Coaches Corner: Why You Should Try Plyometrics

Eight miles before the end of his first-ever ultramarathon, Tom Vrizi started to get a nasty case of IT band syndrome. He finished the race, then limped around in pain for the next month, trying to run through it.

Finally, he consulted Dr. Google, trying to figure out what was weak, and how he might fix the problem with the right strength training exercises.

The exercises worked, and made him realize something: Other NBR members were also suffering from running-related injuries that might be avoided if they started strength-training. “During a drive to pick up race bibs, while sitting in traffic, I had the idea to lead a workout for the club,” he says.

The first plyo class took place on Monday, April 13, 2015. “I remember because I was still sore on that Friday and had a race the next day,” Tom says. (It ended up being the most successful race he’s ever ran.)

Now an NASM-certified personal trainer, Tom leads a plyo class every Monday night, helping his fellow team members stay strong and injury-free.

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What can plyo do for runners?

  1. It helps strengthen the fast twitch muscles runners use for speed.

  2. It can work your cardiovascular system if you’re pushing to do the exercises quickly.

  3. It helps strengthen the bones—the stress from landing from a jump helps make them less brittle.

“I've had many people tell me that my plyo class is responsible for them being able to hit PR after PR without injury. Some people go on to conquer longer distances than they ever thought they could,” Tom says. And, although he admits that he’s hurt himself due to his own clumsiness, he hasn’t gotten a chronic “running injury” in years.

What is Tom’s plyo class like?

The class is built around three four-minute sets that consist of four exercises done for 30 seconds each, then repeated with no break. Between every set, Tom switches it up with some running drills. “This gives muscles a chance to recover ATP and clear any lactic acid that built up,” he says. “The longer break we take between sets is aimed at a full recovery so you can give each set your all.”

The class focuses on exercises aimed at strengthening the things that city runners typically lack. “One of the main problems with being a city runner is never facing steep challenging climbs (bridges don't count),” he says. “The other is the complete lack of lateral motion. Conga squats emulate having to get your knees up on a big climb. To help with lateral motion we do side-to-side exercises, such as side leg lifts, clam shells, lateral jump squats, etc. These were the key to curing my IT band syndrome. Additionally, we do pushups to keep our arms and chest strong to enhance arm swing.”

Class typically ends with core work, and a few stretches for the hips, hamstrings and calves. “Contrary to my previous incorrect stance, I’ve learned that stretching isn't evil.” 

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What's the best strategy to approach plyo exercises?

For the true plyo experience, try to spend as little time as possible on the ground between jumps.

Plyo exercises have three phases:

  1. Concentric: the time in the air

  2. Eccentric: the time recovering from your landing

  3. Armortization: the time between when you stop your decent and launch again

“You want to land softly and controlled with feet facing forward in the eccentric phase, and then quickly armortize and get off the ground. The more time that's spent in the bottom of a squat, for example, the weaker the jump will be.”

If I hate cross-training, what's the least I can get away with?

If you work on your feet all day: “5-10 minutes of single leg balance work combined with side leg lifts and clam shells.” 

If you sit in an office chair all day: “5-10 minutes of hip flexibility and mobilization followed by 5-10 minutes of single leg balance work combined with side leg lifts and clam shells.” 

“Neither scenario will result in you getting faster,” says Tom, “but it will help you avoid injury and keep moving.” 

How should I incorporate plyo into my training to get the most out of it?

Tom suggests doing plyo the day after a long run, and taking a rest day afterwards. “Long runs and plyo have totally different goals. You can then take a rest day to recover by taking a walk or another light activity.”