10 Primal Plyos to Make You Fitter, Faster and Stronger

Jump!Back in the day, Grok stayed in shape by sprinting away from prey, pouncing and jumping across and over varied terrain, rapidly climbing trees and performing other feats intended to ensure survival. Today, however, most of us stay fit by logging a few miles on the treadmill, meandering away the minutes on an elliptical while we flip through a back issue of People, or taking an aerobics class where….oh, we give up. The reality is, modern day workouts really aren’t all that primal.

Enter plyometrics. According to the fine folks over at Wikipedia, plyometrics encompasses “training designed to produce fast, powerful movements, and improve the functions of the nervous system, generally for the purposes of improving performance in a specific sport.” Now, whip out your science books kids, because this one is about to get complicated. When we talk about plyometrics, what we’re actually referring to is a series of exercises intended to develop maximal muscular power, that is, the ability of the muscles to generate a large amount of force in a short amount of time. Specifically, plyometric contractions—or the stretch shortening cycle, as it is often referred to—involves a process whereby the muscle undergoes a period of rapid lengthening (eccentric) movement, followed by a brief transition time where there is no change in muscle length (known as the amortization phase), followed by an explosive shortening (concentric) movement that in turn enables related muscles to produce maximum force without necessarily increasing maximum strength.

Acknowledging that “muscular power is determined by how long it takes for strength to be converted into speed,” it can be expected that plyometric training can help you jump higher, run faster, throw farther or hit harder…essentially, turn you into a high-functioning version of Grok!

Although we’re huge fans of plyometric exercises, we’d like to note that it isn’t for everybody. Specifically, those attempting plyometrics should be in good physical shape, with adequate physical strength, flexibility and proprioception (that is, the body’s sense of itself and its parts in space or, in layman’s terms, someone who isn’t considered a klutz!). In addition, if you’re going to be doing any of the following exercises, experts recommend that you seek out surfaces that “give” a little as you move (grass, exercise mat, etc), that you be free of all injuries, and that you use correct form to execute the exercises so as to avoid injury.

Still with us? Then let’s go ahead and give these plyos for the lower body a try!

Squat Jumps:

Start in a squat position—with thighs parallel to the floor and arms out in front to maintain balance—and then jump as high as you can. Beginners should land in a standing position before resuming the squat position and repeating. More advanced athletes, however, can land back in squatting position and jump back up immediately. With this exercise, be sure that you are landing on your whole foot (as opposed to just the balls of your feet) to reduce the risk of ankle injury. Complete three sets of 10 jumps.

Knee Tuck Jump:

Knee Tuck Jump

Image from brianmac.co.uk

Begin in a standing position. Jump up with both feet and tuck both knees in towards chest. When doing this exercise, try to keep your torso in an upright position (so that your knees are meeting your chest as opposed to your chest swooping down to meet your knees.) Complete three sets of 10 jumps.

Single Leg Hops:

Single Leg Hops

Image from brianmac.co.uk

Start in a standing position and raise one leg up so that thigh is parallel to the floor. Next, jump as far as you can on the one leg. Beginners should switch legs after each jump, but more advanced athletes can complete one full set of 10 hops on one leg before switching. Again, complete three sets of 10 hops per leg.

Zig-zag hops:

With feet side by side and touching, jump from side to side. You should be hopping left to right (or vice versa) as if you are jumping over something, with equal attention paid to height and distance. Use your arms to help gain momentum. Again, complete three sets of 10 hops per leg.


(This is some seriously extreme bounding…)

Starting from a gentle jog, push off the ground with your left foot and bring the leg forward with knee bent and thigh parallel to the ground. Extend the right arm forward as the left leg comes through and swing back as left foot touches floor. Then the right leg drives forward, with opposite arm extending and then flexing back. By keeping foot strikes (that is, the time that your foot is in contact with the ground) to a minimum, you will execute a series of quick, long strides that attempt to cover as much distance as possible

Alternating Split Squat Jump:

The best way to describe this particular exercise: A souped-up scissor jump. Start with one foot in front of the other, with the front foot bearing the majority of the weight and the weight on your back foot balanced only on the ball of your foot. Bend knees into lunge position and then jump up, switching legs and landing again in the lunge position. Repeat for 20 jumps per leg

These next few exercises require a box jump. For this, we recommend a sturdy aerobics box that measures roughly 4” to 6” high.

