If you’re looking to crank up the intensity of your workout, may we suggest adding plyometric exercises to your routine? These challenging moves can supercharge any session—plus provide some serious benefits in the process.
Plyometrics, or plyos for short, are explosive exercises that require you to generate a large amount of force in a short period of time, NASM-certified personal trainer Keith Hodges, CPT, founder of Mind in Muscle Coaching in Los Angeles, tells SELF. The moves involve your anaerobic system, which fuels your body during exercise that’s so intense you can’t keep it up for more than a couple minutes at a time, as SELF previously reported. That’s what makes them so tough.
Although you may not have heard the term plyometrics before, chances are you’re already familiar with them. A box jump, for instance, is a plyometric move, as is a burpee, a hands-release or plyometric push-up, and a pop squat. Maybe you’ve done plyometric exercises in a fitness class or when practicing for a sport that’s heavy on explosive movements (think: track, soccer, or basketball). Or perhaps you’ve seen other people bust out a plyo workout, but have yet to try these intense moves yourself.
You don’t need to go to the gym to do so either. There are a lot of different plyo exercises you can try at home with just your bodyweight. And there are tons of benefits you can reap by slotting plyometric work into your routine (that is, as long as you do it safely—more on that in a minute.)
We tapped Hodges for expert input on what kind of exercise plyometric moves are and their awesome benefits, as well as how to do them safely and tips for weaving plyos into your exercise program. And, in case you’re feeling inspired after reading this article, we rounded up some great examples of plyometric exercises. Keep scrolling for everything you need to know.
What kind of exercise are plyometric moves?
Plyometrics are mainly a power exercise since they’re all about performing explosive movements at max effort (or close to max effort). Plyos are also good for challenging your strength since your muscles have to work hard to perform them correctly. And plyometrics can count as cardio, too, since they are high-intensity exercises that will get your breathless fast. That’s why you’ll commonly see them programmed in HIIT workouts.
Now, people may wonder if plyometrics are an isometric exercise technique. The answer? Nope. That’s because plyometrics involve quick movements and concentric (shortening) and eccentric (lengthening) muscle contractions. An isometric exercise, by contrast, involves muscles staying super still while they work. A plank, for example, is an isometric exercise.
In terms of which muscle groups plyos work, for the most part they are actually full-body movements, says Hodges. That said, many plyometric exercises—like jumping lunges, pop squats, and tuck jumps—place an extra emphasis on your core and lower half. But there are some upper-body-focused plyo moves too, says Hodges—for instance, plyo push-ups and explosive medicine-ball throws.
What are the benefits of plyometric exercises?
There are many benefits of plyometric exercises that might just convince you to add them to your workout routine. They can help increase speed, strength, endurance, agility, and coordination, says Hodges. Plyos can also boost tendon strength and increase your rate of force development—essentially, your body’s ability to generate a lot of power really fast, says Hodges. This can come in handy for athletes whose sports require them to perform quick, powerful movements—like track athletes, for instance, or volleyball players.
Plyometric training can also help reduce your risk of injury both in sports and at the gym, since they improve your body’s ability to quickly absorb shock. “Most injuries occur when the body goes beyond its range of motion with control,” explains Hodges. For example, if you jump up to block the ball in a game of beach volleyball and don’t land back on the ground with good mechanics, you could tear a muscle, tendon, or ligament. With proper plyometric training you can boost your ability to effectively and safely absorb shock and thus reduce the risk of injury in sports and workout settings.
One more big benefit of plyos? They are a good bang-for-your-exercise-buck, says Hodges. Since they are a high-intensity movement, they can provide a lot of benefits in a shorter amount of time than lower-intensity movements, making them a solid option if you’re strapped for time but still want to get in a challenging workout.
Are plyometric exercises safe?
