Friday, February 12, 2010

P90X Plyometrics Review

A few years ago, researchers conducted an experiment to test the effects of plyometric training. Runners who’d been running for half a year were divided into two groups: One that added plyometric moves to their exercise routines, and one that didn’t. Six weeks later, the runners who did plyo work saw improvement in their running economy, while those in the control group didn’t.

Over the years, plyometric drills have been shown to improve overall athleticism -- it boosts one’s explosive power, speed, cardiovascular health, flexibility, balance, and stamina. So it’s pretty awesome that P90X devotes an hour to jump-training.

After the jump: My P90X Plyo review.

When I started P90X, I found the Plyo DVD to be insanely challenging. I wasn’t unaccustomed to doing cardio, but I was floored by the intensity of the moves in Plyo. Transitioning furiously from spins and squats to leaps and lunges was exhausting, and made my glutes and hamstrings scream. Thankfully, brief water breaks were interspersed throughout the hour-long session, and Tony takes a few seconds between exercises to explain the next move, but I barely had a chance to catch my breath.

The workout begins with a nice, gradual warm-up and stretch, and then you dive right into some hardcore, calorie-torching action:

Jump Squats: Lower yourself into a deep squat position, with your butt back and your knees tracking behind your toes. At the lowest point in your squat, explode up by leaping off the ground. Land softly back in the low squat position. Pause, and repeat – making sure to maintain proper form and using your whole body to absorb the impact of each landing.

Run Stance Squats: Start by getting into a low runner’s stance (like you’re using starting blocks), and then perform four low squats without repositioning your feet. Next, leap straight up, twist 180 degrees in midair, and land facing the opposing direction. Repeat for 30 seconds.

Airborne Heismans: Jump to the right, landing on your right foot and bringing your left knee up towards your chest. Hold a Heisman Trophy pose for a second, and then repeat in the other direction. This move is great for building balance and leg strength – and if you decide to move on to Insanity after P90X, you might as well get used to Heismans, 'cause you'll be cranking them out just about every day (as part of your warm-ups).

Swing Kicks: Kick each leg up over and across a stool for one minute. This move targets your hip flexors and thighs, and helps to boost your balance and coordination. Pick a stool that’s about thigh-high; you want it to be tall enough to challenge you – but not so tall that your tired ass ends up kicking it over.

Now, repeat the above four-exercise sequence before continuing with these moves:

Squat Reach Jumps: Get into a low squat, touching the floor in front of you with your fingertips. Explode straight up into a jump, reaching your hands up as high as possible. Land (softly) back into the low squat position, and repeat – all while maintaining pristine form.

Run Stance Squat Switch Pick Ups: This exercise is similar to Run Stance Squats, but instead of doing four squats, jump and spin 180 degrees with every repetition. Using your opposite hand, touch the floor near your front foot each time you land. Trust me – you’ll be exhausted in no time.

Double Airborne Heismans: These are just like regular old Airborne Heismans but with a couple of lateral high-knee tire steps in between your poses.

Circle Run: Here, you throw a small towel on the floor and run around it in a tight circle while facing the same direction and keeping your head and shoulders in the same spot. After 30 seconds, you run in the other direction. This is one of the very few exercises in P90X Plyo without any high-impact jumping or spinning, so you get a bit of an opportunity to catch your breath and recover.

Now, repeat the previous four moves once again before moving on to:

Jump Knee Tucks: When I started P90X, I fucking hated Jump Knee Tucks. (These days, I find that they're not so bad when measured against Insanity's Power Jumps.) Start in a standing position, and then jump straight up, explosively pulling your knees to your chest. Land softly. Do it again and again and again. There’s no assistance provided by momentum here, so it’s don't be surprised if you get winded here.

Mary Katherine Lunges: Named after Molly Shannon's deranged, armpit-sniffing Catholic schoolgirl character on SNL, this involves doing a forward lunge and then leaping straight up and landing in the opposite lunge position. And repeating this until your legs feel like they're being torn off. A lot of force is exerted on your ankles each time you land in a lunge position, so be careful to keep your body vertical and your knee behind your toes. Don't lean your body forward. Land softly, and maintain proper form.

Leapfrog Squats: Your quads and hamstrings should be on fire after this exercise. Start in a wide leg squat stance, keeping your back vertical. Jump forward two times, and then jump backwards twice – all while remaining in your deep squat stance.

Twist Combos: Stand up with your feet together, balancing on your tiptoes. Hop up and land with your toes pointing to the left, and then to the center, to the right, and then back again. If your balance is good, try spinning 180 degrees when you jump up. And if that's too easy, do a 360-degree spin. (Incidentally, the background music played during Twist Combos is particularly annoying; mute it, or you'll never get it out of your head.)

