To run well, it takes far more than just running. Sometimes, we have to train in ways that may seem counterintuitive to our normal training methods. One example is plyometric training — exercises involving fast explosive jumps, hops, skipping and bounding.
On the surface, running and plyometrics are at opposite ends of the training spectrum:
- Plyometrics involves short explosive muscle contractions
- Endurance running involves repeated submaximal muscle contractions
Despite the differences, plyometrics can really benefit runners by improving strength, power, speed and running economy. Despite this, endurance runners do not widely use plyometrics in their training.
Whilst there have been a good deal of research looking at the benefits of plyometrics for runners, many have involved either small numbers of runners, or runners that were less well trained.
Effects of plyometrics training on middle and long-distance runners
One interesting study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, looked to address this. So, what was interesting about this research?…
First, in comparison with other studies, the subject group was relatively large with 36 participants.
Second, the subjects were all highly trained, with a minimum of 2 years’ competitive experience at either national or international level.
And third, the plyometric training involved only depth jumps.
About the research
The researchers randomly assigned the 36 national, and international level, endurance runners into two groups. One group completed only endurance training, whilst the other undertook both endurance and plyometric training.
Before starting the training intervention, all the athletes completed a series of tests. They then repeated these afterwards, to assess the effectiveness of plyometrics training on running performance.
What did the researchers find?
Firstly, there was no improvement in the endurance training group.
In contrast, the plyometrics group improved in several tests, including:
- Countermovement jump test
- Drop jump test
- 20m sprint test
- 2.4km time trial improved by 4%.
The researchers concluded that concurrent strength and endurance training could be beneficial for middle and long-distance runners.
The most interesting thing with this research was that the only difference between the two groups was that the plyometrics groups completed 2 weekly sessions of drop jumps — just 60 drop jumps, from 20 to 60cm.
So what are depth jumps?
Depth jumps (sometimes called bounce drop jumps) are an advanced plyometric exercise that involves stepping off an elevated platform or box.
- The athlete stands on the box — this might be 12, 18 or 24″ high.
- When doing depth jumps, athletes try to step off, rather than jump off the box.
- To do this, athletes stand with the heel of one foot balanced on the edge of the box, or platform, with their lead leg straight.
- Once you contact the ground, you then immediately jump upwards.
Because of the explosive nature of box jumps, they improve our ability to co-ordinate fast, powerful muscle contractions and make use of elastic energy. Put simply, they improve our ability to generate force rapidly.
Including plyometrics/explosive strength training, as part of your endurance running training is a very time efficient way to improve running performance. Clearly, a 4% improvement is a significant amount at this level. For example, this would equate to around a 38 second improvement in 5km running time, for a 16min 5km runner.
Of particular importance was that this improvement occurred in such high-level runners, where tiny improvements can make a significant difference. It’s possible that greater gains may well be achievable in less well-trained runners.
Further reading on strength training for endurance:
Click here to read more about the benefits of strength training for endurance athletes.
Ramírez-Campillo R, Alvarez C, Henríquez-Olguín C, San Martín EB, Martínez C, Andrade DC, Izquierdo M. EFFECTS OF PLYOMETRIC TRAINING ON ENDURANCE AND EXPLOSIVE-STRENGTH PERFORMANCE IN COMPETITIVE MIDDLE AND LONG DISTANCE RUNNERS. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Jul 8. [Epub ahead of print]