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BarBend The 8 Best Plyometric Exercises to Power-Up Your Training

Jumping around is about way more than…well, jumping around. Plyometric training can enhance your full-body coordination, overall strength, cardiovascular fitness, and power (meaning your ability to move a lot of weight quickly). The explosive nature of plyometric movements will challenge you to up your physical and mental training.

Whether you’re into functional fitness, weightlifting, or powerlifting — incorporating plyometric exercises into your training will help you become a more well-balanced, focused, and stronger athlete. The eight best plyometric exercises detailed here either require no equipment or very little equipment — the better to train at home, in your local park, or that small corner of your gym that no one ever ventures to.

Best Plyometric Exercises

Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.

Explosive Split Squat

A basic split squat — think a lunge, but with both feet remaining in the same position the whole time instead of switching your lead foot with each step — is already a solid way to build some serious glute, hamstring, and quad strength. Explosive split squats, which have you jump at the apex of the movement, add elements of power and coordination into the mix. To get air, you need to explode up, not just raise up. That increased velocity will build more power, and that power will transfer to other lifts, like the back squat.  

Benefits of the Explosive Split Squat

  • Increase lower-body strength and power.
  • Improve squatting technique by addressing strength and stability imbalances in your legs, glutes, and hips.
  • Enhance hip mobility and range of motion.

How to Do the Explosive Split Squat

Set up for a split squat — with one foot stepped out in front of the other like you’re about to sink into a lunge. Adjust your feet so that when you go down, your hips stay square, but your knees and thighs will form roughly 90-degree angles. Your feet will remain in this basic position the whole time (until you switch sides). Maintain an upright torso and squared hips while you lower yourself into several split squat pulses. Explode up with each rep so that both feet leave the ground. Land softly and directly back into a split squat and repeat. Keep the rep count even on both sides. If you’d like to add weights, hold dumbbells in your hands at your sides to up the challenge.

Lateral Jump

You don’t have to be the world’s most powerful jumper to reap the benefits of lateral jumps. In addition to building power (which every move on this list does), the lateral jump trains coordination of your legs and torso, as the two parts work in tandem to bound side-to-side. That coordination creates more body control which does translate to just about every free-weight movement in the gym. You can stick with lateral bounds, leading with one foot at a time instead of taking off with both feet at once, if you’re looking for a lower-impact (but effective) version of this coordination and strength-builder.

Benefits of the Lateral Jump

  • Enhance control and efficiency of your deadlift by improving the coordination between your torso and legs.
  • Improves foot, knee, and hip stability.
  • Enhance lower body power and strength in the frontal plane.

How to Do the Lateral Jump

Stand tall with your hands by your sides and feet shoulder-width apart. Lean to your left side with soft knees, loading your left leg. Transition quickly to using your left leg to fuel your right leg, bounding as far out to the right side as you can. Land softly on your right foot and repeat the reverse way. Stay with bounds if you need lower-impact movements, but if you want to move into jumps, work your way up to leaping laterally with both feet taking off and landing at roughly the same time. Maintain soft landings with each rep.

Clapping Push-Up

Plyometric pushups can take many forms, but clapping pushups are definitely a classic. You’ll also stimulate muscle growth and power throughout your upper body, including your core — which you’ll need to keep your body in line while you manipulate your bodyweight like a badass.

Benefits of the Clapping Push-Up

How to Do the Clapping Push-Up

Begin in pushup position — you might find that you need a wider grip than usual to make this work for where you’re at in your training, but make sure not to compromise your form by flaring your elbows. If you’re not ready to go full explosive, you can perform these from your knees. Lower slowly until your chest is a hair from the ground, and explode up. If you’re on your knees, you might overbalance yourself by clapping, so feel free to just explode up until your hands leave the ground, slow it down, and land carefully. If you are in a full push-up position, make sure you get enough height to comfortably clap and get back to catch yourself as lightly as possible.

