You likely already know about the benefits of bodyweight exercises. No-equipment-needed workouts can build muscle, burn fat, and improve athletic performance, speed, and power. Stretch-shortening drills for the upper extremities: theory and clinical application. Wilk KE, Voight ML, Keirns MA. The Journal of orthopaedic and sports physical therapy, 1993, Sep.;17(5):0190-6011. Add a jumping element—making the moves plyometric—and you quickly elevate your routine to a whole new level. Effects of explosive type strength training on physical performance characteristics in cross-country skiers. Paavolainen L, Häkkinen K, Rusko H. European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology, 1991, Jul.;62(4):0301-5548. Explosive-strength training improves 5-km running time by improving running economy and muscle power. Paavolainen L, Häkkinen K, Hämäläinen I. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 1999, Jun.;86(5):8750-7587.
Before starting, keep in mind that plyometric training is not intended for workout newbies or those recovering from injuries. The moves should focus on good form and all-out effort. That's why it's best to do these at the start of a workout before muscles fatigue and performance slows.
If you're new to plyo, focus on three to four moves at the start of your workout (after a warm up); two to three sets; three to five reps per set. Perform the moves two to four times per week, with 48 to 72 hours rest between sessions. Even if you can't squeeze that in, you may still reap some benefits: One study found that moderate plyo training just twice per week was effective in producing power and strength gains. Low and moderate plyometric training frequency produces greater jumping and sprinting gains compared with high frequency. de Villarreal ES, González-Badillo JJ, Izquierdo M. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2008, Aug.;22(3):1533-4287. And there's another bonus: You don't need any equipment for this.
Check out our list of moves below, plus a quick workout designed exclusively for Greatist by Shaun Jenkins, trainer at YG Studios in New York City. From beginner to advanced, here are 19 awesome strength- and speed-boosting exercises.
1. Plyo Push-Up
Perform a standard push-up, but as you push-up, push with enough force that both hands leave the ground and you are able to quickly clap them together before landing.
Make it easier: Drop to your knees and practice pushing up with a clap before you move to your toes.
2. Squat Thrusters
From a high plank position, jump feet forward into a wide squat and bring hands off the ground either into a prayer position or in front of your chest. Keep your back straight, shoulders down, and chest out while in the low squat. Pause for a second, then place hands on the ground and jump feet back into a high plank position. Repeat as quickly as possible.
3. Plyo Lateral Lunge
Stand with feet close together, arms at your side. Brace your core, send your hips back and step to the right with your right foot, bending the right knee and keeping the left leg straight as you come into a low lunge. (You may find it helpful to hold your arms straight in front of you or in a prayer position while in the low lunge to help maintain balance.) Now in one fluid movement, push off your right foot and hop your right foot to the place of your left foot as you simultaneously send your left foot out and come into a low lunge on the left side. Think of it as a side step with a hop. Continue to alternate sides.
4. Reverse Lunge With Knee-Up
Stand with feet hip-width apart and step your right foot back, coming into a low reverse lunge. Shift all of your weight to your left foot, engage your glutes, brace your core. Bring your right foot forward and simultaneously jump off your left foot, bringing right knee to your chest. Land softly on your left foot, and immediately step back into a low lunge to repeat.
5. Box Drill
Fire up your calves by jumping around an imaginary box. Begin by balancing on the right foot with a slightly bent knee. Keeping your arms loose at your side to help with balance, hop to the right, landing on only your right foot. Staying on the same leg, hop to the left, then hop forward, and then back. Switch legs and reverse the direction. Focus on quick, small jumps.
Make it easier: Perform the exercise on both feet and focus on building speed as you jump in formation.
6. Frog Squat Jump
Stand with feet wider than shoulder width, toes turned slightly out, drop into a deep squat, hands touching the floor. Now explode up in a jump (like a frog). Land softly on the balls of your feet and quickly repeat with an emphasis on the vertical height of each jump.
7. Long Jump
Why not give the classic Olympic event a shot? For this explosive lower body move, stand with feet hip-width apart, and crouch into a squatting position with your arms back. Next, spring forward with both feet together, swinging arms forward to help, and land on the balls of your feet with both knees bent. Either turn and immediately jump back to your start position, or continue to jump forward if space allows (with no rest between jumps).
8. Burpees With a Tuck Jump
Perform a burpee. As you stand up at the end of your burpee, instead of doing a normal jump; jump and bring both knees up as high as possible, tucking knees to chest. Land softly on the balls of your feet, and go right into your next burpee.
9. Lateral Triple Jump
This move teaches you to change directions quickly and powerfully. Stand on your right foot, bend your knee slightly, brace your core, and hop to the right as far as possible, landing on your right foot. Immediately leap forward to land on your left foot. Focus on stretching out both legs as long as possible in the air (think: a ballet dancer leaping). Finish by extending your right leg and leaping forward with your right foot, and then quickly bringing your feet together mid-jump to lightly on both feet. Repeat on the other side, by hopping to the left with the left foot, and leaping forward with the right foot, then leaping with the left foot and landing on both feet.
