If you’re age 50 or over, one of the best things you can do for your health, today and tomorrow, is to do more muscle and bone strengthening exercise. It not only helps you keep a normal weight but it decreases your risk of falls, fractures and disability. While there are many forms of exercise that will help you build bone and muscle strength, one of my favorites is a quick routine called plyometrics. I’d like to tell you how you can safely incorporate its deep impact moves into your daily routine and build all important bone and leg strength.
Plyometrics: Less Time, More Bone and Muscle Strength
Plyometrics are not a new exercise routine fad. Athletes have been doing its particular jump and squat type moves for over 40 years now. The principles of plyometrics actually come out of Russia, developed by Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky, in a type of exercise called “shock training”. It was noted that Russian athletes developed more muscle strength and power coming out of a higher jump when their muscles were fully stretched out instead of a lower jump.
Working from this model, he developed a series of exercises that involve squatting down and jumping up as high as possible. The “shock” impact on bones, during the landing part of the jump, is what causes them to grow denser and stronger. In addition, muscles strengthen more when they are rapidly and completely stretched and then retracted, or shortened.
Since then, exercises that involve any type of hopping, jumping and squatting moves are considered plyometric. “Jump training” is another name for plyometrics as well. Yet, for purposes of strengthening over-50 bones and muscles, much lower impact forms of plyometrics are also effective and can be performed by average people who aren’t trained athletes.
Plyometric exercise movements duplicate the same type of moves seen in many popular sports like running, skiing, tennis, football, basketball, boxing, etc. These are sports where you will see a lot of hopping and balancing from one foot to the other or around in a circle, jumping up on one, or both, feet. In fact, plyometrics are often used to train and condition professional athletes in advance of competitions.
Even though they’re very simple moves that take a short time to perform, plyometrics are very effective in building bone and muscle strength in addition to a host of other fitness benefits.
1. Cardio conditioning. Aerobic, helps strengthen your heart.
2. Excellent muscle resistance. Helps strengthen muscles faster.
3. Benefits joints. Helps strengthen and add more flexibility to ligaments supporting joints. If you have joint problems, you’ll want to get your doctor’s okay before you start plyometric exercise. You’ll likely have to start out with the lowest impact form of it and build up to more advanced levels.
4. Builds bones. Impact exercise causes bones to grow and become thicker, stronger, and better able to resist fractures and assist in your movements of daily living.
5. Fat burning. One short, 15 minute session of plyometrics can burn up to 200 calories, depending on your weight.
The Best Plyometric Exercises for You
To start reaping the benefits of plyometrics exercise, unless you’re very active and exercise several times a week, you’ll want to start out with a much lower impact routine to protect knees, ankles, hips from injury. Here are 6 simple, yet very effective, plyometric exercises to get you started.
Things you’ll need: Some bright colored duct tape, a good jump rope with handles, a rolled bath towel, a lightly weighted medicine ball, a 5-10 lb kettlebell, or a plastic gallon of water, a clean, unobstructed floor, a good pair of shoes and socks, a pair of shorts (long pants can get in the way) and a T-shirt. Optional: Mini-trampoline. To start, clear your floor area of anything you could trip over or fall against/onto.
Then be sure to stretch in all directions for at least 5 minutes to limber up and get your muscles ready for movement.
Overall Body Conditioning, Strengthening
Jump rope. Remember using a simple jump rope as a kid just to have a little fun? Well, turns out this simple kid’s sport is actually a very effective plyometric exercise as well. Make sure you jump high enough to clear the rope and not trip yourself.
Rebound Plyometrics. For those of you who have a mini-trampoline, you’ve also been doing plyometrics as well. Plyometric side to side hops, both feet jump ups or cross pattern jumps, can be done quite easily and enjoyably on a mini-trampoline rebounder.
Lower Body Strengthening:
1. The Cross. Take your bright colored duct tape and create a 2 ft wide, from tip to tip, cross on your floor. Then starting on the left side, with both feet together, jump across to the cross’ right arm tip, then back to the left, counting 10 lands on each side. Then, stand in the middle of the cross, both feet together, jump to the top tip and to the bottom tip, counting 10 jumps each tip. Double-footed jumps reduce the strain on knees and joints. If you feel you can handle a more advanced jump, hop on one foot from side to side and top to bottom.
2. Side Lunges. Take your rolled bath towel and lay it down the middle of your cross. Starting on either side (your choice), squat down slightly and hop one foot out to the side of your cross, jumping the towel, then back to the other side, as quickly as possible, for a series of 10 repetitions to start, adding more reps as you become comfortable with it. The object is to move as quickly and as coordinated a movement as you can, with feet kept planted on the floor.
Upper Body Strengthening:
1. Standing Ball Lift. With your volleyball, or weighted medicine ball (start with a lower weight), stand with your legs about 1 ft apart. Holding onto the ball, lift the ball up to shoulder level and hold to the count of 5. Then lower the ball back to starting position, then repeat, for 20 repetitions. This also works with plastic gallon jug of water (make sure the top is on tight) – the weight provides more muscle resistance in arms and shoulders. It also helps strengthen abs and chest muscles.
2. Squat/Stand Ball Lift. With your weighted medicine ball, kettlebell, or water gallon, stand 1 ft apart, then squat slightly down. Then holding the ball or gallon between your knees, lift it up quickly over your head, standing as you do. Hold it over your head to the count of 5, then go back to the starting position and repeat. Do a repetition of 20 squat/lift/stand maneuvers.
This is a just brief get-you-started introduction to plyometrics. As you progress, you may want to seek out more advanced plyometric routines available on DVDs or at your local recreational or fitness center. Even starting out with slower, low intensity moves, jumps and hops, you can still gain the greater flexibility, balance, and strength that will help you ward off those dangerous falls and fractures.
Mark Bromson, M.D.