In a previous blog I spoke about the fundamental movement skills that I use as a foundational pathway of development with all new clients. Along with the 6 primal movements that I mentioned, I also exaggerated on the inclusion of jumping and landing.
In today’s post I will explain my rationale of why I feel that the mechanics of jumping and landing should not only be mastered in terms of execution, but also fully understood by anyone participating in regular exercise.
First things first let’s start with landing, similar to the concept that you need to learn how to break before you can accelerate, it would be a good idea to learn how to land before you attempt taking off.
In the context of sports performance, the landing position is called the catch, the same as receiving the bar when weightlifting. This catch position is actually mechanically the action of triple flexion between the hips, knees and ankle: in that order.
Depending on the amount of forces your body has to resist on the landing the ideal position of flexion between the hips and knees is anywhere between 110 to 130 degrees, 120 degrees is actually the human’s most stabile stance and is known as the athletic stance or even the start position. With the correct intention this is also the number one position to generate as much force as possible in the shortest duration.
The idea of any landing is to catch the mass of your body with the most fluent timing to help absorb forces and distribute them between the muscles of your calf’s, thighs and gluteal as they eccentric load, I always think of a hammock or bed sheet catching someone as they jump off a roof or ledge to safety. When looking to rebound a trampoline lengthening to help absorb load before recoiling and adding propulsion to increasing height is another analogy, the latter I use this in relation to reactive strength index and plyometric training, although this is a topic for another week.
One complication I have came across with numerous clienteles in the past is the coordination of triple flexion. Naturally the weight wants to be distributed as evenly as possible throughout the three joints and therefore the timing of the flexion pattern should be flexion of the hips, knees then ankles functioning proximally to distally, if not in perfect sync. Not only does that contribute to additional stability from the trunk but it helps prevent too much load going through the ankles, let alone collapsing of the knees.
I think the confusion here comes from the ball of the foot being the centre of pressure and the first point of contact with floor, obviously the last thing to leave the ground should be the first thing to meet the ground.
Surely, with this in mind the ankles should flex first? The complication arises here because if the initiation of the catch starts from ankle flexion the knees will surely jar if they flex before the hips.
The base of support can also be misleading, a hip width position is optimal for the take off as a narrower stance helps shorten the amortisation phase and therefore helps increase force production. On landing, unless immediately taking off again a shoulder width base gives you more stability and helps you lower your centre of mass, encouraging a sturdier finish. Opening your arms as if you have wings also contributes to the lowering of the centre of mass, again leading to a more stable landing.
As we are on the subject of the arms, this will be a perfect place to help us transition into talking about the take-off, the jump itself. Personally, I feel a lot of height or distance can be lost from an inefficient arm swing. The counter movement part a jump not only utilises the stretch reflex of the lower body but when good intent is included with the arm swing the reflex from the pectorals can contribute to additional height.
Similar to the coordination of the landing, the jump needs to coordinate from the hips out to the extremities but this time in regard to triple extension. The line of force throughout the body should be as vertical as possible and any loss in the displacement straight up will result in a shorter jump due to a change in direction, let alone make the landing more challenging.
Vertical momentum should be encouraged by the arm swing and the idea of starting with your arms in the air is to encourage a bigger range of motion in the swing and more momentum in the counter movement.
The amount of force being generated in this movement is larger than any other entry exercise could produce, especially in the early stages of an athlete or client’s development. The forces placed on the body as the muscle’s eccentrically load is even more superior when landing. Of course, during the learning stage of these movements power leakage will be quite high, but once the amortisation phase is deceased to a minimum and the landing is soft, while remaining stiff, the enhanced stretch reflex will not only help strengthen the muscles involved but also lead to improved function. Not forgetting the amount of risk towards injury is massively reduced.
All in all, as I’m sure you’re now aware, the mechanics and benefits from practicing these movements is so large that they must not be forgot. Additionally, when coaching jumping and landing the technical model of these drills is vital and must be followed to firstly prevent injury, more importantly though to help get the best return from the various physiological benefits they have to offer.