No longer is running for distance seen as a way to improve your 5K or 10K. Today, coaches and trainers use sprinting, speed, power, and explosive plyometric movements to boost cross-country endurance. However, before doing any plyometric or speed training, you should know a few things.
Firstly, you need to develop a foundation of strength. You cannot just jump into plyometric speed training. Advanced or not, it does not matter. It is like saying you can deadlift 500 pounds and hurt yourself. Yes, precisely what happens. People hurt themselves because of the lack of preparation going into plyometrics.
Secondly, not all strength training programs are created equally. Doing just a regular resistance strength training program will somewhat help your plyometric development.
Here is one of the best ways to prepare your body for plyometric training.
Eccentric/Isometric Strength Training
Many athletes neglect training eccentrically, just focusing on concentric. But, first,
you must realize that eccentric motion is the yielding aspect of your movement. How fast you can do it dictates concentric power and explosiveness.
The mechanisms in the eccentric and isometric motions are different from concentric ones. And if you are not training them, you are missing out on a huge part of developing your strength potential.
How does it work?
Eccentric isometric training improves the stiffness of muscles and tendons. Not
stiffness due to inflexibility. It is stiffness that absorbs and generates more force in your muscle. This stiffness makes your muscles and tendons springy. So instead of using force that requires energy, your muscles will be able to spring that uses less energy. It is called the stretch reflex.
Think about it like this; if you jump on a trampoline, you will bounce up and down and don’t use much energy to do it. Now, if you jump hard on the trampoline, it will propel you high into the air. This is because your muscles have and can develop the same elastic spring-like ability.
Now, if you jump on the trampoline hard and with force, the canvas cannot sustain the effort and will rip. This is like not having suitable eccentric isometric strength going into plyometric training. When your muscles cannot be springy, strain and injury will occur.
How to Eccentric Isometric Train
For about two weeks, you want to focus on slow-eccentric movements. Temporarily
training slowly will not make you slow. Instead, it activates and trains the proprioceptors, which must adapt to absorb and generate force in muscles and tendons. However, if you train slowly or strength train all the time, it will make you slow.
For the first two weeks, do slow eccentric lowering using 6 seconds. Then, slightly pause for 2 seconds in the isometric position and come up as fast as you can concentrically.
For the next two weeks, switch the 6 seconds from the eccentric to the isometric phase. Go fast eccentrically, pause for 6 seconds isometrically, and come up fast concentrically.
After these four weeks, it is enough time to prepare you for plyometric training.
How Plyometrics Improve Endurance for Distance Runners
Running economy is the ability to use less oxygen when running at your pace. To
simply state, the more muscles you recruit, the more oxygen is required, which is not good for your running economy. Plyometrics and explosive types of speed training like French Contrast Training and complex training are designed to improve runners’ economy and work great for cross-country.
Complex training is a method that enhances neuromuscular efficiency. This training
allows your muscles to produce more force and springiness with lower energy expenditure. It improves your running economy and how your body uses energy and oxygen. This training will help you sustain a faster pace over distance.
How to do it?
Using two exercises, the first one is a priming exercise. The second one is a
- 1st – use a compound exercise and do five reps or 85% of your 1rep-max. Don’t lift till failure. If you lift to failure, it won’t work. You must keep the mechanisms turned on. Fatigue will switch them off. Only lift about 2-3 reps with speed. If you do all five reps, you lose speed. Understand as weight goes up, speed goes down.
- 2nd – The first exercise supercharges your muscles and nervous system. And now, you will use that supercharged energy to perform an explosive dynamic movement that follows the same pattern as the first exercise. Perform the dynamic exercise until the speed starts to diminish. Don’t train to fatigue. It is not about that.
Examples are squats and vertical jumps, deadlifts and broad jumps, dumbbell chest presses and plyometric push-ups. You only need to do 2-3 sets and rest about 30 seconds to 2 minutes between exercises.
French Contrast Training (FCT)
French Contrast Training is like complex training, except you add two more
exercises for a total of four. FCT highly stimulates and supercharges your muscles and central nervous system by training force and speed for a longer time. This method increases explosive strength and speed endurance.
How to do it?
The FCT is simple to create.
- 1st – perform a compound lift- 5-rep max or 85% 1RM. Only do 2-3 reps fast.
- 2nd – do a plyometric dynamic exercise similar to the compound lift.
- 3rd – do the same compound lift as the 1st except use 50-60% of the initial weight.
- 4th – perform the plyometric exercise again, or if needed, do it assisted.
In between each exercise, you will rest between 10 to 30 seconds. In about 20 to 30 seconds, about 50% of your ATP is restored. And each exercise will last approximately five reps or ten seconds. Ten seconds is usually the amount of time ATP depletes during high-intensity training.
- Do a squat using 85% 1RM for three reps fast, then rest for 10- 30 seconds.
- Do vertical jumps. Rest 10-30 seconds.
- Then do 50% 1RM squats or Kettlebell Front Squats. Rest 10-30 seconds.
- Then do vertical jumps again using a resistance band or holding on to a bar to help assist your jumps.
Again, this is not about working until fatigue. It is about your muscles continuing speed. Do 2 to 3 sets.
Do eccentric isometric training for the first four weeks to develop your muscles’ elastic mechanisms and proprioceptors. Then after, you can do plyometric, complex, or FCT training.
You can do complex training one day and FCT the other.
Check out the book Instant Strength to see exercises and complete routines for complex training and FCT.