Jumping: What Goes Up, Must Come Down

by Thommy Chui, PT, MS, OCS, CSCS, TPI CGFI MP2

Growing up with two older brothers and a lot of neighborhood friends, jumping was just something we did during play: over lines on the sidewalk, on trampolines and even daring each other to leap off progressively taller benches and rocks. Eight year old kids with supple joints and no fear of injury tend not to worry about things like proper jumping mechanics.  As I got older and involved in competitive sports, more emphasis was placed on being able to jump higher and farther, but with little or no instruction on how to do it properly.  Although I survived these athletic endeavors of my youth relatively unscathed, as a physical therapist I see unsafe jumping mechanics contributing to injury in many of the young athletes I work with.

The act of jumping seems innocent enough: springing up from the ground into the air by force from your legs. Regardless of how you take off or how high you jump, everyone has to land on the ground.  What comes up, must come down after all.  Did you know that the body must absorb an impact 2-4 times its body weight in that landing?  In my experience, coaches and athletes devote lots of time on developing the mechanics and explosiveness necessary to jump from the ground, but very little if any on training the body to safely absorb the impact of landing.   In fact, the majority of sports injuries involving the lower extremities occur not during the take off phase but during landing, particularly in sports such as gymnastics and ice skating where accurate landings are crucial.  To prevent these injuries, it is essential that athletes work to develop proper strength and landing mechanics.

Common Landing Faults:

  • Landing with flat feet –  limits the ability of the musculature around the ankle and knee to shock absorb. The balls of your feet are the last part of your foot to leave the floor when jumping—they should be the first to touch the floor when landing
  • Landing with our knees facing inward- loads the joints unevenly and can lead to injury. Your knee caps should stay aligned over the middle of your feet when landing
  • Not incorporating hip and knee flexion – not bending hips and knees upon landing adds stress to joints and ligaments.  The goal is to land with “soft” knees and hips

Improving your landing mechanics:

  • Practice!  Start with small double foot jumps (vertical) or hops (horizontal).  Focus on landing softly, keeping knees aligned over your feet and allowing the knees and hips to bend upon landing to shock absorb.  Try to make your landings as quiet as possible, if you hear a thud on impact you’re landing too hard
  • Progress with bigger jumps and hops or practice landing only on 1 leg to simulate what might happen in a game setting. Stand on top of a bench or box, step off and practice your soft landings
  • Surface makes a difference. Practice ideally on the type of surface you’ll be performing on.  Grass, rubberized mats and gym floors are best for reducing impact forces.  Try to avoid repetitive jumping/landing on hard surfaces like cement
  • Having adequate core and leg strength is vital.   Injury can still occur with perfect landing mechanics if your muscles are not strong enough to absorb the impact.  Strengthen your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves to protect your joints and ligaments


Check out our video library for the core and lower extremity strengthening exercises listed below and many more ideas on how to develop better strength for jumping mechanics!

1.  Band sidesteps in standing and crouched position

2.  Double leg squats

3.  Lunges

4.  Calf raises with eccentric control

5.  Squat hops with eccentric control

References

Prapavessis, H. , McNair, P.  Effects of Instruction in Jumping Technique and Experience Jumping on Ground Reaction Forces.  JOSPT 1999;29 (6) 352-356.
Umberger, B.R. Mechanics of the Vertical Jump and Two-Joint Muscles: Implications in Training Strength and Conditioning 1998.
Mostafa, A., Hinrichs, R.N.  A Mechanics Comparison Between Landing From a Countermovement Jump and Landing From Stepping off a Box. Journal of Applied Biomechanics 2012, 28, 1-9. 

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