Plyometrics for Endurance Runners

Dec 18th, 2013

Comments: 2
Category: Fitness

Plyometrics for Endurance Runners

There’s a lot of research that supports the benefits of plyometric training for sprinting and that sprinters have good jumping ability  (Chelley, 2010, Smirniotou, 2008, Kale, 2009, Barr, 2011, Bissas, 2008) to name a few. So of course we consider plyometric training the domain of the speed/power athlete.

But what about long distance runners can having the ability to jump well, help with your 5k race? and should you include plyometrics in a distance runner’s program - would it be ’functional’ for them?

It’s all about running economy!

Here’s a great article that measured a significant improvement in 3k performance due to improved musculotendon stiffness (MTS) and eccentric loading during foot strike which aids in the rate of force development (RFD) through the stretch shorten cycle (SSC) and ultimately in running economy (RE).

Here’s a summary
Background and Objective

Recently various authors have cited running economy (RE) as one of the best predictors for successful middle to long distance running, surpassing the previously well regarded VO2max. (Conley, Krahenbuhl, Burkett, & Millar, 1984; Daniels, 1998; Noakes, 1991). Traditionally a favored method of improving RE was to perform long slow distance training, known as LSD training.

However increasing your volume and distances can also increase injury risk. So what else is there to improve RE, well recent research has shown the effects of utilising  simultaneous explosive-strength training (plyometrics) and endurance training produced a significant improvement in the 5-km running performance of well trained endurance athletes. Paavolainen, Hakkinen, Hamalainen, Nummela, & Rusko et al. (1999)

Although what has been debated are how are the improvements made to the SSC are they neurological or mechanical? And the authors set out to identify which it was. The take home message for us is the fact that it does improve endurance run performance!


The results of this study clearly show that a 6-week plyometric training program led to improvements in 3-km running performance. It is believed that such performance increases occurred as a result of the increase in MTS and consequently maximal force production and rate of force development (RFD). It is suggested that changes in such variables had a positive effect on running economy, which has been proven to be one of the best predictors for distance running performance. And to answer How? – the researchers conclude it was due to mechanical improvements via the MTS.

In other words, having more elastic recoil in this case in the lower limbs allows you to run more efficiently! Know any distance runners that wouldn’t want that!


Applying this Knowledge

There are some fundamental principles that can help guide our strategies:

  • Principle of Overload  - Controlled overloads through proper periodisation
Of course plyometrics can pose a risk to the client, so first ensure an appropriate level of conditioning is already present in your client. In general a degree of strength training in the pattern to be applied. (i.e. loaded anterior lunges in strength rep ranges before you apply a Jump Lunge). Introducing plyometric training 1-2 x per week. Consider training surface, footwear and  foot/hand strike count to ensure proper recovery and benefits whilst also minimising injury risk.
  • Principle of 3 Dimensions  - Consider that our muscles can load in the 3 planes
 Our muscles develop force with eccentric loading prior to concentric unloading during the SSC and where possible will produce more force when loaded in all 3 planes if the movement requires it – so train clients in the multiplane plyometrics – even more reason to ensure effective periodisation and preparation is applied.


  • Principle of the KiKinetic Chain – The right degree of mobility
In order to load our muscles more effectively through multiplane movements we require the right degree of real bone movement in order to achieve the right amount of joint motion. So ensuring your client has the correct motion in segments and throughout the entire KiKinetic Chain is better for RFD while also minimising injury risk. This way the high impact forces of plyometric exercise wont be localised to one segment of the chain, rather they will be spread throughout the chain globally. (i.e. a lack of hip extension joint motion will have a potential detrimental effect on the knee or the lumber spine).


  • Principle of Specificity  - How you train is how you adapt
Traditional measurement of RFD is usually carried out in the vertical  (i.e. counter movement jumps, vertical jump) so a lot of plyometric training can focus on getting off the floor quickly which of course is relevant, however utilising the horizontal i.e. broad jump triple jump plyometrics etc would be more specific for runners once a steady state speed is achieved (for endurance runners this is also key to transfer-ability)


Is plyometric training  ’functional’ for endurance runners?

You bet it is!

The effect of plyometric training on 3-km running performance

R.W. Spurrs*, A.J. Murphy, M.L. Watsford, W.L. Spinks & A.G. Whitty    Eur J Appl Physiol. 2003


Gary Gray, Dr David Tiberio, Doug Gray Gray Institute


  1. Annie Foulds December 19, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Thank you so much for the article. I found it very interesting and informative. As an endurance runner myself. It is always interesting to read new research or discover better and safer ways to train and most importantly, stay injury free.

Add a comment

Your email address will not be shared or published. Required fields are marked *