Plyometrics may sound like some sort of trendy fitness class, but if you've ever done circuit or HIIT training, you've likely done more than a few plyometric exercises yourself. In short, plyometrics is a training style that maximizes your power by using short bursts of explosive movements. Plyometric exercises are a good way to get your heart rate up quickly, can help make you stronger, and they're accessible even to beginners.
We spoke to two fitness instructors to get the low down on plyometrics, including the benefits and how you can incorporate a few moves into your workout routine.
Meet the Expert
What Are Plyometrics?
Plyometrics, or plyos, are dynamic, explosive, high-intensity exercises that are meant to increase your power output. In these exercises, your muscles exert their maximum amount of force in a short amount of time—think moves like sprints, throws, and jumps. They can be done only with bodyweight, or with equipment (such as jump boxes or slam balls).
What Are the Benefits of Plyometrics?
One of the main benefits of plyometric training is that it develops your Type 2, or fast-twitch, muscle fibers. “These muscle fibers are responsible for quick movement during exercises such as running and jumping and even being able to catch yourself if you’re about to fall. For example, if you trip, you have to be able to move fast to make sure you don't fall on your face,” says Yami Mufdi, a Tone It Up trainer.
Kory Flores, a Rumble trainer for Equinox+, adds that plyometrics can increase your agility, speed, and power, and are “an essential component to boosting your overall performance, joint stability, and reaction time (which is great for workouts including soccer, sprinting, boxing, rugby, and Crossfit).”
While plyometrics aren’t necessarily focused on building or gaining muscle mass, they do assist in building a stronger muscle-tendon complex. “Think about it like you’re doing a software update on your muscle’s operating system,” says Flores. “Plyo trains you to operate faster and use more force, which will help you build muscle more efficiently in other parts of your training.”
A bonus: Since you don’t always need equipment to do plyometrics, they're versatile enough to do almost anywhere, as long as you have some room to move around.
Can Beginners Do Plyometrics?
The short answer is yes—but it takes repetition to become comfortable with plyometric movements, so Mufdi recommends beginners start slow and ease into them.
Flores emphasizes establishing good form before going for maximum effort and speed. “Shorter intervals means minimal time for correction, so you must start slow and learn how to do the movements properly." Other tips for beginners include investing in good shoes and training on surfaces that aren’t hard like concrete (e.g., a track field, gym, or beach) to prevent jolting your joints and to reduce your risk of injury.
Who Should Avoid Plyometrics?
Because plyometrics are high intensity and high impact, both Mufdi and Flores caution anyone with pre-existing conditions, joint problems, or injuries to consult their doctor before training, and/or to modify workouts as needed with a personal trainer. However, Mufdi also encourages elderly people to perform some plyometric training as often as possible to help combat the slowing of bodily movements.
How Can You Incorporate Plyometrics Into Your Routine?
Because plyometrics uses a lot of energy, depending on your workout program, Mufdi recommends starting your workout with these exercises when you are fresh and have the most energy. “The more you do them, the more tired you will become. As you get tired, your form will probably deteriorate and potentially create an unsafe environment. For example, if you do an entire leg workout and then go to do some box jumps, you might be too tired to do the box jump effectively, miss the box, and hurt yourself in the process,” she says. Pace yourself, and always listen to your body to determine how hard to push it.
If you’re exercising five days a week, Flores suggests including some plyo work two or three of those days and to space out your plyo days so you have enough time to recover in between. If you’re not ready to do a full hour of plyo training, she says to start with smaller 3-6 minute circuits for conditioning.
Plyometric Moves for the Upper and Lower Body
Good news: You likely have the foundational knowledge of how to do many plyometric exercises. You can perform almost any exercise in a plyometric fashion by doing it in a more explosive, repetitive manner, says Mufdi. For example, you can turn squats into squat jumps, lunges into lunge jumps, and push-ups into plyo push-ups. Here are a few no-equipment-needed plyometric exercises to try.
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart.
- Lower down into a squat.
- Press into your feet and jump up straight.
- Land softly on your feet and lower back down into a squat.
- Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart. Step one foot out in front.
- Bend both knees to 90 degrees, lowering down into a lunge position.
- Press into your feet and jump up, switching the position of your legs in the air (opposite leg moves in front).
- Land softly on your feet and lower back down into a lunge.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
- Lower down into a squat.
- Shift your weight to your right leg and cross your left leg behind your right leg.
- Press into your right foot and jump sideways to the left.
- Land softly on your left leg, crossing your right leg behind your left leg.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Bend your knees and start to swing your arms behind you.
- Press your feet into the ground and jump up and forward.
- Land softly on your feet and lower back down.
Plyo Push-Ups (Advanced)
- Start in a standard push-up position (plank position with your shoulders directly above your wrists).
- Bend your elbows and lower your body down to the floor.
- Push up with enough force to have your hands leave the ground.
- Land on your hands and lower your body back down.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Lower into a squat.
- Reach forward and put your hands on the ground.
- Kick your feet back into a plank.
- Bend your elbows and lower your body down to the ground.
- Push your body back up and jump or step your feet back to the starting position.
Macaluso F, Isaacs AW, Myburgh KH. Preferential type II muscle fiber damage from plyometric exercise. J Athl Train. 2012;47(4):414-420. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-47.4.13