How to Safely Land a Jump During Sports

Learn to safely land a jump, and rebound powerfully.

Land a jump
Land a jump. Photo (c) Wesley Hitt / Getty Images

Do you know how to land a jump safely? If you play a sport that requires a lot of running or jumping, or use any form of plyometrics or rebounding during training, one of the best things you can do to prevent an injury is to learn proper landing mechanics.

Few athletes practice jumping mechanics, they just do what comes naturally. Although there are some athletes for whom perfect landing form comes naturally, most athletes would probably benefit from some training aimed at improving landing mechanics.

Jumping and landing drills are most often part of a skilled coach's 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 safely and efficiently absorb shock through the joints (hips, knees, and ankles) during the landing. It also puts the body in the right position to rebound safely and powerfully. This movement comes fairly easily once 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.

For a variety of reasons that have to do with a lifestyle full of sitting and other quad dominant training methods, many athletes have glutes that are quite dormant. 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 your quads rather than your glutes, puts a tremendous burden on the hips, back, knees and ankles. These forces are dramatically increased during the landing and rebounding during a jump, and recurrent hard landings can 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 the athlete plants the foot and twists the knee (internally rotated in a valgus position). Athlete who have weak abductors (muscles of the outer hips) are more prone to poor landing mechanics. This is even more likely to occur in female athletes, who are more prone to a valgus knee position.

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 both 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 take off, 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 to train the movement patterns or perform single leg lateral bounding drills.

How to learn 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 (1-2 inch jumps), land as softly and quietly as possible, and sink deeply into the landing.
  • Land with your whole foot and keep your weight evenly distributed from heel to toes. Avoid landing only on the balls of your feet.
  • Ensure your knees are tracking over your foot and not caving in or falling outward)
  • Shift your weight back over your heels. Your knees should remain behind your toes during the movement.
  • Focus on the glutes (review the safe squat technique) throughout 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 2-3 sets x 6-10 reps. Do this 3 times each week or more as instructed.
  • Jumping drills can be intense, so recover well after a session and stop when your form fails, your lower body fatigues, or you have any aches or pains. It does more harm than good to practice this drills with poor or sloppy form.

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