Squat Thrust

Think of this exercise as a more focused version of a burpee. And, sure enough, squat thrusts are an integral part of your classic burpee. You can definitely integrate burpees into your plyometric routine — but, to be real, many people become less explosive the more burpees they do. With so many (literally) moving parts to spend energy on, sometimes it’s more accessible and beneficial to perform more squat thrusts with perfect form than fewer burpees with wonky form.

Benefits of the Squat Thrust

How to Do the Squat Thrust

Sink into a bodyweight squat. Transition quickly into a pushup position, sending your legs back in one swift motion. If you need a lower-impact way to get into position, step back one foot at a time. Either way, as you reach a full pushup position, squeeze your glutes to make sure that your low back doesn’t hyperextend and sink toward the ground. Jump or step back up into a squat, stand, reload, and do it all again.

Single-Leg Deadlift Into Jump

This one might take some concentration to get coordinated, but mastering single-leg deadlifts into a jump will be well worth the mental effort. The payoff is better balance, hip hinge mechanics, and unilateral leg power. You’ll start by hinging down to near-parallel and finish by leaping upward in a one-footed jump. As always, make sure to land softly, and gains will abound.

Benefits of the Single-Leg Deadlift Into Jump

  • Improve full-body coordination.
  • Enhance ankle, knee, and hip stability.
  • Increase balance and address lower body strength imbalances.

How to Do the Single-Leg Deadlift Into Jump

Stand tall and plant your left foot firmly, with soft knees. Hinge at the hips, letting your right leg rise behind you, so you’re hinging forward into a single-leg deadlift. As your torso gets closer to parallel, increase the bend in your left knee, “loading” your left leg. Bend your right knee and swing it forward, leaping up from your left leg. Land softly and repeat. Make sure to keep it even on both sides. Rise only onto your tiptoes if you need to eliminate the higher-impact landing.

Traveling Push-Up

You’ll need a very low box or step for this, as you’ll be using the momentum of your traveling pushup to have your hands land in a different location with each rep — with the help of your raised surface. You’ll target all the same muscles as you do with a clapping pushup, but you’ll be adding lateral movement to the equation.

Benefits of the Traveling Push-Up

  • Improve power and strength in your upper body that will translate into a stronger bottom of your bench press.
  • Enhance upper body coordination and control.
  • Increase lateral strength and stability in your upper body.

How to Do the Traveling Push-Up

Start in regular pushup position, but with your right hand placed on a raised surface, like the kind of step you’d use for step-ups or a group fitness class. Sink into the deepest pushup you can before exploding upward. Using that momentum, shift right so that your left hand lands on the raised surface and your right hand is on the flat ground or mat. If you need to avoid the higher impact of this transition, take it one push at a time, walking your hands to switch their positions instead of relying on sheer explosiveness to do the trick.

Box Jump

If you value your shins, you’ll do a good job warming up before you dive into box jumps. Make sure you’re squatting into your loading position before you leap up and land softly on your box — doing so will make sure you’re getting the most you can from this plyometric staple.

Benefits of the Box Jump

  • Build mental stamina and confidence — you definitely need a lot to hop up onto boxes of all kinds of heights.
  • Improve lower body strength and power, translating into better squat and deadlift dynamics.
  • Increase full-body coordination, which increases your ability to activate multiple muscle groups across the body on command.

How to Do the Box Jump

Start by sinking into a bodyweight squat in front of your box. Use your arms to help keep your coordination and momentum as you explode out of your squat, traveling up and somewhat forward, so that both feet land securely (but lightly) on your box. Step or lightly hop off the box before repeating. If you don’t have access to a box or are still building up your confidence, try tuck jumps instead — sink into your squat and jump high, literally tucking your knees up as high into your chest as you can. 

Kneeling Medicine Ball Chest Pass

If you’ve got a medicine ball, a blank wall, and something soft to put your knees on (a thick mat will do), you’ve got everything you need for kneeling medicine ball chest passes. You’ll build better pressing power as you can explode your arms forward as hard as possible to throw the ball into the wall. As a bonus: the kneeling position will recruit your core muscles as you stabilize yourself, and this is a nice way to let off a little steam. 

