It’s difficult enough being a triathlete and fitting in the training hours for swim, bike and run. Add in any strength and conditioning, physio, rehab, stretching and foam roller work and it’s beginning to look like a full-time job.
So, when people suggest extra sessions, it’s important to know all the facts. Most crucially, you will want to know that any additions will have a positive impact on your performance. Plyometric training is one such addition.
What is plyometric training?
Plyometric exercise is a type of sports-specific training used to enhance muscular power, explosiveness and, as a result, performance. It’s typically used by athletes who need a degree of speed and power for their sport, e.g track and field (sprint, throwing and jumping events), rugby, hockey and plenty of other team sports.
Plyometrics are defined as any activity that enables a muscle to reach maximal force in the shortest amount of time. With that description, you’d be forgiven for thinking such exercises aren’t a necessary part of training for an endurance sport. But you’d be wrong…
Why use plyometric exercises for triathlon?
You’ll be pleased to know you already have a degree of plyometric training in you programme: you run. One of the most important functions of muscles and tendons in running is to store energy. Your body will store this energy from impact/reaction with the ground and then release it to drive you forwards. Plyometric training can enhance the muscular and tendon stiffness that is required for running to increase efficiency and reduce your chance of injury.
Some research has demonstrated that endurance athletes who incorporate plyometric training into their exercise routines can improve their exercise economy, using less energy even at higher exercise intensities. This allows an endurance athlete to perform at a faster pace for a longer duration – vital for performance gains.
Plyometric exercises always require some element of skill acquisition and coordination, which can be directly transferred to your athletic ability for all three triathlon disciplines: swimming, cycling and running.
A race may come down to a sprint for the line. Plyometrics help with that sudden change of pace that may be required on your way to the finish line or out of transition.
Are there any risks?
If you already have an underlying muscle or bone injury, you should consult your doctor or physiotherapist before adding in any plyometric work. The high impact element of these exercises could aggravate any existing symptoms and hamper your recovery.
If you’re new to running, triathlon or exercise in general, as a beginner plyometrics aren’t advised. They require you to have a degree of coordination, body awareness and strength, so a more generalised strength and conditioning programme should be completed first.
Plyometric exercises for triathletes
There are numerous plyometric exercises to choose from, but I’ve selected the four below as they’re more suited to triathletes.
They replicate movement patterns and use similar muscle groups to those used when running. As with all exercises, concentrate on correct form; the repetitions suggested are guides.
Begin in a lunge position with one foot out in front and the other behind your body. Both knees should be at 90°. Make sure your front knee is directly over your front ankle, not pushed forwards over your toes.
Drive upwards from the lunge position switching legs in the air, landing in the lunge position on the opposite side. Repeat 12 times.
Single-leg multi-directional hops
Begin by hopping in one place on one foot 15 times. Then hop side-to-side staying on the same foot 15 times. Follow that by jumping forward and backward 15 times. Repeat the hops on the other leg.
Bound in a forward direction, exaggerating your running form, and turn each stride into a jumping motion for about 30 metres. Progress this by increasing the speed and height of the bounds.
Choose a stable box that’s a comfortable height from which to start. Standing on the ground, squat downward and leap on to the box, swinging your arms forward for momentum.
Jump backwards off the box, being careful to bend your knees and land softly. Repeat 12 times and progress by increasing the height of the box.
(Images: iStockphoto / Romilly Lockyer / Acute Graphics)
For lots more performance drills and advice head to our Training section