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Plyometric exercise is more commonly known as jump training. Imagine performing the exercises on ground that resembles a large spring. Your time spent on the ground is limited as you quickly bounce off the spring and return to a jump. This type of training stimulates fast muscle responses, and many athletes who rely on speed have learned to spend more time in the air and less time on the ground.
The way plyometrics differ from other training exercises is in the requirement of a muscle-lengthening contraction before the muscle-shortening contraction. This process repeats itself as you perform the plyometric exercises. For example, during a squat jump, when you land, the fronts of your thighs stretch in preparation to contract for the next jump. This prestretch, or lengthening phase, brings more power to the subsequent jump.
At the muscular level, the prestretching of the muscle before it contracts leads to a stronger muscular contraction. Your nerves are also involved with improving muscular strength. Your body has a natural ability to monitor the changing lengths of your muscle, and when the muscles are stretched, they also contract to maintain posture. The faster you stop and start, or shorten and lengthen the muscles, the faster your muscles and nerves respond, leading to improved strength. For example, when a soccer player sprints up the field, quickly stops and backpedals for the ball, his muscles are lengthening and contracting in response to the various movements. Plyometric training will improve the athlete's ability to play soccer.
Plyometric training results in improved muscular speed. One of the benefits of fitness training is the body's ability to adapt to various stimuli. Jump training causes the muscle fibers to quickly slide over each other into a muscular contraction. The more often you do this, the faster the muscles contract. This is not a conscious effort. Your body responds when you do activities such as running, jumping, cycling or sprinting. When you speed up, the muscle contractions speed up to keep you upright and moving forward.
The combination of improved strength and speed results in increased power. You want your muscles to work at maximum strength and as fast as possible. Plyometrics are designed to improve this power. Part of this occurs by bridging the gap between the muscle-lengthening and muscle-shortening phases of the exercise. Instead of these movements happening separately, there is a slight co-occurrence at the end of one and the beginning of the other for improved power.