By Martha Ellis and Jeff Ellis
Published Thursday, October 1, 2009
| From the October 2009 Issue of FireRescue
Powerful legs can come in handy at a number of typical emergency scenes. Everything from climbing stairs to lifting a heavy patient to breaching a ceiling becomes a bit easier when you have the ability to generate power with your lower extremities.
Muscle power is different from muscle strength or endurance. Slow, controlled movements develop muscle strength and endurance. Rapid yet controlled exercises, which incorporate dramatic changes in direction, develop power.
Muscle strength measures the maximum amount of weight that a person can move at one time and in a given pattern. Muscle endurance is the measure of how long, or how many repetitions, a muscle group can perform a given movement pattern. Muscle power is a measure of strength demonstrated over a short period of time. For instance, the standing broad jump measures the distance you can move your body weight in a single, quick and explosive effort.
You can develop leg power in a number of ways, but doing plyometric-style exercises is one of the most effective. Simply stated, plyometrics develop leg power through jumping or hopping movements, specifically in the transition from downward movement to upward. In other words, as you complete the downward portion of the jump and begin to change direction into the upward portion, you must make the transition smoothly and explosively to get the maximum benefit. The entire exercise should be quick and dynamic.
Note: As you can imagine, there’s a lot of opportunity for injury when performing these types of power and agility developing exercises. Take the time to warm up prior to doing any type of exercise, especially dynamic power moves like the ones we discuss in this article.
Build a Box
There are numerous types of plyometric exercises out there. You can perform some of them on the ground, but to accentuate any plyo exercise, try using a plyometric box.
There are many different sizes and types of plyo boxes available. They range from 6 inches to 42 inches in height and are made from plastic, wood or metal. You can find them at your local sporting goods or fitness store, or on the Internet.
Being a firefighter, you might be handy with a chainsaw and hammer and, therefore, you can build your own box with lumber, plywood, screws and glue. Some of you are probably adept at welding and can build yours out of metal; however, for this article, we’ll stick to making one out of wood.
Before you begin, you need to decide the height of your plyo box, which depends on your fitness level and the exercise you’ll be performing. Since most of us are familiar with a tape measure and can adjust the height of the box to fit our needs, we’ll cover just a couple of options.
Option 1: The 12" Plyo Box
When space allows, build boxes with a 24" x 24" landing surface, but if you need to save space, you can make them with just enough landing space to accommodate both of your feet.
To make the 12"-high plyo box, you’ll need the following supplies:
- Eight feet of 2" x 12" board
- One piece of ¾" or 1" plywood measuring 24" x 24"
- One box of 3" wood screws
- One box of 1 1/2" screws
- One bottle of wood glue
- One piece of workout mat, rubber matting or piece of carpet (no shag) that measures 24" x 24"
You’ll also need some tools: a tape measure (remember: measure twice, cut once), a circular saw (preferably not a chainsaw), a drill and bits, a power screwdriver (do we even use good old manual kind anymore?), a pencil, a straight edge and a carpenter’s square or steel square.
Start by cutting your 2" x 12" board into two 24" lengths and two 20 3/4" lengths. Apply wood glue to the ends of your 20 3/4" pieces and build your base. (Remember to use your square.)
Offset the two 20 3/4" pieces so your 24" pieces extend past the 20 3/4" pieces by about an inch. This will allow you to pick up the box easily and move it around. If you prefer squared corners, you can also cut holes in the sides of the box for handles.
Now, drill three pilot holes, equally spaced, through your 24" pieces to secure each corner of your framework. Insert your wood screws, apply wood glue to the top edge of your base and lay your 24" x 24" plywood on top. Next, screw the plywood to the base, and attach your rubber mat or carpet to the top of your plyo box.
Congratulations—you’re done, unless you want to paint or personalize your box.
Option 2: The 8" Plyo Box
When building an 8" box, follow the instructions above, except replace the eight feet of 2" x 12" board with eight feet of 2" x 8" board.
If you build both an 8" and a 12" box, you can stack them on top of each other, making a 20" plyometric box, which is a standard size for many plyometric programs. When doing so, make sure you’ve mounted carpet or a rubber mat to the top of the boxes to prevent the stacked boxes from slipping.
Option 3: The 24" Plyo Box
For this, we’ll build a 2 x 4 frame with a plywood top and sides. You’ll need the following supplies for this project:
- Three 2" x 4" x 8' studs
- One 4' x 8' sheet of plywood
- 3" wood screws (box of 50)
- 1" wood screws (box of 50)
- One bottle of wood glue
- Rubber mat or carpet sized to cover top of box
- All the tools used for the 12" box
To begin, build the upper and lower frames—two 24" squares—out of the 2" x 4" studs. Then take four 2" x 4" pieces measuring 24 inches and secure them to the inside corner of the upper and lower frames to create the box height. When securing the frame members, you can screw them in or use glue and screws for added strength.
Next, measure and cut your side pieces from the plywood (and see how good you were with using your square). Attach the sides with wood glue and four 1" screws across the top, and four more across the bottom.
To finish, measure and cut a 24" x 24" top from your plywood, and attach it with glue and screws. Secure your rubber mat or carpet to the top. Decorate as you see fit. Note: Allow the glue to set for a few hours before jumping on your new boxes.
Three examples of how to use a plyometric box include the lateral box jump, the forward box jump and the lunging box jump. They are all similar in principle, but different in movement patterns.
To perform the lateral jump, you can choose to land on one foot or two. Start on top of the box and jump off to one side. As soon as you land, immediately jump back up onto the box. Without pause, jump off to the other side and repeat the process. The important component of this exercise is the transition off the box. Tip: When you’re standing on the box, make sure you can safely transition from one side to the other.
The forward jump is typically performed by jumping with both feet together. Stand in front of your plyo box and, with your feet square, jump with both feet up onto the box. As with the lateral jump, quickly jump back down off the box and repeat with a quick transition off of the ground.
To perform the plyometric lunge, place one foot on top of the box. Drop down into a lunging position. At the low point of the lunge, jump out of the position while switching legs on the box. Immediately drop back into another lunge and repeat.
These plyometric exercises are basic. Get creative with your exercises by creating workout combinations or holding dumbbells in each hand to add to the resistance. Note: You’ll likely experience a fair amount of muscle soreness from these exercises. Give yourself plenty of time to heal. Don’t work sore muscle groups for several days or until the pain subsides.
You’ll undoubtedly notice improvement in your leg power after incorporating some form of plyometrics into your workout routine. Before you know it, you’ll be racing up a flight of stairs to make a connection and still have some energy left to actually fight the fire.
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