Military Muscle: The best plyometric drills — and something extra for the finish

Military Muscle: The best plyometric drills — and something extra for the finish

For a great example of explosive power, watch some isolation video of the Houston Texans’ star defensive end J. J. Watt. A YouTube video shows him performing a perfect plyometrics box jump, exploding his 6-foot, 5-inch, 290-pound frame to the top of a dresser bureau just short of five feet high.

To get that kind of explosive power, athletes train using plyometrics.

To be of value, plyometrics must be executed correctly using a planned progression — it’s not simply “X” number of box jumps in a specific amount of time. “High Powered Plyometrics” by Jim Radcliffe/Robert Farentinos and “Jumping into Plyometrics” by Donald Chu go into this more deeply.

To get started:

Don’t go it alone. Get the help of a trainer to understand proper technique. Check online videos (eHow.com has some of the best) or get one of the plyo books that have a DVD with it. A note of caution: Don’t start by trying to match others. Progressive overload is important. You get the right progression by controlling height, distance, external forces (weight) and volume.

Keep it simple. Start with low intensity and simple mechanics and work from there. Remember, this is about developing explosive power, and if you play sports for your command or are trying to make one of the armed services’ teams, plyometrics can give you the edge.

You’ll hate it, but you will see the gain very quickly. Some of my go-to plyometric exercises at the starter level:


Lower body

Side hop


Enhances explosive lateral power throughout the legs and hips. Set up two cones about 20 inches high and two feet apart. Make sure your feet pass over the tip of the cone rather than just in front or just behind the tip, common at the start. Make sure you explode on each jump.

Stand to one side of the cones, feet close together and pointed straight ahead.

Flex your knees into a semi-squat, with arms cocked back.

During the sideways jump over the first cone, your arms should rise to about shoulder height and your feet should almost touch your glutes. You’re not aiming to “just make it over the cone” — you want to clear it by a good margin.

Land between the cones, and immediately perform the same motion over the second cone.

Upon landing, instantly change direction, going back over the cones the way you came.

At the beginning, reset your position when you land back at the start. As you gain ability, you can make two to three trips back and forth.

Squat jump


A basic drill for developing leg and hip power. Start with five reps.

Take a relaxed stance, feet at shoulder width. Some place their hands behind their heads for more emphasis on the legs, but I prefer arms at sides so you can drive them upward as you jump.

Flex downward to a half-squat, then immediately explode upward as high as possible. Repeat the sequence, always working for max height.

Freeze the landing (soft knees), take a breath, reset, and repeat.

Fast skipping


Reinforces sprinting and jumping mechanics. Most athletic teams skip as part of a warm-up. Do five skips with each leg.

Skipping is basically a small hop followed by a high step — in which your quads rise to parallel to the ground — on the opposite foot. The key is to do it with speed.


Upper body

You can use standing and long jumps as well as seated medicine ball chest passes and other styles of passes to test improvement.

Chest push 


This one works best with a partner and is my favorite drill. Shoulders and hips are utilized. I have always started this one at 10 reps.

Kneel on the ground with a slight forward extension in your upper body, holding a medicine ball at chest level.

Explode forward with your hips while explosively pushing the ball on a line drive to your partner.

Let your body continue to fall forward into a pushup (on your knees).

Explode up out of the pushup and back to the start.

On the way back up, the person executing the drill and the partner must have eye contact before the partner throws the ball back to repeat the sequence. An early throw-back happened once to me. You can guess the rest.



Medicine ball scoop toss


Helps any Olympic pulling movement. You involve weight (a five- to 15-pound medicine ball) in an explosive upward extension so that the body rises off the ground. Start at five reps; go to 10.

From a semi-squat stance, put the ball on the ground between your legs, hands on either side of the ball. Keep your head up and back straight.

Maintaining full arm extension, thrust your hips forward and scoop the ball upward, raising your body and the ball to maximum height. Rising off the ground while coming up out of the squat will be more automatic than you think.

Let the ball drop, move to it, and repeat.


Something extra at the end

These can help you push yourself for that little bit extra at the end of a workout.

4-count burpees


You heard right. Go for 10.

From full standing, explode down into pushup position, thrusting your feet out behind you.

As soon as you hit the pushup position, reverse your feet back underneath you and explode upward into a jump.

As you land, go right back into pushup position and repeat the maneuver.

Jump rope

Straightforward. Go for 150 jumps.

Ball slams

These get your attention fast. Use a 15- to 20-pound ball and do 15 to 20 reps. This requires a special medicine ball that does not bounce, normally made of very durable rubber. The sequence should be done as quickly as possible.

With feet at shoulder width, raise the ball until fully extended overhead — you may even get up on your toes.

Using full power, slam the ball to the ground between your feet. Your arms should explode downward, core tight and pulling your trunk forward.

Squat down to pick up the ball — do not bend over — then rise back to the start and repeat.


Demonstrating this workout is Marine 1st Lt. Jean-Scott Dodd, 27, a public affairs officer for Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. When he’s not training, he’s playing rugby and tennis.

Retired Navy Cmdr. Bob Thomas

Retired Navy Cmdr. Bob Thomas has been our Military Muscle columnist since 2007. He’s the director of the Navy Wellness Center in Pensacola, Fla. He’s his base’s lead trainer, a wounded warrior program facilitator and the Navy nutrition counselor there. His special emphasis is on fitness for the military retired population.

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