10. Alternating Lunge Jumps
Come into a low lunge by stepping forward with your right foot and allowing both knees to bend. Keep your core braced and your right knee over your right ankle. Shift your weight onto your right foot and jump up, changing your lunge stance mid-air so that you land with your left foot forward, right foot back. Immediately drop into a low lunge on the left, then shift your weight to your left foot and jump up, switching your stance mid-air to return to start position. Think height, not speed. This one is all about generating vertical power and landing as lightly as possible.
11. Tuck Jumps
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and hips back, as if you were just beginning a squat. Now spring up into the highest jump possible bringing your knees to your chest. Land softly on your toes in your start position. Immediately jump back up—rest as little as possible between jumps.
12. Judo Roll With Jump
Lying in a faceup position on the floor, tuck knees to chest, with left ankle crossed on top of right ankle, so you're loosely in a ball. Using your abs (not your hands to push off the ground) roll up to a seated position with left foot on the ground. Bracing your core, stand and jump up on your left foot. Immediately return to seated position, and roll back down, keeping knees pulled to chest, and a slight curvature to your back. Rock forward to repeat the move. Focus on making the movement as fluid as possible, so there is no pause between rolling up and jumping. Repeat on the other side.
Make it easier: Use your hands to help push yourself up from the roll, and again to gain stability before jumping up. Perform this move using both feet, instead of one, to jump.
13. Kneeling Jump Squat
Ready to kick things up a notch? You may want to practice this move with some stacked yoga mats or towels for padding. Begin this (seriously) advanced move kneeling on the ground with the legs spread a littler wider than the hips. Draw the arms back and then forcefully swing them forward to generate enough momentum to jump into a squatting position, landing on both feet. Think about using your core and glutes to help generate power for this move. Step your right foot back, coming down onto your right knee; then your left foot back and down onto your left knee, to return to start position.
15. Full-Body Plyometric Push-Up
From a high plank position, lower into the bottom of your push-up with elbows wide and at a 90-degree angle. Explosively push through the hands and keep an extremely tight core so that your entire body momentarily floats off the floor. Keep your core tight upon landing so that your hips don't drop toward the floor, and you land in a high plank. Move right into the next rep.
Make it easier: Start by mastering the plyo push-up we mention above, before trying this move.
16. Single-Leg Deadlift Into Jump
Stand on your left leg, with left knee slightly bent. Bend forward at the hips, allowing your right leg to naturally come up behind you (like a drinking bird) until your right leg and chest are parallel to the floor (think: warrior III position in yoga). Now, in one quick movement, swing your arms forward, raise your chest, and use your left foot to push off the floor, bringing your right knee up toward your chest. Softly land on your left foot again and slowly lower back into the bent-over position, attempting to keep your right foot off the ground throughout.
Make it easier: After you land your jump, tap your right toes to the ground to re-establish your balance, before bending over again. You can also place your fingertips on the ground to help balance when your leg is extended behind you.
17. Horizontal Jump to Tuck Jump
Here's another power-producing leg exercise that teaches the body to change directions quickly. Stand with both feet together. Bend the knees slightly and jump as far as possible to the right. Upon landing, immediately perform a tuck jump (see our explanation above). Now jump as far as possible to the left, and upon landing, spring into a tuck jump. Continue to repeat, alternating sides.
18. Pistol Squat Roll With Jump
Stand on your left leg, with your knee slightly bent, and right foot off the ground, extended in front of you. Grounding your weight into your left foot, brace your core, send your hips back, and slowly lower into a single-leg squat (a pistol squat). Extend your arms forward to help with balance. Hold momentarily at the bottom of the squat, then allow your butt to touch the ground, and immediately rock onto your back (as you did in the Judo Roll we mentioned above). Roll forward again and using only your left leg, stand up, and jump as high as possible. Land softly on your left leg and repeat.
19. Plyometric Push-Up to Squat
Combine upper and lower body explosiveness into one awesome (and super-advanced!) move. Start in traditional push-up position, and then quickly push through the hands as hard as possible to generate some momentum. As the body rises, tuck the knees to the chest and simultaneously bring the feet to land under the body. The landing position is a deep squat. Hold it for a second and then jump back into a push-up position to repeat.
Do 2 to 3 sets of 3 to 5 reps for each move below in order. Add this workout to your regular routine or do it on its own 2 to 4 times per week.
- Burpee With a Tuck Jump
- Squat Thruster
- Reverse Lunge With Knee-Up
- Judo Roll into Jump (or advanced version: Kneeling Squat Jump)
Originally published April 2013. Updated January 2016.