Benefits of the Kneeling Medicine Ball Chest Pass

  • Practice bracing on both the release and the catch, which will help all your big compound lifts.
  • Improve coordination between your torso, hips, and lower body to keep yourself stable.
  • Increase upper body strength and power.

How to Do the Kneeling Medicine Ball Chest Pass

Assume a kneeling position a couple of feet in front of a blank wall. Hold a medicine ball to your chest and brace your core. Squeeze your glutes and drive your toes or the tops of your feet into the ground. Actively squeeze the medicine ball between your hands and pass it — hard — directly in front of you into the wall. Catch it on the rebound, ensuring you have a soft recoil without letting yourself get bowled backward.

The Benefits of Plyometric Training

Plyometric training — especially in the right amount — can do wonders for your performance in and out of the gym. Here are five benefits of plyometric training. 

Increase Mental Focus And Training

Plyometric training is excellent for enhancing your physical training program (more on that below) — but it’s also spectacular for your mental and emotional training. That split second before you explode into whatever plyometric lift or jump you’re doing takes guts — it requires you to muster up everything you have and go for it. What if you miss and slam your shins on the box? What if you fumble your footing on lateral jumps? What if you’re not jumping as high or as gracefully as the next person, and you’re just straight-up embarrassed?

Even if you’re an experienced and physically fit athlete, integrating plyometrics into your training program requires you to learn a whole new set of skills — and forge a whole new level of devil-may-care confidence. Especially if you’re used to loading plate after plate onto the bar, it’s easy to underestimate how much mental discipline and emotional focus it takes to power through being humbled by explosive, largely bodyweight-oriented movements. But staying humble will only increase your hunger — and no matter what kind of athlete you are, that hunger and emotional stamina will serve you well.

Improve Power

Sure, powerlifting has the word “power” right there in its name, but it’s a misnomer. In the physics sense, “power” is the amount of force your muscles can produce in a given period of time. To put it another way, you’re more “powerful” when you can move heavy loads quickly than when you can move heavy loads slowly. That’s not to say that one is a more important training goal than the other — it’s just to clarify what it means to say that plyometric exercises will increase your power. 

Since you’ll be priming your muscles to move very quickly — going from zero to a metaphorical sixty in less than a second — you’ll notice over time that your muscles can generate more force faster. And yes, more power will help your (slow) powerlifting: think about how much easier it will be to get out of the hole of your squat if your muscles and mind are trained to produce all the energy you need, right when you need it.

man performing box jump
Mego Studio/Shutterstock

Increase Strength

Plyometric training isn’t just about going fast — it’s about getting strong. Sure, you might not be lifting heavy barbells while you’re doing bodyweight plyometric exercises. Still, it definitely makes you stronger when you practice quickly manipulating your bodyweight over big distances and heights. You’re giving your muscles that extra gas they need to stimulate increased strength and even some growth when you burst out of the bottom of your push-up with enough force to come off the ground and clap your hands before landing back down. That extra gas will make your regular push-ups feel that much more manageable because — yes — you’ll be stronger.

Enhance Cardiovascular Fitness

You can be as strong as a proverbial ox and still not be able to make it through a basic round of hypertrophy training. If you’re running out of air around the fourth rep, and by the sixth rep, you’re ready to pass out, it’s just going to be a lot more difficult to get through the kind of variety that good training macrocycles contain

Plyometric exercises will force you to learn to regulate your breathing while also making your body physically better at processing more oxygen in shorter amounts of time. By incorporating the kinds of high-intensity training that plyometric movements offer, you’ll be getting the legendary benefits of conditioning work while also getting a lot stronger.

Improve Full-Body Coordination

You need to know how to move your body as one unit if you’re going to properly execute your big three in powerlifting, especially your Olympic weightlifting exercises (which are pretty explosive in nature themselves). Plyometric training is a great way to enhance your kinesthetic awareness — that is, your ability to control and be aware of your body in movement.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Plyometric training requires you to consciously recruit all the muscle fibers you can, as explosively as you can. To successfully execute plyometric moves, you’ll need to be better at knowing where your ankles are in relation to your hips and how moving one impacts the other dramatically. Intuitive knowledge like that will serve you every day, whether you’re going for a PR or figuring out how to bring all the grocery bags upstairs at once.

