Upper Body Plyometrics
by Tommy Sutor, BS, CSCS
Many track and field athletes incorporate plyometrics into their training, such as jumps, hops, bounds, or box jumps. However many athletes only do lower body plyometrics when in fact they could also benefit from upper body plyometrics. Throwers can benefit from upper body plyometrics since having more powerful muscles in the upper body could facilitate greater release velocities, provided their technique is sound. Sprinters and many jumpers could benefit from a more powerful upper body as well. Research has shown that the explosive swinging of the arms facilitates leg drive, enhances momentum and helps the body overcome inertia (the resistance to acceleration) when sprinting1. So, what are some exercises to make the muscles of the chest, shoulders, and back more explosive?
Beginner/Low Intensity Exercises
This is the most basic upper body plyometric exercise. Simply perform a standard push-up, except make it quick and explosive enough to launch your hands a few inches off the ground. A good way to make sure you’re pushing yourself high enough is to clap your hands in-between each rep. Remember, do not stop between each rep – plyometrics are about being quick with one rep coming immediately after another!
With a medicine ball, stand facing a partner or a wall. Holding the ball at chest level with elbows out, throw the medicine ball to your partner or the wall. As soon as the ball comes back to you, throw it again - there should be no hesitation between catching and throwing the ball.
Hold a medicine ball in both hands. Take a step forward, bringing the ball up over your head, and throw it as far as possible. Make sure to lead with the legs and hips. Because this exercise primarily involves the smaller muscles of the shoulders, only light medicine balls should be used – no more than a few pounds. Stronger, more advanced athletes could gradually progress to heavier medicine balls.
Advanced/Higher Intensity Exercises
This is essentially a push-up version of a depth jump. Start in push-up position with each hand elevated on a small plyo box (about 6") or any surface a few inches off the ground, then drop down to the ground, landing on your hands in push-up position, and immediately pushing yourself back up on to the box. An easier variation is starting on the boxes and just landing in push-up position, or starting in push-up position and pushing on to the boxes. The height can be increased as the athlete becomes better at the movement.
Medicine Ball Drop
Lying on the ground with your arms extended up, have a partner stand above you at your head, and drop a medicine ball towards your chest. Catch the ball and immediately throw it back to your partner. The intensity of this exercise can be increased by increasing the weight of the ball, or having your partner stand on a box.
These are just a few upper body plyometric exercises – for more exercises, just be creative!
1. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd edition. Thomas R. Baechle, Roger W. Earle. © 2008 National Strength and Conditioning Association.