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Plyometric Exercises To Improve Your Running Economy

Updated: Nov 25, 2018

Just admit it. As runners, we are forever looking for ways to make us go just that little bit faster. In my case this will easily be achieved if I can just drag my lazy body out into the cold on a few more days of the week.


But what if you are already training at your max? How can you tweak your training to get more out of your body? One way may be by improving your running economy. Pellegrino et al. recently found that a 6 week plyometric training programme improved the running economy of a group of experienced runners.



In this article:

  • What is running economy?

  • What are plyometric exercises?

  • How do plyometric exercises improve your running economy?

  • 6 Week plyometric training programme for runners

What is running economy?


Your running economy is calculated by looking at how much oxygen and energy you use when you run. Someone with a good running economy uses less oxygen and energy while running at a certain speed than the person next to them and this usually equates to a better performance/result.


One would assume that you should be able to improve your running economy by simply improving your fitness, but research has actually shown that this is not always the case. Specific training regimes that have been shown to help are interval training, resistance training, altitude training and plyometrics.


This said, if you are a novice runner, you are far more likely to improve your performance by just improving your fitness rather than trying to focus on running economy.


What are plyometric exercises?


Plyometric exercises are essentially jumping exercises – jumping over cones or lines or onto boxes etc. They are mainly used in sport to develop power (strong contractions that can be performed quickly) and their magic is due to the combination of quick stretch and contract cycles in the muscle.


How do plyometric exercises improve your running economy?


Plyometric exercises lead to specific changes within the muscles fibres which lead to an increase in stiffness in the muscles during exercise. Increased stiffness in the muscles and tendons means that you “lose” less energy or get a better return of energy while running and you therefore use less energy and oxygen to run.

Plyometric exercises to improve your running - 6 Week programme


Pellegrino and his colleagues used a 6 week programme to train their runners. They started slowly with 2 sessions of plyometric exercises per week for the first 3 weeks and then increased it to 3 sets. They allowed between 1.5 and 3 minutes of rest between sets.


I include their training schedule and their explanation of how the exercises should be performed below. Please note that all the credit for the training programme and description of the exercises should go to Pellegrino and colleagues.

I have selected a variety of videos from youtube to show examples of the exercises that they used. Some of the videos show very agile people performing the exercises while others include novices. You should always make sure that you do the exercises slowly with the proper technique and control before you try and do them at speed.


Exercise roster

(taken from Pellegrino's dissertation)



Description of exercises

Warmup consisted of jogging, leg swings, skipping, light bounding, bouncing and submaximal jumps as well as stretching for 20:00 each session.


All jumps were encouraged to be as high and as fast as possible. Maximizing flight time while minimizing contact time.


SQUAT JUMP:  2 legged maximal vertical jumps done in succession as quickly as possible.



SPLIT SCISSOR JUMP:  2 legged staggered stance maximal vertical jumps done in succession, switching the forward and rearward foot with each jump. Done as quickly as possible.



2-LEGGED FORWARD JUMP FOR DISTANCE:  2-legged jumps in succession (like a frog hopping or a kangaroo) across the gymnasium. Done for maximal distance rapid-fire.



ALTERNATE LEG BOUND:  Jumping for maximal distance from leg-to-leg as far and as fast as possible. Similar to running strides, only more explosive in nature.



SINGLE LEG FORWARD HOP:  Performed with each leg: successive maximal jumps for distance on one leg. Emphasis again on rapid jumping with maximal force application.



STEPPING-DROP JUMP:  Participants walked across a mat and stepped as if the mat continued. Upon "falling" off the end, they brought both feet underneath them and rebounded from contact with the floor into a maximal vertical jump (slight forward movement).



LATERAL LINE JUMPS: Jumping from side to side over a line on the gymnasium floor. They were encouraged to jump as if over an object (which for safety was not actually there).



180 - TURN LINE JUMPS: As per Lateral line jumps except that a 180-degree turn was completed with each jump. The direction of the turn reversed with each single contact (forward/backward/forward...).



SPLIT SCISSOR JUMP WITH STEP: This was done as per the Split scissor jump, only the forward foot was elevated -on a step (12-16" based on height and ability) during both the take off and the landing. Jumps were still completed in succession as quickly as possible, and were still done with maximal jump height.


HIGH-BOX DOUBLE JUMP: Participants jumped onto a secure box and then immediately jumped again (maximally) slightly backwards and for height. A mat was placed on the floor to soften the final landing, as total jump height for the 2 jumps was as high as 60 -70 inches). They were instructed to jump onto the box landing with bent legs, and to attempt to complete the second jump as soon after landing as possible with a maximal effort. The boxes were of varying heights based on vertical jump ability... sufficient to encourage significant knee flexion upon landing. A few seconds in between each pair of jumps was permitted, but not required.



Several of these jumps were designed intentionally to activate the quadriceps muscle and specifically the VL in order to maximize gains in that muscle. While this is not typical of plyometrics, it is a fair variation, and still includes the plantar flexion at the ankle that is associated with traditional plyometric training.


Let me know if you have any questions. Need more help with an injury? You can consult me online using Skype video calls.

Best wishes

Maryke

Sports Physiotherapist


References

  1. Pellegrino, J., Ruby, B. C., & Dumke, C. L. (2016). Effect of Plyometrics on the Energy Cost of Running and MHC and Titin Isoforms. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 48(1), 49-56.

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