The big benefits of plyos come with a big caveat: There is a higher risk of injury with these moves than more traditional strength training or cardio since they are a high-impact form of exercise performed at max effort. That’s why it’s really important to nail the basic form of a movement (say, lunges) before you add a plyometric element to it (like jump lunges). It also means that you should likely hold off on plyometric exercises for beginners until you have some experience with working out—people just getting started with fitness should become comfortable with the traditional forms of the moves first.
With plyometrics, the execution of a move isn’t the only part you need to master. The end part of the move, or the landing, is also very important.
“When I’m doing plyometric training, I always start with landing mechanics,” says Hodges. “So before teaching anyone how to jump, I want to show them how to land correctly.” This means returning to the ground with proper form and effectively absorbing shock. The correct positioning depends on what movement you’re doing, but as an example, if you’re doing a jump squat, it would include landing quietly (instead of letting your feet smack the ground) with your legs shoulder-width apart, slightly bent knees that don’t collapse inward, an engaged core, and a sturdy upper body (so no swaying back and forth). Beyond landing mechanics, it’s also super important to make sure you feel really solid about your ability to do the entire movement correctly before you amp it up with a plyometric element. Not sure what good form means or whether you’re doing a move right? Get help from a qualified fitness pro.
Another important safety tip: Make sure you’re properly warmed up before you do any type of plyo work, since jumping into it (pun intended) cold can increase your risk of injury. Hodges typically likes to incorporate these moves in the middle or toward the end of a workout to ensure his body is ready to handle them.
Then, once you do get into plyo exercises, be sure to listen carefully to your body. If you notice your form is starting to falter, either tone down the intensity of the move so that you can resume good form (for example, lower the height of your box jumps), or just call it quits on plyometric exercises for the day (for instance, go back to regular lunges instead of jump lunges).
How can you use plyometrics in your workout routine?
Feeling excited about the benefits of plyos and ready to try a plyometric workout? That’s awesome! But there are a few things you should know first.
First off, plyos are “not something you want to do every day,” says Hodges. The “right” amount of time per week to incorporate plyo work really depends on your goals and fitness level. But in general, plyo beginners should start with one to two days a week of plyo work and gradually ramp up the intensity from there, Hodges advises. Make sure that you pencil in enough rest time in between plyo sessions so that your body has enough time to recover. If you feel too sore from yesterday’s workout to do today’s plyo set with proper form, listen to your body and scale back your plans. Attempting plyo work when your body’s not at its best can set the stage for injury.
When you feel ready to sprinkle in plyometric exercises, start with a low rep count. Hodges recommends between three or five reps as a general starting place. “You want those reps lower because you’re going to be very fatigued,” he explains. Also make sure that you give your body enough time to rest in between reps and sets so that you can maintain good form and truly give every plyo move your all or close to max effort. The right amount of rest will vary based on your fitness level, goals, and the intensity of the specific move, so just be sure to stay mindful of how your body feels and tailor your rest periods accordingly.
Here are some plyo moves that you can try at home with just your bodyweight to create your own HIIT plyo workout!
1. Pop Squat
- Start with your feet wider than hip-width and do a squat by sending your hips back, bending both knees, and bringing your palms together in front of your chest. Keep your core engaged and push through your glutes to stand.
- As you stand, let your arms fall by your sides and jump to bring both feet together, taking a hop in place.
- Immediately jump the feet apart and sink into a squat again. That’s 1 rep. Continue performing reps, hopping once in place between each squat.
This move is a plyometric variation of the squat, a classic lower-body exercise that targets your quads, glutes, and core.
2. Split Squat Jump
- With your feet underneath your shoulders and hands at your sides, step your left foot forward as if you were doing a forward lunge; keep your left heel firmly planted.
- Bend both knees to create 90-degree angles with your legs. Your chest should be upright and your torso should be slightly forward so that your back is flat and not arched or rounded forward. Your left quad should be parallel to the floor and your left knee should be above your right foot. Your butt and core should be engaged. This is the split squat position.