Box Jumps:

Stand with feet close together in front of box. Jump vertically while bringing your knees towards your chest Land on your heels on top of box. Step (or drop) down and repeat for 20 jumps

Box Step with Knee Drive:

To begin, stand behind the box with both feet facing forward. Place one foot on top of the box and use that leg to push up vertically while simultaneously driving the knee of the other leg (the one that was previously on the floor) towards your chest. Beginners should land on both feet, but more experienced athletes can try landing on one leg. Complete 10 jumps per leg.

Lateral Jump to Box:

Begin standing to the side of the box with feet planted roughly hip-width apart. Bend knees to lower thighs to a mid-squat and then push off and land squarely and softly on the box. Step down (do not jump) and repeat for 10 jumps on each side.

Depth Jump:

Start with feet on box. Jump down, bend knees, and then jump back up, using arms to help propel you. Repeat 20 times.

Jolantis Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

10 Ways to “Get Primal”

Extreme Exercise

15 Minute Workout

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11 thoughts on “10 Primal Plyos to Make You Fitter, Faster and Stronger”

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  1. That bounding was pretty sick….wow. I’m more a fan of the single legged plyo stuff (like bounding) as that transitions better to sport movements for me. (and injury prevention with said sport movements)

  2. remember that once you are accustomed to the two leg versions, the next step is the one leg versions!

    The number of ways to challenge yourself using only your body and the momentum you can create with it and the force you can accept/apply with it are endless!

    can readers look forward to some basic upper-body plyos next?

    1. I think plyometrics refers to jumping exercises, so I’m not sure how you would do upper body plyo. Sure, you engage your upper body too, but I think it’s pretty lower body centric.

  3. This is interesting stuff, thank you! I’ve been building more of an exercise routine lately, adding a little weight lifting and things like that, so I’m always interested in new things to try.

    I thought about something, though, when you mentioned that, “Grok stayed in shape by sprinting away from prey, pouncing and jumping across and over varied terrain, rapidly climbing trees and performing other feats intended to ensure survival.” What about Grokette? A lot of the hypotheses I’ve read about using paleo activity to inspire modern exercise focuses on Grok. Can we learn from Grok and Grokette, for the benefit of all of us trying to live a healthy life?

    And actually, do we really know the full breakdown/division of labor? Was Grokette picking berries and hauling water? Did she have to run from (or beat with her club) the woolly mammoth that tried to steal her mastedon stew? Did she hunt too? How much do we really know? I’d imagine it varied, just like it may have for Grok in different cultures.

    It seems like we can surmise what was likely rather than knowing for certain, but I would love to hear more about drawing from what we know about Grokette’s paleo activity for women trying to be healthy and fit today.

    And if what you discover is that berry picking is the ideal form of exercise, please let me know! The name “Huckleberry” was earned for a reason.

    Food Is Love

  4. Oh man, I hope berry picking is the ideal form of exercise. For reals.

    Thanks for the breakdown on these exercises, I like seeing more of the cross-fit-y stuff because it’s all pretty new to me. I’m still in awful shape (lots of chronic pain), so I probably can’t do much of that now, but it’s good knowledge for later.

  5. Ahhhh lovely plyometrics!! I had forgotten how awesome these exercises can be! I used to throw shot put and discus in college and we would do TONS of plyometrics….lots of box work! We also had this flat wooden board that we stood on that had rubberbands(of a stronger sort, of course) that attached to a belt we wore. While two people held the board down with their feet on each side, the person would jump straight up. It was a great resistance exercise! Wow…i really need to get back into using plyometrics…i think its just what i need to give my workout a really good challenge! Thanks for the reminder! 😀

  6. I just realized you probably meant sprinting away from predators instead of sprinting from prey. Grok would have looked pretty silly sprinting away from his food sources, and wouldn’t have lasted too long.

    Food Is Love

  7. One thing of importance is to START SLOW. Plyos are seriously potent medicine and you can damage yourself if you’re not careful. Heed the warning to be in top shape. Sprint coaches generally advise no more than 100 or so jumps per week, no more than 25 per session, when using plyos like depth jumps, tuck jumps, rocket jumps, hurdle jumps. Bounding makes for a nice warmup to get things moving.

    And that bounding was unreal.

    Scott Kustes
    Modern Forager

  8. Woah, that’s some crazy bounding. I think I have found a new homepage. I’ve been following this site for a few weeks but finally decided to figure out how to post.