I’m not a fan of TV’s The Biggest Loser in general, but I want to focus on one particular aspect of the program that’s showing up in gyms, parks and living rooms: plyometrics.
Plyometric exercise involves quick, powerful movements that improve nervous system function and therefore increase sport performance. Athletes use plyometrics all the time to get better at their sport — basketball and volleyball players practice things like box jumps in order to improve their vertical jump, for example. For sports like baseball, tennis and golf, or even track events like shot put and javelin, competitors use upper-body plyometric moves like throws and explosive push-ups to bring up their game. It’s been shown that plyometric exercise can help athletes improve their performance in their sport, but it’s definitely not designed as a tool for weight loss.
Nevertheless, The Biggest Loser uses plyometrics regularly, even though the show really, really shouldn’t. I don’t advocate much of what they do on this program because I’m about learning how to love exercise and focusing on losing weight slowly, and The Biggest Loser doesn’t do that. Instead, they create a reality TV competition, and this is where the plyometrics come in.
I’ll say it again: plyometrics isn’t designed as a tool for weight loss. It does burn calories, but not nearly as many as sustained aerobic activities such as running, cycling, rowing or swimming — all of which are less punishing on the body. It’s also important to remember that plyometrics was designed for people who already have a solid base of athletic conditioning.
Considering all of this, why include these exercises on the show? The only reason I can think of is that it makes for good TV. And by “good TV” I mean “stuff that makes me want to throw things at my screen.”
Maybe you like the show and maybe you get inspired by it — that’s fine, but understand that there are strict recommendations about the use of plyometrics before you do something you saw on TV just because it looked cool. Programs like CrossFit and P90X have jumped on the plyometric bandwagon, and they’re becoming so popular that I often see trainers at my local gym instructing clients in these types of exercises when they shouldn’t.
Have I scared you away from plyometrics yet? That’s not my intention. If you’re in good shape and looking for an additional challenge to improve your body’s performance, then plyometric exercise can improve overall functionality. You don’t even have to have a specific type of sport in mind to improve on. Sometimes it’s just cool to have a body that can kick some extra butt.
Still, since I’m such a safety-conscious guy, I’m going to give you one last warning from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (to which I belong) regarding plyometrics: “Injuries…typically occur when proper training procedures are violated and may be the result of an insufficient strength and conditioning base, inadequate warm-up, improper progression of lead-up drills, inappropriate volume or intensity for the phase of training, poor shoes or surface, or a simple lack of skill.”
So if you’re in good shape and you want to give plyometrics a try, make sure you get qualified instruction. I recommend you find someone with experience who has training for performance improvements, a high-performance certification such as NSCA-CSCS, and if possible, a degree in exercise physiology or a diploma in personal training.
James S. Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, AB. Visit www.bodyforwife.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.