Take another break, repeat the last four moves, and then proceed to:

Rock Star Hops: Another exhausting exercise. From a standing position, jump straight up into the air, kicking your heels back all the way until you end up kicking your own ass (literally). For balance, when you jump, swing one arm in a big circle like you’re playing an air guitar in a hair band. Land softly. Don't clomp around.

Gap Jumps: Finally, something (relatively) easy and straightforward! From a standing position, push off with your back leg and leap as far forward as you can, landing carefully on your other leg. Pretend you're jumping over a stream. Turn around, alternate legs and keep going.

Squat Jacks: These are just like typical jumping jacks, only instead of landing with straight legs, you land in a deep squat position before exploding up into the next rep. Keep your hands behind your head, or -- if you want to crank up the difficulty level -- keep your arms raised straight up. Squat Jacks hit your glutes, hamstrings, and inner thighs.

Military Marches: This exercise is clearly intended to give you a break from all the crazy-ass jumping, but it's also great for your hip flexors. You march in place slowly, lifting a leg until it’s perpendicular to your body while raising your opposite arm to the sky. Alternate sides, and keep your limbs as straight as possible.

You know the drill: Repeat the previous four exercises before continuing with the following moves:

Run Squat 180 Jump Switches: Start in a low runner’s “starting-block” position, and do a Run Stance Squat Switch Pick Up by leaping straight up, spinning around 180 degrees, and landing once again in a low runner’s pose – but change directions with each rep. Repeat ad nauseam.

Lateral Leapfrog Squats: Same as Leapfrog Squats, but jump laterally instead of backwards and forwards. Remember to land in a wide squat position each time.

Monster Truck Tire Jumps: Imagine four monster truck tires on the floor in front of you – two on the left and two on the right. Perform a series of single-leg high-knee jumps forward, so that your foot lands inside each imaginary tire. Then do the same thing backwards. Repeat the sequence – and go as fast as you can.

Hot Foot Jumps: Get up on the toes of one foot and start hopping forward, backwards, left and right. Keep going for 30 seconds, and then switch to the other foot. Your calves will feel like seizing up. Fun!

Repeat these four exercises, and then move on to the bonus round:

Pitch & Catch: When I was a kid, I loved pretending to be a baseball pitcher. After an overdramatic wind-up, I’d release the invisible ball and follow through, toppling off the mound and soaking in the cheers of the crowd. If you played imaginary baseball like me, you'll have fun with this move. But note that you also have to "pitch" with your non-dominant arm, which makes you look and feel like Baba Booey thowing out a ceremonial first pitch at a Mets game. (The most annoying thing about this exercise? Having to listen to Tony brag about how his dad threw a bunch of no-hitters. It's unclear whether this feat was accomplished while playing in the majors, minors, college, or the backyard.)

Jump Shots: Here, you pretend to catch and shoot a basketball. This move isn’t difficult, but by this point in the workout, you’re just trying to stay on your feet.

Football Hero: After four lateral/forward leaps, run backwards with six high steps. Repeat. And make sure you have enough room to perform this move without crashing into anything – especially given that you’re probably a little wobbly at the end of P90X Plyo.

Tony leads you through a brief cool-down, and then you’re finished. Collapse in a puddle of sweat and congratulate yourself on a job well done.

Ideally, you should have a moderate-to-high degree of physical coordination and flexibility before attempting P90X Plyo. If you’re totally new to high intensity interval training, you’re likely to have a hard time getting through P90X Plyo on the first try. But stick with it – sooner or later, you’ll not only finish it -- you're crush it. After all, Erik Stolhanske crushes this workout, and he only has one leg.

Speaking of Tony's supporting cast, P90X Plyo actually has three of the best: the aforementioned Erik Stolhanske, who grins and cruises through all the moves, Pam "the Blam" Moore, who doesn't like this workout but does it with a smile anyway, and the spring-loaded Dominic, who must have pogo sticks implanted in his legs.

Still, during your first few attempts at Plyo, don't try to be Dominic. Be careful. Keep in mind that with jump-training, you run a greater risk of injury due to the force of your landings and impacts. It’s critical that you maintain proper form through all the exercises, so dial back the intensity level and/or slow the moves down if you’re feeling wobbly or off-balance. Do the modified moves along with Pam if you're feeling out of sorts. And while this may sound counterintuitive, don’t do Plyo wearing shoes with thick, cushioned heels (like running shoes) – you’re more likely to roll your ankles and suffer a sprain. (Personally, I like to do plyometrics in Vibram FiveFingers or barefoot.) Stay safe, and you may very well find that Plyo becomes one of your favorite P90X workouts.