Sculpt your legs for shorter hemlines—and get faster and stronger in the process—with these explosive, plyometric movesBy: Alyssa Wells and Hollis Templeton
No need to clear the cobwebs off the treadmill in your garage. (It’s much better as a drying rack anyway.) Spring cleaning your workout in preparation for shorts season could be as easy as adding hops, skips, and jumps to traditional lower-body moves, like lunges and squats. “When done properly, explosive exercises can speed up results when you’re looking to tone your thighs, butt, and hips,” says Terri Walsh, creator of the Active Resistance Training Method and owner of A.R.T. Studio NYC. But you won’t just shape your gams and give your buns a boost; plyos can also improve running speed, prevent injuries, and enhance your performance on the field.
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You can boost your vertical jump by more than 8% by incorporating plyometric training into your program, according a 2007 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. But you don’t have to be a hoop star or a high jumper to benefit from explosive exercises. Plyometric work also helps train the brain to call on your stronger, fast-reacting muscle fibers more quickly or fire them more efficiently, which can improve your coordination and agility.
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For sprinters who want to be quick off the blocks, plyometric exercise is a must. In a 2012 meta-analysis, researchers found that participants who performed at least 15 plyometric sessions over 10 weeks or less significantly improved in their sprint performance . But if you’re not training for the Olympics, don’t fear—explosive exercise is also beneficial to runners who prefer to pace themselves. A study of adult endurance athletes found that replacing 32% of participants’ training with explosive-type strength workouts improved their 5-K run times as well as their running economy, or how effectively your body uses oxygen at a certain pace.
It’s important to note that plyometric training isn’t for beginners. “If you have known issues with your knees or lower back, attempt explosive moves with the supervision of a skilled personal trainer,” advises Walsh. (Search: What are the most common exercise injuries?) But if you’re already physically fit, incorporating plyometric exercises into your training regiment has even been shown to help prevent injury. A study of high school-age girls found that those who participated in a warmup that included plyometric and agility drills prior to practices and games experienced fewer lower body injuries.
To help you reap the countless benefits of plyometric training, we asked Walsh to share some of her favorite explosive exercises. This workout is broken up by body area. Perform as many reps of each exercise as you can (stop when you are exhausted or your form is compromised), resting one to two minutes in between sets. Complete this workout twice a week for six weeks.
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Set 1: Squats
Perform a single set of high rep squats using light to medium dumbbells. See how to perform a dumbbell squat.
Set 2: Squat Jumps
Without using weights, position your body as if you were going to perform a squat, but before you do, jump up as high as you can. When you land, immediately squat down. Continue jumping until your feet do not leave the floor. Learn proper jump squat form here.
Set 3: Depth Jumps
Stand on a box or bench that’s elevated anywhere from 12 to 36 inches off the floor. Squat down and jump from the box to the floor. Make sure to soften your landing by rolling your foot toe-ball-heel and landing with knees bent in squat position. Here’s what the depth jump looks like.
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Set 1: Second Position Plie
Perform one set of high rep plies holding a light to medium dumbbell. See how to perform a plie.
Set 2: Second Position Plie Jumps
Without using a weight, position your body as if you were going to perform a second position plie, but before you do, jump up as high as you can. When you land, bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Continue jumping until your feet do not leave the floor. Here’s what a plie jump looks like.
Set 3: Second to First Position Plie Jumps
Plie jump between second position (heels separated by one foot length, feet turned out completely) to first position (heels together, feet turned outward like you’re trying to form a straight line), making sure to roll through the foot (toe-ball-heel) as you land. Keep your ribcage and abs engaged as you perform the exercise.
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Set 1: Alternating Reverse Lunges
Perform a single set of high rep reverse lunges using light to medium dumbbells. Alternate between stepping back with your right and left foot. Learn proper reverse lunge form here.
Set 2: Alternating Lunge Switch Jumps
Without using weights, perform reverse lunges by jumping (or “scissoring” your legs) each time you alternate which leg goes back. Continue jumping until your feet do not leave the floor. Here’s what scissor lunges look like.
Set 3: Alternating Box Lunge Switch Jumps
Perform this move the same as you would the alternating lunge switch jumps, but place your front foot on a box or bench that is elevated 12 to 24 inches from the ground.
Bonus: Double Step Stair Running
If you have access to significant outdoor stairway, try adding plyometric movement to your cardio routine. Run up and down the steps, taking two at a time and pulling your knees up toward your chest as high as possible.
Up next: 8 More Moves for a Firm Butt and Thighs
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