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​Plyometric training benefits for endurance athletes

Posted by James Eacott on

Plyometric training involves explosive muscle contractions to develop strength, speed and power. Historically the reserve of sprinters alone, endurance athletes are now reaping the many benefits of plyometric training. Don’t get left behind.

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What is plyometric training?

Plyometric training takes advantage of rapid cyclical muscle firing known at ‘stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). During the exercise, the muscles undergo an eccentric contraction followed by a rapid transition to a concentric contraction.

When you think about plyometric training, think explosive exercises such as:

  • Skipping
  • Box jumps
  • Jumping lunges
  • Squat jumps
  • Clap press ups
  • Single leg jumps

This isn’t an article detailing how to complete each exercise - there’s a tonne of YouTube videos out there - and instead we're focusing on why endurance athletes should be including plyometric training into their schedule.

Benefits of plyometric training

Plyometric training has a wealth of benefits for endurance athletes:

  1. Improve strength and endurance
  2. Improve economy
  3. Increase speed
  4. Reduce injury occurrence
  5. Boost agility and coordination

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Let’s dig into each to discover how plyometrics boosts endurance performance.

Plyometric training benefits #1: Improve strength and endurance

Let’s start with the science.

A study from the University of Los Lagos in Chile concluded that “after 6 weeks of high-intensity moderate volume plyometric training, highly competitive middle- and long-distance runners obtained significant running endurance and explosive strength adaptations, and these adaptations were compatible with their regular running endurance training program.

The Human Performance Laboratory in Indiana tested well trained 5k runners in a bid to assess the impact of anaerobic training (like plyometrics) on middle distance performance. They concluded “These results indicate that the anaerobic systems influence middle distance performance in runners.”

Another paper, this time published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, clearly showed that just six weeks of plyometric training led to improvements in 3km running performance.

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Skipping will improve your endurance…plus it’s fun

These improvements aren’t just for runners.

For cyclists, developing strength and power improves time trialling, climbing and sprint ability. Being able to recruit a greater proportion of your fast twitch fibres, higher intensity efforts can be achieved with less perceived effort.

Plyometric training benefits #2: Improve economy

The work economy of nineteen male cross country skiers improved “significantly” in a study demonstrating the impact of explosive strength training on endurance.

A systematic review published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found “a strong relationship between running economy and explosive training” and went on to state “the importance placed on running economy in performance warrants the incorporation of sport-specific explosive strength for highly trained runners.”.

Running economy is one of the three golden pillars of endurance performance – along with VO2 and lactate threshold – so developing this aspect is key to faster race splits.

Plyometric training benefits #3: Improve speed

Seven weeks of plyometric training induced “small to significant” improvements in a 2.4 mile running time trial according to one study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research while another showed it improved 20 meter sprint speed significantly.

Plyometric training improves your ability to store energy between each eccentric and concentric contraction. This will reduce your ground contact time and improves running mechanics.

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Bounding, jumping, skipping. It doesn’t matter how or where you do it – plyometric training will benefit your endurance

Plyometric training benefits #4: Reduce injury occurrence

Reducing injury occurrence is another huge benefit of plyometric training.

Insufficient strength within tendons and ligaments are the root cause of many injuries for runners and cyclists in particular. Plyometric training not only develops muscular and neuromuscular forces, but also improves the strength of these connective tissues so important for optimal biomechanics.

Jumping, skipping and bounding all strengthen tendons and ligaments, reducing the likelihood of injury. Fewer injuries of course leads to improved training consistency and greater fitness gains.

One study from the University of Zagreb published in Sports Medicine concluded: “For performance enhancement and injury prevention in competitive sports, we recommend an implementation of PLY [plyometric training] into a well-designed, sport-specific physical conditioning programme.

Plyometric training benefits #5: Boost agility and coordination

You might be wondering how on earth agility or coordination could be important for endurance athletes.

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Just look at trail runners. They glide effortlessly over tricky terrain, skipping over roots, dodging rocks and hopping debris as they go. Agility and coordination in this arena are crucial because without the ability to change direction fast and make micro-adjustments to stride length and direction, you’ll eat dirt in no time.

Plyometric training for endurance athletes – conclusion

Plyometrics are well worth incorporating into your strength training schedule if you’re looking to boost endurance. What’s more, they’re fun, easy to do and will also increase your longevity within your chosen sport.

Why wouldn’t you?

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