Burpees. Squat Jumps. Tuck jumps. Nothing strikes fear into my heart (and glutes) quite like these moves. My heart rate skyrockets, my muscles burn, and time slows down as I try to block out the pain and finish the reps. What is it about these moves – and why are instructors always making me jump?
Fitness experts seem to agree: plyometric exercises (like squat jumps and box jumps) are insanely effective. The combination of cardio and strength training means you’re burning calories, improving your overall fitness levels, and building muscle. These moves can also help you function and move better in day-to-day activities – sounds like a win-win.
Curious about the benefits of plyometrics yourself? Here’s your download on how plyos can take your workout to the next level.
Plyometric moves are quick, powerful movements, characterized by their explosiveness. Think of shooting off a rubber band – you slowly pull the rubber band back, pause and release, and off it shoots! That’s what your muscles are doing during a plyometric exercise. (To get technical, each movement involves an eccentric contraction followed by an explosive concentric movement. I’m putting my NASM CPT certification to good use!)
“It’s a great way to get your heart rate up quickly. And, I think my favorite reason they are so effective is that they are easy to implement and you can do them anywhere! No need for special equipment or a huge chunk of time,” Oprea says.
(By the way, Oprea is a total badass – as a Marine, she led the first all-female platoon in a combat zone. Today she trains Nashville’s hottest stars, including Carrie Underwood, Kacey Musgraves, and Kelsea Ballerini.)
By regularly incorporating plyometric moves, you’re improving your overall cardio and strength levels, as well as improving your reaction time.
“You’re improving how quickly your nerves and muscles communicate. This is beneficial because it can improve your speed, agility, and overall strength,” says Monica Straith, an ACE Certified Personal Trainer, and the Fitness Lead at AlgaeCal. Her go-to moves are box jumps, squat jumps, and lunge jumps.
That’s not just good for athletes – decreasing your reaction time is important for everyday living. Think regaining your balance if you trip, catching something as it falls, or even jumping out of the way of a speeding car. (The last one was dramatic, but you get the point.)
Jumpstart your fitness routine
Before you starting jumping away, make sure you’re properly warmed up – light cardio, static stretching, dynamic warmups – whatever your body needs to prep for movement.
If you’re new to plyometric moves, working on landing mechanics is essential. Pick a move, and focus on sticking the landing for 3-5 seconds. You can do this with almost any move – squat jumps, ice skaters, or lunge jumps. This will help you improve your stabilization, coordination, and posture throughout the move. Start with a small number of reps, and repeat 1-3 times.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can remove the hold, and move onto more explosive movements, like skaters and tuck jumps.
“All you need is about 10 minutes or so of plyometric exercises each workout to begin to reap the benefits,” Straith says. Add plyo moves to your normal strength routine, but if you’re short on time, build your own Tabata workout.
“I’m a huge fan of all kinds of moves put together into Tabatas – different kinds of jumping and hopping squats and lunges together can make the pretty muscles my clients are known for,” Oprea says. (If you want more from Oprea, check out her Instagram for workout videos and some serious motivation, or her book The 4×4 Diet.)
Rest assured, I’ll continue to mentally complain whenever I have to jump – but at least I know it’s good for me.