How To Warm Up For Plyometric Training

Plyometrics are within themselves a warm-up. Jumping, bounding, and skipping are great ways to wake up your central nervous system and enhance your coordination pre-workout. That said, you should build gradually into your movements — even if you’re super skilled at box jumps, hopping up onto a 36-inch box cold could lead to injury. 

Some folks prefer to warm up with some light and brief cardio, and that’s fine — but just like you would ramp up in weight before you start your working deadlift sets, you’ll want to ramp up into your plyo moves as well. If you’re planning to do the fully-expressed form of the exercises listed above, for example, start with a few sets of the low-impact versions of each plyo move first. In other words, unweighted split squat pulses before weighted split squat pulses, and unweighted split squat jumps before weighted split squat jumps. Gradually get your muscles and heart rate primed for the work you’re about to do instead of — literally — jumping right in.

How to Train With Plyometrics

There are three phases of each plyometric exercise: the eccentric (loading) phase, the amortization (transition) phase, and the concentric (unloading) phase. To understand the elements of plyometric exercises, take the box jump as an example:

In the eccentric phase of the box jump, you’re going to squat down. This is when you’re telling your muscles, “Okay, fellas, let’s get ready to rumble.” The idea is to gather all the potential energy possible in your muscles to complete a high, effective box jump. Think of yourself like a rubber band — if you want to fling the band far, you’ve got to stretch it pretty taut (squat down low). If you only stretch the rubber band a little bit, you’re not maximizing the potential to send the rubber band (your box jump) as far or as high as it can go.

The amortization phase is a fancy way to refer to the transition between the eccentric and concentric phases. In other words, that super brief, almost unnoticeable moment where you get super nervous and think, “Holy crap, this box is high, I’ll never be able to do this.” Physically speaking, you’re at the bottom of your pre-jump squat, but only for a brief moment. And you want to make this moment very quick because otherwise, you’ll waste your muscles’ potential energy that you’ve built by squatting down in the first place. Think about how much harder paused reps are — when you crush all that momentum at the bottom of your lift. It’s a lot harder to lift the load back up. That’s what you’re trying to do with paused reps, but it’s the opposite of what you’re trying to do with most plyo moves — you want to use all that pent-up energy and explode into the next phase.

Man doing clapping push-up
Maridav/Shutterstock

The next phase is the concentric or unloading phase. It’s when you throw all proverbial caution to the wind and explode into your plyometric movement — the jump part of the box jump, in this example. Channel all that potential energy you gave yourself in the concentric phase and transition it into kinetic energy with your jump. This is where you’ll be developing all that power — moving through movements that require a lot of muscular strength very quickly and suddenly.

As you’re going through your plyo exercises, make sure you’re remaining disciplined enough to maintain every one of these three phases in each rep. It’s easy to get wrapped up in trying to get a high rep count or trying to move faster — but you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck (and a lot less injured) if you pay close attention to every nuance of every move.

Integrate these moves into your training by programming plyometric days (those will be shorter training sessions because of the added intensity of these moves). You can also integrate plyometric moves into more general lifting circuits — just make sure that you’re not interfering with your day’s main lifts. Always program according to your goals. So if your main goal is to improve your squat numbers, alternating split squat jump sets with your heavy squat sets might not be the wisest — but you might choose to challenge yourself by integrating these jumps after you’re done with your heavy squats for the day. 

You can think about plyo training in terms of time — how many clapping pushups can you get done in a minute? — or in terms of reps. Always start conservatively: to start, rest at least twice as long as you’re working between sets, and you can adjust your rest times as desired once your body gets more acclimated to the moves.

More Plyometric Training Tips

If you’re just starting plyometric training, it’s always good to learn as much as possible for your journey. And if you’re already integrating the best plyometric exercises into your program but are itching for more insights into training to improve your power and strength, knowledge is the start of that power. Check out these other plyometric training articles for more ways to amp up your program.

Featured image: Mego Studio/Shutterstock

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