Old Way: Strength training in the gym
New Way: Plyometrics
Although strength training can play a supportive role in increasing muscle strength and power and reducing your risk of injuries, it can’t improve the most important factors that enable you to run faster races, including cardiac output, which determines how much blood your heart pumps per minute; the amount of hemoglobin in your blood, which determines how much oxygen is transported in your blood to your muscles; your muscles’ capillary density, which determines how much oxygen is delivered to your muscles; the amount of mitochondria in your muscles, which determines how much oxygen your muscles use to produce energy; and your muscles’ ability to use fat as fuel, which occurs only when you’ve been running long enough that your muscles start running out of carbohydrates.
Plyometrics, on the other hand, which include powerful jumping and bounding exercises, increase muscle power by exploiting muscles’ elastic property, enhancing the rate at which your muscles produce force against the ground. Try to spend as little time on the ground as possible between hops, bounds, and jumps to maximize muscles’ release of stored elastic energy. Try the exercises below on a soft surface, such as grass, track, or gymnastics mat.
Sample Plyometric Exercises
Single leg hops: 1) On one leg, hop up and down; 2) hop forward and back; 3) hop side-to-side.
Double leg bound: From a squat position with both legs, jump forward as far as you can.
Alternate leg bound: In an exaggerated running motion, bound (which looks like a combination of running and jumping) forward from one leg to the other.
Squat jumps: With hands on hips in a squat position, jump straight up as high as you can. Upon landing, lower back into a squat position in one smooth motion, and immediately jump up again.
Depth jumps: From a standing position on a one-foot tall box, jump onto the ground and land in a squat position. From this squat position, jump straight up as high as you can.
Box jumps: From the ground, jump with two feet onto a box about one foot high, and then immediately jump into the air and back down to the ground. As you get experienced with the exercise, try jumping with one foot at a time.