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Get the jump on fitness

By Kat Carney
CNN Headline News

Beachbody's "P90X" home exercise videos feature a number of plyometric exercises.
Mayo Clinic

(CNN) -- If you're looking to improve your tennis or basketball game, you may want to consider adding some plyometrics to your off-court training.

Plyometrics, also known as "jump training," has been used for decades by elite athletes to develop and improve strength and power, but consumers may soon begin to recognize some of the moves while working out with their personal trainers or in home exercise video programs like Beachbody's "P90X."

Plyometric exercises range from simple jumping exercises like jumping over cones and double leg hops to more advanced moves like "depth jumping," which involves jumping from a tall box.

According to the American Council on Exercise, plyometrics, when performed safely and properly, helps to improve sports and other activities through the swift "stretch reflex" that happens in the muscles during the repeated takeoff and landing of jumps.

Tony Horton, creator of P90X, a program that incorporates plyometric training, cautions that while plyometrics has many benefits, it is not for everyone.

Because plyometric drills can be stressful, and in some cases damaging to joints, Horton and other fitness experts strongly recommend that if you're considering adding this type of training, you should take a fitness test and check with your doctor -- especially if you have a history of knee and back problems.

Due to the high-impact, stressful nature of these exercises, the exercise council says plyometrics is best avoided altogether unless improving one's athletic performance is a high priority.

For those fit enough to give plyometrics a try, Horton suggests investing in a good pair of well-cushioned shoes and working out on a soft surface like a padded mat. Equally important is to concentrate on landing softly like a cat with each jump. All of these will help to reduce the risk of injuries.

So is plyometric training just another form of high-impact, cardiovascular exercise?

Horton says no. While high-impact exercise classes may incorporate some plyometric moves, and while plyometric drills may increase your heart rate, the two are not the same, and plyometric training is not a substitute for regular cardiovascular exercise.

Horton says that exercisers should look at plyometric drills as a way of improving strength, power and speed used in their other activities.

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