Plyometrics for Runners & triathltes
Plyometrics – A dual edged sword
Whether we like it or not, running is a totally unsupported, multiple repetition explosive activity which places the highest demand on lower limb joints & musculature. Sometimes progressive run training alone is insufficient to develop the necessary support & conditioning to run safely & effectively for protracted periods on, in the case of triathlon, already greatly fatigues legs.
When a joint is injured or weakened in an endurance athlete; more specifically the knee in runners, it is difficult to strengthen the knee to deal with the rigorous requirements of the event (running or triathlon) without further weakening or injuring the joint. These ballistic forces that must be counteracted are eccentric soleus, quad & hamstring loading under forces greater than body weight.
Before beginning the process be sure to determine whether the correct muscle groups are able to fire & are engaged. Use techniques as those suggested in Running Sports Essentials. Through a PT or sports physician ensure that the journey you are about to embark upon is sensible & doable.
The approach should 1st be low weight (less than body weight), progressive specific strengthening of the joint’s supporting musculature. Examples: single legged partial bend leg presses, single legged, partial (way less than 90*) leg extensions. Also include a variety of balancing exercises on one leg at a time, gradually introducing more & more instability. It might also be necessary to develop the necessary specific conditioning especially in general quads, soleus & glute medius & minimus & the core in general to ensure proper support during the activities.
2ndly move to more functional exercises that better mimic running. These could be partial single legged compass squats & gentle absolutely correctly executed static partial lunges & standing, leg weight only, hamstring curls.
Phase 3 may include the introduction of some functional resistance work like hill running, then sprinting or specific race pace efforts. Be careful to either walk down with small soft steps between reps, or to jog down with similar light, short, quick tread. More aggressive, but correctly executed lunges can be introduced in this phase.
Phase 4 would include static progressive single & double legged plyometrics where the aim is more to develop support strength, balance/proprioception & muscle endurance. See Runner’s World article called Calf Busters.
Final phase – which may not be possible in some instances of injury, is full, but distance running oriented plyometrics. These need consist only of horizontal & then incline single legged running hops & correctly executed bounds—also 1st horizontal, then incline.
Lastly, ensure that run mechanics are sound; in terms of impact (partial & not direct), in terms of load bearing (reduce period per foot strike – quicker stride rate & keep the body weight as low as is safely possible) & finally in terms of linearity (remove opportunities for the creation of excessive torque during the gait).
Think safety 1st, then move progressively, with regular recovery & assessment through the stages & always remember that these activities are done in order to support a healthier run & to increase performance.