Plyometrics — or high-intensity exercises that stretch and then quickly shorten your muscles (think jump squats or plyo push-ups) — are already known for their quick calorie-blasting, body-toning results. “The technique was originally designed to develop explosive speed and power in Olympic athletes, but the benefits extend out to the average Joe and Jane in both body and mind,” says Adam Rosante, NYC-based trainer and creator of the popular bodyweight interval workout WaveShape.
“The intensity of firing up your big muscle groups with such speed sends your heart rate through the roof and burns a ton of fat.” Plus, Rosante explains, when your brain is forced to process the mechanical speed required of plyo moves, it has the potential to improve overall cognitive function.
But there’s better news yet: There may be an even more efficient way to do this powerhouse type of workout.
Plyometrics Exercises: The Power of Cluster Sets
Though many people stick to the standard two or three sets of 10 to 15 reps, flipping that format on its head might actually improve your performance, according to a new study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Exercisers who did cluster sets — 10 sets of shorter reps ranging from only two to five — were able to jump higher and reach greater takeoff velocity during their workout, which could result in more explosive power.
The sweet spot is sets of three to five reps, found Lee E. Brown, Ph.D., study coauthor and director of the Center for Sport Performance at California State University in Fullerton. Do fewer than that and you can’t maximize the eccentric (or muscle-lengthening) phase of the movement, which will lessen your velocity. Go for more than five and you’ll get too fatigued to maintain your max jump height. It’s important to note that ample rest is also key to helping you reach maximum power and jump height throughout every rep, says Brown. Aiming for 30 to 45 seconds between sets allows you to start each set feeling fresh.
Want to know what cluster sets feel like? We had Rosante design the following plan, a mix of moves to tone your entire body and rev your heart rate in no time. Do 10 sets of three to five reps of each move — using momentum from the previous rep to drive speed and power — and rest 30 seconds between sets.
Your Quick Plyometrics Workout in 6 Moves
1. Plank Squats
How to: Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and begin to lower the body, keeping your weight in your heels as if you’re sitting back into a chair, until thighs are parallel or close to parallel with the floor (a). In one fast motion, drop the hands to the floor and jump your feet back to a plank position, making sure the body remains in a straight line from head to toe (b). Immediately jump your feet back to the squat position to complete one rep (c).
2. Plyometric Push-Ups
How to: Start in a plank position with wrists directly under the shoulders, body in a straight line from head to toe (a). Lower your chest to the floor and then push up explosively with enough force for your hands to leave the floor for a second, and then land softly (b).
3. Broad Jumps
How to: Stand with feet hip-width apart and begin to lower the body, keeping your weight in your heels as if you’re sitting back into a chair, stopping just before your thighs are parallel with the floor (a). Jump up as high as you can and forward, and focus on landing softly on your feet (b). Immediately return to the quarter-squat position and repeat (c).
How to: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and begin to lower your body, keeping your weight in your heels as if you’re sitting back into a chair until thighs are parallel with the floor (a). Jump straight up explosively and as your feet leave the floor, cross your right leg in front of your left, then uncross so you land with feet shoulder-width apart to complete one rep (b). Immediately lower back into the squat and repeat, this time crossing the opposite leg in front.
5. 180 Jump Squats
How to: Stand with feet hip-width apart and begin to lower your body, keeping your weight in your heels as if you’re sitting back into a chair, stopping just before your thighs are parallel with the floor (a). Jump up, turning your body 180 degrees mid-air, in order to land facing in the opposite direction (b). Immediately lower into your quarter-squat again, and jump and turn in the opposite direction, so you land in starting position to complete one rep (c). (For more squat variations, head here!)
6. Pass, Fall, Go’s
How to: Kneel on the ground and hold a weighted ball with both hands against your chest. Explosively push the ball forward from your chest and release it far as possible (a). Follow through by falling forward and catching yourself with your hands on the ground shoulder-width apart (b). Push back up and take off sprinting to the ball (c). When you get to the ball, that’s one rep (c).
Originally published December 2014. Updated February 2018.