- Push through your left foot to jump as high in the air as possible, bringing your arms together in front of your chest. Land softly and immediately sink back into the split squat position. That’s 1 rep.
- Complete all your reps on one side. Then switch sides and repeat.
This exercise is a plyometric variation of the split squat, another classic lower-body move that works your legs and glutes.
3. Alternating Lunge Jump
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- With your core engaged, jump your left foot forward and your right foot back, and bend both knees so you drop into a lunge.
- Hop both feet back to starting position.
- Now hop your right foot forward, and left foot back, and drop into a lunge on the other side. That’s 1 rep.
This move is similar to the split squat jump, but alternating feet makes it a little tougher—plus it brings a coordination challenge too.
4. Reverse Lunge to Knee-Up Jump
- Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and engage your core.
- Step backward with your right foot, landing on the ball of your right foot and keeping your right heel off the ground.
- Bend both knees to 90 degrees as you sink into a lunge. Swing your right arm forward, elbow bent, and your left arm slightly back, elbow bent. Focus on keeping your core engaged and your hips tucked (don’t stick your butt out).
- Push through your left foot to jump up as high as possible, driving your right knee toward your chest.
- Land softly on your left foot and then immediately sink back into another lunge. That’s 1 rep.
- Complete all your reps on one side. Then switch sides and repeat.
This move is a plyometric version of the reverse lunge. The reverse lunge works the major muscle groups in your lower half, including your quads, glutes, and calves—and the jump at the end adds explosiveness.
5. Tuck Jump
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. With your arms at your sides close to your body, bend your elbows so that your forearms are pointed straight out.
- Bend your knees and push your butt back into a squat, shifting your weight back as you do so. Don’t let your hips sink below your knees.
- Jump as high as you can. As you jump, engage your abs and drive the top of your knees toward your forearms. Keep your back upright; try not to lean forward.
- Land with your feet hip-width apart, with soft knees, and then immediately sink back down into the squat.
This advanced plyo move engages your entire core and back, especially the lower part of your abs, celebrity trainer Simone De La Rue previously told SELF. Make sure your knees don’t cave in when you squat or jump, says Hodges.
6. Jump Squat With Heel Tap
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out slightly. Interlace your hands behind your head and open up your chest to bring your elbows out wide.
- Bend your knees, hinge forward at your hips, and push your butt back to lower into a squat. Keep your chest lifted, core engaged, and back flat.
- Push through your heels and jump up, bringing your heels together for a quick tap at the top. Land with your feet in the starting position and lower immediately into the next squat.
Another plyometric version of the squat, this exercise challenges your quads and glutes while you build explosiveness.
7. Skater Hop
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lift your right leg and jump to the right. Let your left leg straighten and follow.
- As you land on your right foot, swing your left foot behind you but keep it off the floor. Swing your left hand in front of your body as your right arm swings behind your back.
- Swing your left leg back to the left and jump, landing lightly on your left foot and allowing your right foot to swing behind you. Swing your right arm in front of your body as your left arm swings behind.
- Continue, alternating sides.
This is a lateral plyometric exercise (meaning, it involves explosive side-to-side movement) that really works your inner and outer thighs.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms by your sides.
- Squat and reach forward to place your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
- Jump your legs straight out behind you into a high plank with your hands stacked underneath your shoulders.
- Lower your body to the floor, lift your palms up for a second, then place them back on the ground and push yourself back up to high plank.
- Jump your feet toward your hands, then spring up as high as you can, reaching your arms overhead.
- Land lightly on your feet for 1 rep. Immediately drop down into your next rep.
9. Box Jump
- Stand about a foot from a box or sturdy step on the balls of your feet with your feet hip-width apart.
- Bend your knees to lower into a squat and extend your arms straight behind you.
- Swing your arms forward and press through both feet to jump up on top of the box.
- Land with both feet fully on the box, hip-width apart, knees soft.
- Stand up, then step down to start another rep.
