The water is murky when fishing in the Google sea. The line between research and application is blurred. Whether you snagged an article from a running enthusiast, trainer, or clinician (medical doctor, physical therapist, etc.), there’s so many aspects to consider when looking to apply the surge of free content that’s available.
You’ll see it slide through your newsfeed from time-to-time. The article typically touts the benefit of adding plyometrics to your running program. Plyometrics are fast, more powerful strength movements (i.e. jumps) that aim to build strength and power. Research articles have found benefit in adding “plyo” to a running program, right?
Most of the articles you’ll find online will support their pro-plyo argument with research. It seems easy enough to follow advice when it’s “supported,” right? This is the blurred line I eluded to earlier. The clinical application of research is difference between you becoming a faster runner or one who’s in my office waiting room.
Research articles highlighting the benefits of plyometrics in college-aged runners certainly doesn’t apply to most runners. That is, unless, you are in fact in your 20’s (most likely not). My caution for plyo isn’t that you’re not going to develop strength, quite the contrary. Plyometrics are a great way to develop strength. That is—if you can survive.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of research supporting the use of plyometrics to build strength; however, crossing over from experiment to real world application can get pretty ugly–particularly when you use results from college athletes and broadcast it to all age groups.
“This is why I just run.” This single phrase sums up the running population. I hear it daily as I ask a runner to perform a sequenced, controlled, and coordinated movement (or god forbid ask them to catch a ball J). Most runners are terrible at sequencing their movement. Dominate quadriceps (thigh) muscles, weak glutes (butt), and an overall trend towards poor balance make even slow movements a disaster at first.
If you can’t control your movement at slow speeds, what do you think happens at high velocity? With fatigue attacking your leg muscles your movement will become sloppy—and remember, most runners aren’t great at coordinating their movement anyway.
The induced fatigue with plyo’s amplify your danger. Fatigued muscles eventually fail to control your movement. It’s only a matter of time before you land from a jump with a sudden “pop,” “yank,” or “stab.”
Plyo typically results in nothing short of tendons, joints, and muscles getting yanked far beyond their comfort zone. Tendons yank, muscles pop, and joints grind as you fail to control the motion. You were once dedicated to improving your running—now you’re dedicated to rehabbing an injury.
Plainly said, plyometrics are an open invitation to injury. Any plyo program should accompany a referral to physical therapy. Even for those who are strong and controlled with their movement the risk is most certainly not worth the reward.
You want a program with low risk, high reward, right? Unfortunately, low risk, high reward programs are a unicorn of sorts. Instead, the objective is to avoid any program with high amounts of risk (even if high reward). Plyo falls into this category.
This is an article I wanted to write for a while, but it was placed on the back burner. It sprung to front burner when another runner came to my office injured. While this is nothing new, you can guess how they became injured—not from running, but trying to prevent injury through a plyometric program.
Managing your injury risk is the name of the game. A focus on improving your strength through slow, controlled movements offers the most reward the least risk. Whether you’re at the front, middle, or back of the pack, controlling your motion is and forever will be your priority.
So before you start jumping around the gym, onto boxes, or in your living room, ask yourself “am I ready for this” and “is it worth it?”