Skills and quick reactions are especially important in trail running. To run well and fast on the trail, the runner must react immediately to the terrain and obstacles. Unlike on the road, trail runners cannot afford the luxury of repeating one well-practiced and polished movement cycle over and over all the way to the finish. On the trail, every step is different and unique. Rocks, puddles of water, holes in the ground, tree roots, and snakes all have one thing in common – they need to be jumped over. Good reaction (reflexes) and efficient movement are especially important on technical downhill parts. Fortunately, there is a training system specifically created to develop quick reactions and explosive power: the “plyometric training”.
Why this fancy word?
This training system was created by a Soviet sports scientist Oleg Verkhoshanskiy in the late 1960s and was known then as “Jump training”. It is believed that jump training contributed significantly to the Olympic success of Soviet athletes. After the fall of the iron curtain, American sports performance trainer and biomechanist Michael Yessis was able to travel to Russia and work there to translate, study and implement Verkhoshanskiy’s method and introduce it to the United States and the rest of the world. The system later became known as “plyometrics” and is now becoming extremely popular with professional and amateur athletes throughout the world. The term “plyometric” was coined by Fred Wilt, an American athlete, and author who worked together with Michael Yessis. In Greek “plio” means more and “metric” means to measure.
The science behind plyometric
The idea behind plyometric training is simple – to use the stretch-shortening cycle of the muscle to produce maximum force. This is achieved by enhancing the excitability, sensitivity, and reactivity of the neuromuscular system.
Each plyometric exercise or movement can be divided into three phases: eccentric, amortization and concentric.
- Eccentric phase or loading phase. Eccentric means “away from the centre”. During this stage the muscle gets stretched like a rubber band and is loaded with potential energy, getting ready to fire.
- The amortization phase is the time between the eccentric and the concentric phases. It includes dynamic stabilization of the eccentric muscle action and the initiation of the concentric contraction. As the athlete gets better, the amortization phase gets shorter.
- Concentric phase or unloading phase. Concentric means “towards the centre”. During this phase the muscle contracts explosively producing energy to propel the body or part of the body. This is similar to releasing a stretched rubber band. As the athlete improves, more power is produced in the concentric phase.
Plyometric workout for a trail runner
An athlete must achieve a certain level of fitness and whole-body conditioning before she or he can safely incorporate plyometric exercises into the training plan. Adequate core strength, joint stability, range of motion, and balancing skills are all absolutely necessary for effective plyometric training with minimal risk of injury. Start working on these skills first! Once you notice improvement and feel ready, start with the most simple jumps or hops, and stay in your comfort zone until you develop the required skills and confidence to challenge yourself further. Because plyometric training can be very taxing on the body, extra caution is recommended with a 10-20 min warm-up.
Author: Olya Korzh. Photos: Claus Rolff