Ask mountain biker Braydon Bringhurst the trick to whipping gap jumps, bunny-hopping up boulders, and landing a backflip (as a wheelie, no less), and he’ll happily share his secret: a workout that can be done in your living room with nothing more than duct tape.
“I need short bursts of power and speed to shoot up a climb, clear a gap, or pump through a rhythm section,” says the 30-year-old from Boise, Idaho. “This type of workout develops that strength.” The former BMX racer and All-American pole vaulter has spent years developing explosive power with plyometric training. Also known as jump training, plyometric exercises—like box jumps—condition your muscles to produce maximum force in the shortest possible time, explains Jim Walker, director of the sports science department at Intermountain Healthcare, a Utah-based medical network.
The coronavirus pandemic led to the closure of the bike parks where Bringhurst typically trains, so he developed a short, effective plyometrics workout he can do at home. The series of rapid-fire jumps that progress in magnitude and intensity take less than half an hour and may feel deceptively easy. “You’re not going to sweat a ton or walk away feeling like you’ve done a ton of work,” Bringhurst says. But this technique is remarkably efficient, thanks to a load-explode pattern that trains your muscles to produce more force more rapidly. The key is minimizing the amount of time your feet spend on the ground between jumps to create a superfast rebound.
“They call it the stretch-shortening cycle,” says Greg Myer, director of sports-medicine research at the Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati and a coauthor of Plyometrics: Dynamic Strength and Explosive Power. “You’re lengthening a muscle prior to initiating a rapid contraction.” Plyometrics trains your muscular reflexes to respond quickly, Myer explains. That neuromuscular control improves coordination, balance, and proprioception—the awareness of where your body is in space. For athletes who do low-impact sports like cycling or swimming, plyometrics can be beneficial in increasing bone density. “We tend to think of impact as a bad thing. But high-impact, weight-bearing exercise is what makes our bones strong,” says Walker. These types of exercises also strengthen the muscles that stabilize your ankles and knees, which helps guard against joint injury.
To set up for your workout, on the ground, make a plus sign that’s two feet squared using duct tape or painter’s tape, and move any nearby furniture two or three feet away. Warm up with a quick jog around the block or five to ten minutes on a trainer, followed by dynamic stretches focusing on your quads and hamstrings. “When you’re jumping and landing, really focus on proper technique,” says Myer. Keep your knees aligned with your toes—not buckling inward—and land lightly on the balls of your feet. Do this workout twice a week when your muscles are fresh, not after a long ride or run. It’s also important to be mentally engaged, as you’ll need to focus to accurately nail each move.
Two-Legged Circle Hops
What it does: Gets your calf muscles firing with quick, precise movements and prepares your quads and hamstrings for progressively bigger, more dynamic jumps. It also warms up your reflexes by engaging your nervous system.
How to do it: Stand in one of the quadrants. With your feet an inch or two apart, make quick, small hops (about two inches off the ground) in a clockwise pattern, moving quadrant to quadrant with each hop, for 30 seconds. Make sure to land light-footed and rebound as quickly as possible without losing accuracy. After your first effort, rest for 30 to 60 seconds, until your muscles are fully recovered. Repeat for a total of three clockwise sets, resting between each set.
Single-Leg Circle Hops
What it does: In addition to the benefits of the two-legged circle hops, doing this move on one leg develops proprioception and neuromuscular control.
How to do it: Stand on your right foot in one of the quadrants. With small, rapid jumps, hop counterclockwise through the quadrants for 30 seconds. Make sure to land on the ball of your foot or midfoot, not flat-footed or on your heel. After your first effort, rest for 30 to 60 seconds, until your muscles are fully recovered. Complete three sets on your right leg, resting to full recovery between sets. Then repeat the sequence on your left leg, also going counterclockwise.
Two-Legged Depth Jumps
What it does: This high-intensity, dynamic move builds explosive power and speed, which helps with dirt jumps, bunny hops, and other big moves on a bike.
How to do it: With your feet shoulder-distance apart, perform a series of controlled, explosive vertical jumps, aiming for knee height. When your feet come down, land on the balls of your feet and rebound into the next jump with as much power and speed as possible. Do ten consecutive jumps, minimizing the time your feet touch the ground. Rest a full two minutes between each set, until your muscles are fully recovered. Repeat for a total of three sets.
Single-Leg Depth Jumps
What it does: Depth jumps on one leg take things up a notch by doubling the load. They also build strength in the core and the muscles stabilizing your knees and ankles.
How to do it: Don’t attempt these until you’ve mastered the two-legged version. Stand on your right leg, with your left foot a few inches off the ground. On one foot, do a series of controlled, explosive vertical jumps, aiming for knee height or a little lower. When you land, rebound as quickly as possible. Do five consecutive jumps, making sure your knee stays aligned over your toes. Land on the ball of your foot or midfoot as quietly as possible. Complete three sets, resting a full two minutes between each set. Repeat the same sequence on the left leg.