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A box jump is a classic plyometric exercise. Photo: Shutterstock

Explainer | Plyometrics training for long distance runners – benefits of explosive strength exercises

  • Plyometrics training may seem like the domain of sprints and short distance runners, but it has benefits for long distance and ultra runners too
  • Plyometrics training is fast, explosive movements, which can improve strength, stability, economy and even VO2 max

Moving slowly over long distances does not sound compatible with moving as quickly as possible, in short bursts. But including power training in your training programme will improve your long distance running.

Plyometrics training is short powerful movements that require sudden and intense contractions. In layman terms, think about jumping as high as you can. That is a plyometrics movement.

Long distance runners can benefit from explosiveness training, known as plyometrics. Photo: Shutterstock

Plyometrics training has many benefits for long distance running:

  • Injury prevention – you are less likely to tear a muscle if you need to suddenly accelerate during a run.

  • Stability – you will improve the stability in your joints, this will also prevent injuries and also make you more efficient and confident running on uneven surfaces or downhill.

  • Running economy – plyometrics training will make you a more efficient runner, burning less energy per stride.

  • VO2 Max – there is evidence that plyometrics training will improve your VO2 Max, which means the maximum amount of oxygen a person can use during exercise. One study into football players, published in Advances in Health Sciences Research, found that plyometrics training improved VO2 more than sprint training did over a six week period.
  • Neuromuscular benefits – the neuromuscular system is the link between the nerves and the muscles. Plyometrics will improve this link, allowing you to move more efficiently. In short, it improves your coordination. Plyometrics “results in the enhancement of the neurologic system to allow neuromuscular coordination to become more automatic,” said and article in International Journal Sports Physical Therapy.

All the above amounts to moving faster, for longer while using less energy.

Plyometrics exercises for runners

If you are not already doing weight training, start with traditional strength exercises. Do not get straight to explosive plyometrics training or you risk an injury.

If you are already doing weight training and are going to include plyometrics, drop the load. Do not just perform your normal squat weight quicker. Firstly, you’ll get injured and also that’s not the point. Power is strength x speed. The decreased weight will allow you to move quickly, so you are working on power and not strength alone.

If you are not already doing strength training, do not jump straight to plyometrics. Photo: Shutterstock

Make sure you know if you are training power or power endurance. Often, plyometrics sessions are just for power training, not for endurance training. Do low reps but powerful movements. Rest between sets so you can really work on your power without fatigue becoming a factor.

You can also include plyometrics training in endurance training though. During HIIT sessions for example, you may want to do plyometrics exercises. In which case, use low or no weights and increase the reps to get that burn.

Squat jumps

Exactly what they say on the tin. Do a squat then explode up into a jump. Make sure you have flex in your knees for when you land or you’ll jar your knees and back and landing and could injure yourself.

Box jumps

Jump onto a box (these names are pretty descriptive). Try to really explode onto the jump.

Step off box jumps

Start on a slightly raised platform, like a step or lower box. With one foot, step off the platform/box. As soon as your foot hits the ground, explode up into a box jump. This replicates your foot hitting the ground as your stride and immediately transferring to a pushing motion, propelling you forward.

Step ups

Stand in front of a box. With one foot already planted on the box, drive up so you are standing on the box. Bring the other knee through and up, as though you are about to take your next stride. Pause at the top of the movement to practice stability.


Jump front one lunge to the other, switching your leading foot.