Plyometrics for fatties
April 6, 2016 10:30 PM   Subscribe

Wanted: your advice on how to begin to incorporate plyometrics into a workout routine for a large lady.

Said large lady (me) is not completely sedentary, can do some jogging and weight lifting, but does not have much stamina and is about 110 pounds overweight. I'd like to start doing more explosive-type activity rather than just slow and steady training, since I've tried the slow approach before and haven't necessarily seen results in getting faster or more nimble, burning more fat, strengthening my joints, or any of the other things plyo is supposed to help with.

Everything I've read about it assumes you're adding a full-length, 20- to 30-minute plyometrics workout into an already well balanced fitness routine. Is it possible to start with a very small amount of plyometrics (under 10 minutes) and incorporate it into a longer workout? Is it really just too dangerous for your joints to attempt this much jumping if you're really big, as most sources suggest?
posted by inky_the_pinky to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
From what I understand from various yoga teachers and fitness trainers, that kind of joint stress can be really dangerous for people carrying a lot of excess weight. Muscle injuries heal a lot faster than joints. Please be careful.

If I were you I would focus on exercises to strengthen and stabilize your joints, and later when you're at a lower weight you will be totally ready for plyometrics! Is there a personal trainer near you that you could work with that specializes in working with heavier clients? You don't want to start stressing your joints before you're really ready, and that can be hard to judge on your own.

Good luck!!
posted by ananci at 11:22 PM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh my god, please don't do this if by plyometrics you mean jumping*.

I had less than half the amount you have to lose when I was seduced by the siren call of plyo. Results:

- Three years of physiotherapy (and three years of physiotherapy costs. Out of pocket.) Two months-long periods on crutches.
- Permanent nerve damage in a foot.
- Secondary injuries resulting from imbalances that happened because of that foot thing.
- I can't ever wear cute shoes (or normal sandals) again. Every semi-formal event is a nightmare, and my casual outfits are permanently compromised. FYI it is also damn near impossible to find barely acceptable shoes that accommodate the orthotics I'm stuck with for life (or I'll risk the pain coming back. I tried it on a weekend, never again).
- I can't jog, even for the bus. Or play any game that involves running. I.e. any ball game. All the fun games. Frisbee.

What's wrong with walking (with good shoes please, excellent shoes)? If you must have a high intensity activity in the mix, make it low impact. Consider kickboxing and other martial arts conditioning type classes (and don't jump, do the modifications. Tae Bo videos are on YouTube. Big calorie burns with this kind of stuff). Or HIIT cycling/spin.

Most of your loss will be coming from diet, in any case. You really can't outrun a bad diet. (Unless you're a pro athlete, or the kind of recreational athlete whose vacations are all organized around competitions.)

*You can do explosive (powerful) movements that don't involve jumping - just invest energy into them. A punch can be plyometric, if it's sharp.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:12 AM on April 7, 2016 [9 favorites]

that can be hard to judge on your own.

this is worth restating. with overuse injuries, by the time you really feel and can recognize the pain, the damage has already started to set. my saga started with an initially totally ignorable, microseconds-long, very occasional, sort of twinge along the ankle.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:32 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Omg, echoing the definitely do not do plyo exercises if you're on the larger side. I'm not, and they still hurt my knees. Things like burpees, sprints can achieve the same burst....! I'm sure there's plenty of non-plyo HIIT exercises if you Google....
posted by ryanbryan at 12:44 AM on April 7, 2016

I'm a chunky custard and I run. I went and saw a physiotherapist as I was starting and his message was...any damage you do now as you head to reducing the load on your joints is worth it to preserve their longevity. So I ran.

And I'm fine.

With that in mind, pylo sounds shite.
At our size, may I suggest very steep short stairs? Like 6 or something ? Bolt up them like a startled goanna, then jog down. Bolt up again, jog down. Same explosion as a jump but not the same damage up your knees and hips.

Just my thoughts. One chunk to another. Rock on. Stairs are the bomb.
posted by taff at 4:24 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's a vast divide between plyometrics and slow-n-steady cardio that is filled with a lot of exercises that would be safer, more effective, and potentially even more fun for you. Rather than doing movements that are physically "explosive," think about doing exercises that challenge you to use "explosions" of energy.

Probably the safest one I can think of is high intensity interval training (HIIT) on a stationary bike. Start with a very low ratio of high intensity to recovery intervals: something like 5 seconds of sprinting as fast as you can, followed by 55 seconds of gentle cycling to catch your breath, and repeat for ten minutes. Over time you can increase to more repetitions (for a total of 20-30 minutes) and/or increase the length of your sprint interval (e.g. 20 seconds of sprint followed by 40 seconds of recovery).
posted by telegraph at 4:55 AM on April 7, 2016 [9 favorites]

i don't know if this helps (i'm aware that random observations from skinny people can often be clueless, so sorry in advance) but it seems to me that you're hoping that doing something more intense might lead to more weight loss. the trouble with intense is that it's more likely to damage the body (see above). so the alternative is to do less for longer (*). since the main aim is to keep the metabolism raised for a long time, it's critical to find something you enjoy. the thing i enjoy is riding my bike, and that's a really low impact exercise that is relatively unlikely to damage any joints, no matter how much you weigh.

