How to Safely Land a Jump During Sports

Athletes jumping on platforms in gym
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If you play a sport that involves running, jumping, plyometrics, or rebounding, proper landing mechanics are essential. Avoid preventable injuries while training or in competitions by practicing good form to protect your joints. Over the long term, you'll be glad that you avoided unnecessary strain on your body.

The Ideal Jump Landing

Few athletes practice jumping mechanics; they just do what comes naturally. However, most would probably benefit from some training aimed at improving landing mechanics. A skilled coach will likely include jumping and landing drills as part of their training repertoire.

Landing skills can be practiced in a short amount of time and will bring many long-term benefits.

The ideal jump landing allows an athlete to better absorb shock through the joints (hips, knees, and ankles) during the landing. Careful landing techniques also put the body in the right position to rebound safely and powerfully.

Proper landing movements come fairly easily once an athlete has been trained. The goal is to land softly and transfer the impact forces, first to the larger gluteus muscles, and then the hamstrings, quads, and calf muscles during the landing.

Dormant Glutes

Many athletes have glutes that are "dormant" due to sitting often or using quad-dominant training methods. If you have weak and inactive glutes, and strong quads, it's likely that you tend to use your quads to shift your weight forward and up during squatting and jumping movements.

Using quads rather than glutes puts a tremendous burden on the hips, back, knees, and ankles. These forces are dramatically increased during jump landing and rebounding. Recurrent hard landings eventually damage the joints.

Poor landing technique also puts tremendous pressure on the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in particular. An ACL tear can occur when an athlete plants the foot and twists the knee.

Athletes who have weak abductors (muscles of the outer hips) are also more prone to poor landing mechanics.

Importance of Mechanics

By landing and rebounding with a glute-dominant position and by loading the glutes, rather than the quads upon landing, you will help reduce the stress on the ACL. The ACL's main function is to prevent the tibia (a bone of the lower leg) from sliding forward during movement. But it can only withstand so much force before it is injured or torn.

To help reduce the force on the ACL, both the glutes and hamstrings contract during deceleration, and help pull the tibia back under the femur (thigh bone) and keep the knee joint aligned while unloading the ACL.

By strengthening the glutes, hamstrings, and the abductors, along with practicing safe landing form, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of knee and joint injuries.

Not only is quad dominance risky for an athlete during the landing, but it is far less effective at providing explosive power during rebounding. The glutes are far superior at providing power due to their larger mass as well as their biomechanics.

To create more power upon takeoff, you need to land and decelerate softly with your body weight distributed evenly over the entire foot (not just the forefoot) and get your glutes firing, so they are prepared to contract explosively.

The easiest way to learn to land properly and rebound powerfully is to work with a coach or personal trainer to learn the specific movement patterns before you start a full-on practice.

If you are not using proper landing techniques, it can take up to a month to re-learn the correct movement pattern.

Be patient and practice. Once you have learned the correct technique, you can use a basic box jump drill or single-leg lateral bounding drills to train the movement patterns.

Proper Landing Technique

Begin with a thorough warm-up, and use the glute activation routine to get the glutes firing prior to practicing jumping and landing drills. Initiate small (1- to 2-inch jumps), land as softly and quietly as possible, and sink deeply into the landing. Here are some tips on proper form:

  • Ensure your knees are tracking over your foot and not caving in or falling outward.
  • Focus on the glutes (review the safe squat technique) throughout the movement.
  • Land on the balls of your feet and then evenly distribute your weight from the toes to the heels to cushion the impact. Do not land flat-footed.
  • Shift your weight back over your heels. Your knees should remain behind your toes during the movement.

Over several weeks, and with your trainer's guidance, increase the height of your jumps to a 12-inch box. Follow your trainer's lead regarding reps and sets, but consider performing 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 10 reps. Do this 3 times each week or more as instructed.

Jumping drills can be intense, so give your body time to recover well after your session. Stop when your form fails, your lower body becomes fatigued, or you have any aches or pains. Remember, it does more harm than good to practice drills with poor or sloppy form.

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