off the ground. It teaches your nervous system so your brain will send signals to the nerves in your legs to tell those muscles to contract. The more we train our brain, the faster those muscles will contract and the less time we will spend on the ground, therefore making us more efficient and faster as runners.
From a performance aspect, if you want a fast PR, you need to run faster. You need to be able to withstand that fast speed later in the race. That brings up our first benefit, where we were talking about being more efficient and economical as a runner and being able to tap into those type 2 muscle fibers, utilizing more oxygen and then being more efficient later in the race. You should be able to withstand and not hit the wall that you would normally hit and be able to run at a faster pace!
Just like anything else, progression and consistency is key! You need to make sure that you’re starting at a level that is healthy for you and sticking to it so that you can progress to more difficult exercises!
You want to start out with a level one, introductory plyometric exercises as demonstrated in the video above. These are fairly simple exercises. They don’t look extremely hard, but they will be if you have never trained your muscles in this fashion. As a beginner, you want to start out with just ONE set of each of these exercises. If you’re pretty well trained right now in terms of your fitness levels, you could try to do more than one set. Perform them with good quality though and don’t go for quantity. You’re not doing high reps, that’s not what this is about. You’re doing maybe 8 reps max and really going for quality. What do we mean by quality? Plyometric exercises are seen and not heard. You do NOT want to be loud. You want to be quiet with your landings. Our whole goal is to be more efficient and get that spring in your muscles so that when your foot hits the ground you’re popping right up and doing so quietly! You’re going for speed and that goal of spending less time on the ground.
Typically, the winter months are the best time for you to be incorporating plyometric training into your training. This is traditionally the time where most runners are in their “offseason”. This is the time period when you want to add in your plyometric training because this is going to put a whole new level of demands on your muscle. It’s like if you have ever done intervals on the track or if you’ve ever done hill work. It’s like adding that type of training to your muscles and you are going to be sore in your muscles, which tells you that you added a stimulus to your muscles which is a good thing. You added a stimulus that your muscles weren’t trained for which is good because that’s how your muscle adapts! That’s how you develop muscle adaptations over time. Then, your muscles become more efficient when you run. When you’re at mile 10 of a half marathon, and you’re actually able to maintain your pace, it’s because you’ve adapted over time and are finally able to do this. You’ve added that training effect to your muscles. You’re getting the speed and you’re getting the efficiency in your muscles.
With jump trainoing, you want to start with level one, then you’ll work up to level two and then level three because as your body adapts, these exercises will get really easy for you. Focus on good quality sticking your landings and being seen and not heard!
As you start to dissect these programs I put together, you will notice that level 1 exercises don’t involve a box. A lot of people think that plyometric training involves jumping off a box, doing box jumps or depth jumps. That’s actually level 3. That’s a lot of demand on your muscles for you to be at an elevated surface and then jump down from there. You’re asking your muscles to control your body weight with gravity acting on you. So don’t start there. I repeat…don’t start plyometric training for running by jumping off boxes!
Click THIS LINK for my level 2 program!
Click the video below for my level 3 program!
We talked about the 3 benefits of adding plyometric exercises into your program. The first one is being more efficient and economical for you as a runner. The second was reducing injury by strengthening your muscles and your tendons to be more elastic. The third was improving your speed so you don’t fatigue out later in your races!
Remember, proper progression and consistency in training is key! Hopefully this information will help shift the mindset that running is your form of exercise and all you need to do is “just run”. You need to train your body in order to run, so you can stay healthy and avoid injuries in the “long run”.
We hope this information was helpful! Stay active, stay healthy, and just keep running!
Thank you for taking the time to read,
– Duane Scotti, PT, DPT, PhD, OCS
Do you want the learn what your body should be doing for Prehab in order to stay healthy for your next half marathon?
At SPARK Physical Therapy , we have a unique treatment approach that focuses on solving these problems with our clients.
Our goal is to find the root cause of your previous running injuries and design a specific prehab program for your body in order to prevent that hamstring pain, achilles pain, or shin splints from coming back.
We do this by analyzing your running technique with video analysis and then take you through a full movement analysis and combine that information with your traditional muscle length, strength, and mobility tests to design a program that is specific to your body.
I have a commitment to you the runner at SPARK Physical Therapy
There are no long waits or multiple trips to providers’ offices every week.
I see you in a gym setting at a time that is convenient with your schedule.
One on one for a full hour with myself (a doctor of physical therapy, every visit.)
I provide you with a customized plan specifically designed for you, based off your unique injury and goals.
Full transparency in what you pay. You will never get a bill from us a couple of months after your visit.
Access and availability to you! Have a question about your pain or exercise program? You get an answer from me directly.
If you’re in the greater Hamden, CT area that has been dealing with pain or is looking to be proactive in your health of running and not reactive, I would love the opportunity to help! I’d love to chat for a few minutes and see if you are a good fit for how I help people. Fill in this CONTACT REQUEST LINK and we’ll set up a free 20-minute phone consultation with a doctor of physical therapy.
A special thanks goes out to Allie Eldridge, SPT for her contributions to this article
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