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The Right Moves

Using an Olympian Secret Weapon for Lower-Body Power

October 02, 2000|KAREN VOIGHT

In keeping with the spirit of the Olympics, let's take a look at one of the key ways that world-class athletes train to develop that explosive power that wows us every time we watch them compete on TV.

It's called plyometrics, and it's a training technique that involves quickly stretching the muscles before contracting them. This results in a type of "elastic strength."

Let's say you are a volleyball or basketball player interested in improving your vertical jump, a skier who wants to better maneuver around moguls this winter, or a tennis player who aims to get your legs in top condition. This lower-body plyometric drill will be a very useful tool.

But proceed with caution. Some critics of this type of training warn that the impact of jumping can cause tremendous stress on your joints. It is not a drill for those who are out of shape, have orthopedic limitations or are not concerned about the level of their athletic performance. The added risk of injury may not be worth the potential benefits.

But if you are healthy, fit and athletic and want to strengthen your muscles and develop quick, powerful reactions to boost your sports abilities, then these squat jumps may be just the ticket. Done correctly, they will help you jump higher and improve the way you land to help decrease impact on your joints. Studies have also shown that plyometric drills like this can also improve bone density in younger participants.

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Here are the ground rules for keeping squat jumps safe and effective:

* Think of the quality of the movement, not the quantity of the jumps. Only perform them when you are thoroughly warmed up.

* Wear well-cushioned shoes to help absorb impact and perform the squat jumps on a padded area such as grass or a resilient surface such as a wood gym floor.

* Keep your jump safe by landing on the toes then rolling to the heel, using the entire foot as a rocker to spread the impact over a greater surface. Keep your knees in line with your toes and bend your ankle, knee and hip joints to absorb shock. The move itself is actually pretty simple.

A. Begin the takeoff phase by quickly dropping downward into a half-squat position. Feet should be flat on the ground and shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointing forward. Swing your arms behind you.

B. Immediately reverse the downward motion by exploding upward as high as possible. Swing your arms forward to shoulder level. Check that you don't overarch your spine or lean backward when you jump.

Upon landing, repeat this sequence, initiating the jumping phase when you reach the half-squat position. Work for maximum height with each jump. Build up to two sets of 15 to 20 repetitions with two minutes of rest between sets.

Because of its high intensity level, do this exercise no more than twice a week. If you are consistent and train wisely, you ought to see encouraging improvements in your sports performance within a few weeks.

It just goes to show that with proper execution, even backyard athletes like most of us can benefit from the training techniques of those awesome Olympians.

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Karen Voight is a Los Angeles-based fitness expert. Her latest video is "Core Essentials." You can contact her at kvoightla@aol.com. Her column runs on the second and third Mondays of every month.

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