You know we love a good box jump, the plyometric move that turns your lower body into a powerful, explosive machine. But your plyo-training can, and absolutely should, expand to your upper body, too.
“Plyometric exercises are extremely important for the upper body because they take advantage of our ‘stretch-shortening cycle,’” says Bryan Lang, a physical therapist, strength coach, and orthopedic clinical specialist. “It’s the concept of using your muscles and tendons like a spring. As the spring gets pushed down, there’s energy generated to push the spring back up. The same is true for upper-body plyos: When you land back down from a clapping push-up, your muscles build energy to spring back up as you slow your body’s descent to the floor with your hands, forearms and shoulders.” Lang explains that this type of training can help strengthen your tendons and muscles to absorb repetitive, high-level tasks, reducing the risk of damage to the shoulders.
But beyond the potential for injury prevention, upper-body plyos also have a performance-enhancing effect. “Plyometric exercises are designed to boost power, which is a combination of speed and strength,” says Richard Wilcock, a studio owner and strength coach. “These exercises offer a massive benefit to most athletes, but they can also help you push through training plateaus in exercises like the bench press, pull-ups, and dips, by recruiting and training muscle fibers to give more explosive power.”
Of course, Wilcock adds that plyometrics are a fairly advanced form of training, so it’s important to have a solid baseline of strength before incorporating them into your workout. He also says that because plyos are so tiring — eliciting a response more like what you’d feel after running a sprint than a typical resistance-training exercise — you should choose just a couple moves and add them to the end of your workout so the exhaustion you feel won’t affect the rest of your session. The following exercises are good options to try if you’re just starting out.
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Medicine Ball Slams
Challenge your arms, shoulders, and even your core with a medicine ball slam exercise. Start with a light weight — eight or 10 pounds — to see how it feels before progressing to a heavier medicine ball.
- Stand tall with your knees slightly bent, feet hip-distance apart, holding a medicine ball at your chest.
- Lift the medicine ball over your head, then forcefully swing your arms down toward the floor, releasing the ball so it slams into the ground just in front of your feet.
- Catch the ball as it bounces back into the air, and immediately raise your arms back over your head to continue the exercise.
- Perform two to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.
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The plyometric push-up dynamically targets your chest, triceps, shoulders, and core. While the goal is to push yourself forcefully enough away from the ground to lift your hands completely off the floor, you can still elicit a plyometric response by simply pressing forcefully upward to release some pressure from your palms, even if your hands don’t completely leave the floor.
- Setup in a high plank position on the floor with your palms under your shoulders and your feet positioned wide for a greater base of support. Make sure your core is tight and your body forms a straight line from heels to head.
- Bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the floor.
- When your elbows are bent at or slightly farther than 90 degrees, press forcefully through your palms, jumping your hands into the air as you extend your elbows.
- Catch yourself with your palms, elbows slightly bent to reduce the force of impact, and then control your body weight as you lower your chest back toward the floor.
- Perform two to three sets of as many repetitions as you can while maintaining good form.