(* someone once blew my mind by pointing out that the only way you can lose weight is by breathing it out. the carbon atoms that form the backbone to fats and sugars stored in the body eventually get breathed out as carbon dioxide. there's no other significant way for them to be lost from your body. and given how little a breath weighs, you need to breath out one hell of a lot to lose weight. remembering this helps me feel a little better when gasping for air.)
posted by andrewcooke at 5:16 AM on April 7, 2016

Nthing plyo is not at all the answer. I can see a huge difference in knee pain between 15 pounds within a normal bmi if I do a full plyo workout. Inurses and pain are a huge derailment to a workout routine.

As a substitude, I'd do some body weight excersises. Squats, lunges, walking lunges, side to side lunges, push ups etc. These can build a lot of muscle like plyo and can keep your heart rate up of done with short breaks. If you want a bit of breaks, try to interval cardio work outs on other days as recommended above.
posted by Kalmya at 5:30 AM on April 7, 2016

Fat gym-goer here. Bodyweight squats, if done at a steady-fast pace, will totally raise your heart rate and feel rather explosive. Also, at least at my gym, hardly anyone does them (which is so weird!). Also, does your gym have those metal things that look rather like modernist end tables in different sizes? I am incorporating step-ups onto the highest of those that I can manage, and wow does it kick my ass. I use one that is a little below my knee and a couple of sets max me out, especially if I do one with ten pound dumbbells.

And what about a loaded carry? It's not explosive, but it's hard, and it works your grip strength. Basically, all you do is get two heavy weights (I use kettlebells) and....carry them while walking around. I do two little circuits of the trainer desk area, resting between.

The thing with the bodyweight squats - I really had to work up to them. And they used to hurt my hip because I was reading all this nonsense online about how you should keep your feet as close together as possible and not let your knees come forward, when really you can do bodyweight squats with your feet as wide apart as needed for stability, your feet should point outward and your knees should come forward moderately over your toes. At one point, I was doing three sets of twenty five, which was a lot for me, and then my hip kicked up. Now I'm back to two sets of twenty.

Oh, also, if you mix your weights with bodyweightish stuff, it will give you a lot more cardio and sweating and so on. Perhaps this is a terrible idea (I made it up) but I alternate my curls and related exercises with standing leg lifts and squats and either shorted or virtually eliminate time between weight sets. I do my curls/smaller dumbell arm stuff at the barre, which is in the middle of our gym, so this set-up may not work for you.
posted by Frowner at 6:28 AM on April 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

(also, you have the rowing machine and the elliptical for mad burns. and second stairs - the step mill is a scorcher. also, alternate between cardio modalities session to session - you can get repetitive strain injuries just from doing the same thing all the time, even if you have great biomechanics and form [which again - if you don't have those, you don't find out about it until it's too late]. personally, i wouldn't run if i were you, and i'd say the same thing to 2011 me. running is one of my biggest regrets. again though, diet trumps everything. patience and consistency will get you there.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:33 AM on April 7, 2016

It's starting to be a pile on, but stay away from plyometrics for now. Too much, too fast, too soon is a great recipie for injury.

It's not just overweight that could be a factor, but what your current fitness state is. I've been running for two years, but as I've gotten injured both winters, I won't be touching plyometrics for myself for quite a while.

I'd really recommend to just stick with strength training for now. As you get a good handle on that and your jogging becomes more "running" in your mind, then move up to some hard interval training, which should be considered intermediate level of fitness. This is probably a year-ish since starting. Then increse the work/effort you put into your intervals. Plyometrics is much more advanced to the point that your bones/joints/tendons need more workout. Rough guess, maybe 3-5 years after you've started, and consistently been working out without injury. I might be a bit conservative on this, but it really sucks to be injured.

Your cardio will improve fastest as you exercise. Then your general large muscles will respond. Then your joints/tendons and bones respond. The trick to stay uninjured is to not let your improved cardio and strength let you do some stupid things. This is from someone who's done stupid things and injured himself.
posted by nobeagle at 7:13 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just to clarify, I'm looking for explosive-type exercises that will engage fast-twitch muscles instead of slow-twitch, like aerobic exercise does. These don't have to involve jumping, but it seems like most of the explosive exercises I've found online do. I'm not trying to lose weight but just get stronger, so I would assume I'll remain at my current weight for the duration of any training I'd be doing.
posted by inky_the_pinky at 7:50 AM on April 7, 2016

I'm a SHW weightlifter, and if you want to do something explosive for fast-twitch muscles, you could do a lot worse than the Olympic lifts, and some quality time pushing a prowler, or kettle bell swings. You do jump slightly with the Olympic lifts, but it's only a few inches off the ground, and when you're first starting out, you'll be using a PVC pipe instead of a barbell, so you won't be under additional load.
posted by culfinglin at 10:33 AM on April 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Probably not practical...but maybe leaping up but in to a pool from poolside? As if you were going to leap frog on to the water surface ...but you actually bomb because -not Jesus. Just a thought. You get the explosion without the impact. Well, a different impact. Anyhoo, I'm not trying to lose weight either but a few very very fast stairs make me feel like a Viking, not just in my sleep.
posted by taff at 4:02 PM on April 7, 2016

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