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Photo credit: James Eacott

Plyometrics for trail running – Top 5 exercises

07-May-19

Last updated: 10-May-19

By James Eacott

Plyometrics are high-velocity exercises where explosive movements are performed repeatedly - think skipping, jumping, clap press-ups, burpees, hopping and box jumps. Plyometric exercises benefit trail runners in many ways, such as:

  • Improve power
  • Increase stride length
  • Develop multi-directional strength
  • Reduce injury occurrence
  • Strengthen tendons and ligaments
  • Improve running form
  • Reduce ground contact time

Due to the vast range of plyometrics available, you can choose the ones best suited to honing your strengths and developing your weaknesses and you don’t even need to be a member of the gym! We’ve focused on the five core movements beneficial to trail running.

Note: this isn’t a ‘how-to’ guide – there’s plenty of videos on YouTube showing how to perform each exercise correctly – but rather a list of why these are the best plyometric exercises for trail running.

Top 5 top plyometric exercises

Box jumps.

Box jumps are a classic plyometric exercise for runners which develops your hamstrings, glutes and quads.

Many studies have shown how various plyometric exercises benefit running economy, none more so than box jumps. Being able to cover the ground with less effort will ultimately mean you run faster and this is why box jumps are crucial.

Jumping lunge.

We all attest to the power of the lunge for building leg strength. After all, they recruit your entire lower body. The jumping lunge is a super-charged version of the lunge - not only do you get the explosive, power-developing movement of a box jump, but also the specificity of working one leg at a time.

Lowering your body into a lunge before jumping up, switching legs mid-air and landing in the opposite position works your glutes, quads and hamstrings mainly. But to do them properly, you’ll be calling on a whole host of tendons, ligaments, stabilising muscles to keep balance.

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Skipping.

This classic school-yard exercises hits your calves and aerobic system as a whole. More specifically, it strengthens the tendons and ligaments around your ankles, knees and feet. Developing these are key to optimal stability on the trails as well as reducing injury occurrence.

Skipping builds strength and elasticity in your plantar fascia and Achilles tendon which means that with every stride you’ll store more energy ready to release on your next stride, rather than it being sapped by your muscles.

Lateral jump.

Compared to running on asphalt where the motion is very linear on a forward / backward plane, trail running requires more multi-directional movement.

Jumping from side to side – like a skier might – hones skills which will boost trail running performance such as stability, balance and proprioception.

They also develop muscles specifically used for stability over technical terrain. When you’re dodging trees, negotiating a tricky descent or skipping over roots, the smaller yet important muscles on the outside of your glutes and legs work overtime.

Lateral jumps help strengthen these muscles, such as the gluteus medius, peroneus longus and tibialis anterior.

Forward jump.

The classic forward jump – or standing long jump as you may know it – requires raw, all-out power to jump as far forward as possible, landing together on both feet.

A great one to combine with the vertical box jump, forward jumps increase your stride length and leg power as well as your core for stability and balance.

Summary

The gains from plyometric training are low-hanging fruit that all runners should take advantage of. They’re fun, easy to complete anywhere and are not mentally or really physically taxing.

Be aware that, after your first few sessions, the DOMS will be quite pronounced as you challenge your muscles to perform new actions. But the gains will be well worth it.

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