In a recent post I discussed the fact that we lose fast twitch muscle fiber as we age if we don’t participate in activities which require the muscles to generate a lot of force.
A great method for developing these fibers is plyometrics, or “jump training.” This technique was pioneered in Russia back in the 1960s and gained worldwide recognition when the east European athletes dominated the competition at the Olympics.
The Russian secret, as it came to be known, involves stretching the muscle (think rubber band) before it’s contracted. The idea is that a muscle that’s stretched before contracting will contract more forcefully and more rapidly. A classic example is squatting down before jumping. By lowering your center of gravity before jumping, you quickly stretch the muscles involved, which results in a more powerful movement.
Jumping rope is a simple yet effective way to begin jump training and doesn’t require much equipment. All you need is a rope that’s chest height when you stand on it with one foot; a good pair of cross trainers; and a soft surface to land on, such as a gym floor, patch of grass or synthetic running track. You can also use a carpeted surface or an exercise mat, but avoid cement floors because there’s no cushioning.
As with all training, good technique is the key. Stay on the balls of your feet when jumping and land softly – like a cat, allowing your legs to absorb the shock with knees slightly bent. Keep your shoulders relaxed and elbows close to your sides and turn the rope by making small circles with your wrists. Stand tall, with abdominals tight, and look straight ahead while concentrating on an even rhythm in your breathing.
Once you’ve perfected the basic movement, try landing on a single foot for as many hops as you can and repeat on the other foot, or jogging with your knees up high. How about hopping between jumps, or jumping backwards. Or, try adding your favorite music and jump to the beat. The possibilities are infinite!