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Improving Your Marathon Performance with Plyometric Training: A Step-by-Step Guide

I've told you before how I kept getting injured and I couldn't finish my long runs?

And how even as a physical therapist, I ignored the 2 things that would solve all my knee and Achilles problems?


(Evidence that it can take a hot minute...or year...for the knowledge in your head to become weekly, actionable habits.)


The ULTIMATE Secret to you unlocking your best marathon performance are the same 2 "secrets" that currently keep my runner's knee and Achilles tendonitis at bay:

Lifting heavy

and

Plyometrics.


I know.

You don't want to do them.

You might even want a different answer, immediately click off this blog, and resume scouring google for a better more "runner-y" answer.


Well...you can.

But what you're really fighting against is recent exercise science and research.

Don't feel bad; I've lived that mistake.

But you don't have to ;)


Let me show you in this blog + video a fast plyometric circuit that can fit seamlessly into your running schedule and will help YOU achieve your best marathon performance yet!


Let's go.

Plyometric Training is a form of explosive strength training that uses explosive movements to develop muscular power, which is the ability to generate a large amount of force quickly.

How to Improve Your Marathon Performance with Plyometrics

Circuit:

2-3 sets each // 3 objects roughly a foot tall that are safe to jump over (think tissue boxes or yoga blocks)


Double Leg Pogo jumps

  • x10

Squat Jumps

  • x10

Hurdle Hops

  • 3 hurdle hops x 2 rounds (rest minimum 1 min between rounds)

How These Plyometrics help Your Marathon Training

Double Leg pogo jumps

  • directly improve tendon stiffness, targeting your Achilles tendons

  • Tendon stiffness: think optimal, healthy tendons. Tendons not only attach muscles to bones, they store and absorb energy. Thick tendons are healthy tendons and they only get stronger with HEAVY load like lifting heavy and jumping.

  • TIPS: keep your toes up, soft bend in your knees, minimal time on the ground

  • I agree: double leg pogo jumps don't look quite like running. But make them single leg, and they do. But correct progression and dosage reigns supreme when just starting with plyos.


Squat Jump

  • directly improve quad tendon stiffness (it helps other tendons too, don't worry)

  • This exercise isn't about jumping; it's about EXPLODING! Runners here all about falling into your next stride, but what we miss, is that while the front leg is falling forward, the back leg is propelling or "jumping" forward. TRAIN THIS!

  • TIPS: focus on EXPLODING, full body involvement, use your arms to power you up! Land softly on the balls of your feet (like my cat hopping onto the kitchen counter in super-stealth-mode because he knows he's not supposed to and doesn't want to get caught)

Hurdle Hops

  • directly combines the tendon stiffness goodness of the first 2 exercises and challenges it further with added HEIGHT and ECCENTRIC muscle control

  • That's a lot of words to say: this exercise progresses the first 2 exercises and combines them, all at the same time.

  • Plyometrics isn't just about jumping or exploding up. They're also about loading your muscles and tendons in an elongated state which creates eccentric strength. This kind of strength helps make you more resilient against injuries and....makes you a faster, stronger, better runner.

  • TIPS: focus on CLEARING the object and landing softly on your feet. Take your time between jump if you need it (I know I did when I filmed them). I would rather you focus on technique and quality rather than quantity.


PLYOMETRIC TRAINING for MARATHONERS: FAQ


Should I do plyometrics before or after running?

Short Answer:

  • BEFORE your run; in fact, they make a great warm up!

Long Answer:

"Plyometric training sessions lasted less than 30 minutes and were completed immediately before the endurance training"


Trying to save your plyo work for AFTER your run is a bad idea.

Plyos are meant to be POWERFUL, explosive movements. After a long run or a hard workout, your legs are fatigued and are in a sub-optimal state to be trying to perform plyometrics. You won't achieve the results you're looking for if you do these exercises. on dead legs.

How do I schedule plyometrics into my strength and running routine?

Short Answer:

  • 2-3 days a week. It can vary depending on where you're at in your training cycle.

  • Plyos can be performed BEFORE strength OR running (and don't have to take a ton of time.)


Long Answer:

"The plyometric training took place 2 days per week (with at least 48 hours of rest between sessions) because this training frequency had been shown to induce significant explosive-related and endurance-related adaptations in endurance athletes (36), with significant superior efficiency as compared with higher training frequencies (6). Plyometric training sessions lasted less than 30 minutes and were completed immediately before the endurance training."


  • Don't underestimate the power of rest AND

  • a deliberate, strategically scheduled plyometric training plan.

  • (This is WHY I have plyos built into RACE READY, my 16 week strength program for runners. Let it be easy, pre-planned, and progressed appropriately for you)

Are plyometrics good for marathon runners?

Short Answer: YES!


Long Answer

"Plyometric training is a form of explosive strength training that uses explosive movements to develop muscular power, which is the ability to generate a large amount of force quickly. Plyometric exercises involve a rapid eccentric movement, followed by a short amortization phase, which is then followed by an explosive concentric movement, enabling the synergistic muscles to engage in the myotatic-stretch reflex during the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). This type of training has also been shown to improve performance of endurance runners"


Plyometric training:

  • increases musculotendinous stiffness (think healthy Achilles tendon) -->

  • which results in lower oxygen consumption during running -->

  • improving running economy.


WRAPPING UP

When in doubt: Land like a cat.


Regardless of what plyometric exercise you do, ESPECIALLY when you're first starting out, always think about landing softly and quietly.


This can help decrease knee pain, ankle discomfort, and general jarring.

And if these exercises feel too advanced?


That's alright. Just hop. And land like a cat.


Dare to Train Differently,

Marie Whitt, PT, DPT //@dr.whitt.fit


P.S. If you're looking for more strength exercises made specifically for runners, grab my FREE strength guide HERE!


 

References:

Danny Lum, Frankie Tan, Joel Pang, Tiago M. Barbosa. Effects of intermittent sprint and plyometric training on endurance running performance. Journal of Sport and Health Science. Volume 8, Issue 5, 2019, Pages 471-477, ISSN 2095-2546.


Ramírez-Campillo, Rodrigo1; Álvarez, Cristian2; Henríquez-Olguín, Carlos3; Baez, Eduardo B.4; Martínez, Cristian5; Andrade, David C.6; Izquierdo, Mikel7. Effects of Plyometric Training on Endurance and Explosive Strength Performance in Competitive Middle- and Long-Distance Runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 28(1):p 97-104, January 2014. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182a1f44c

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