This is an advanced move, so make sure you’ve nailed proper form for the arm swing and landing stance before you attempt this on a box, says Hodges. When you land, make sure your knees don’t collapse inward, he adds.
10. Crab Walk to Jump
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and core engaged.
- Send your hips back and bend the knees to drop into a quarter squat.
- Staying in the squat position, step to the right with your right foot and allow your left to follow. Take two more steps to the right with your right foot.
- Explode up, jumping and extending your legs fully, sending your arms behind you to help with momentum.
- Land lightly on the balls of your feet and immediately drop into a squat again. Repeat on the other side. This is 1 rep.
- Continue to alternate directions.
The lateral walk helps strengthen your hip abductors, and the jump adds power.
11. Single-Leg Deadlift to Jump
- Stand with your feet together. Shift your weight to your left leg and while keeping a slight bend in your left knee, hinge at your hips and tip your torso forward. Extend your right leg behind you, knee bent and toes pointing down toward the floor.
- Keep your back flat and core engaged and reach your right hand toward the floor. At the bottom of the movement, your torso should be almost parallel to the floor.
- Keeping your core tight, push through your left heel to jump as high as you can. Swing your right arm behind you, elbow slightly bent, and swing your left in front, elbow slightly bent.
- Land softly for 1 rep, then immediately lower down into a deadlift to start your next rep.
- Do all of the reps on the same side, then repeat on the other side.
12. Lateral Lunge to Single-Leg Hop
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Take a big step out to the left. Bend your left knee, hinge forward at the hips, and sit your butt back to lower into a lateral lunge. Keep your chest lifted and core engaged.
- Push through your left heel to return to standing, but instead of placing it back on the ground, immediately bring your knee toward your chest and hop up toward the ceiling.
- Land on your right foot with a soft knee and immediately move into the next rep.
The lateral movement here has you working in the frontal plane of motion, which better mimics everyday motion where we move in all kinds of directions—not just forward and backward. You’ll work your quads and glutes in this move too.
13. Hands-Release Push-Up
- Start in a high plank with your palms flat, hands shoulder-width apart, shoulders stacked directly above your wrists, legs extended behind you, and your core and glutes engaged.
- Bend your elbows and lower your chest to the floor.
- Push through the palms of your hands to straighten your arms and lift both palms off the ground several inches. Place palms back on the ground for 1 rep.
14. Broad Jump to Burpee
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms by your sides.
- Bend your knees into a squat and jump forward about a foot, landing in a squat.
- Reach forward to place your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
- Kick your legs straight out behind you into a high plank with your hands stacked underneath your shoulders.
- Bend your elbows to lower your chest to the floor.
- Push your body back up to a high plank and jump your feet toward your hands so your lower body is in a squat. Backpedal to the starting position.
The broad jump helps build explosive power and strengthens your lower body, including your glutes and calves.
15. Burpee Into Tuck Jump
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, core and glutes engaged.
- Bend your knees and reach forward to place your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
- Kick your legs straight out behind you so you are in high plank position with your hands flat on the floor, directly underneath your shoulders.
- Hop your legs toward your hands and explode up, jumping vertically and bringing your knees toward your chest into a tuck jump.
- Land lightly on the balls of your feet with your knees slightly bent and immediately repeat.
This move combines two already advanced moves, the burpee and the tuck jump, so make sure you’ve mastered both and are comfortable executing them separately before you take on this combination.
Demoing the moves above are Jowan Ortega (GIFs 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, and 13), a personal trainer, sports performance coach, and partner at Form Fitness in Brooklyn; Crystal Williams (GIFs 6 and 15), a group fitness instructor and trainer in New York City; Nikki Pebbles (GIF 3), a special populations personal trainer in New York City; Gail Barranda Rivas (GIF 10), a certified group fitness instructor; and Mia Lazarewicz, CSCS (GIF 14), a certified personal trainer.