When I start working with a new athlete, one of the first things we work on is landing mechanics. It doesn’t matter to me if you can jump on a 50” box if you’re not able to land properly coming off it.
But why is landing so important? Isn’t how high I can jump all that matters? Well, not exactly. In athletic events your ability to land properly can be the difference in being able to react to an opposing player quickly. In fitness events, it can be the difference between first and second place. Of course, in both cases, how you land plays a huge role in injury risk.
Injuries happen, and I’m not saying that landing correctly will stop them altogether. But something as simple as how you land can, without a doubt, reduce the risk. Ever experienced knee pain, low back pain or tendinitis shortly after an event or workout that had jumping in it? For my money, I’m betting the cause was partly due to poor landing mechanics. How you land greatly impacts how much power you can produce on your rebound jump, too. Land poorly or in a bad position its very unlikely that your second jump will produce as much power or feel as smooth as the first.
Landing flat footed, stiff legged or landing with caved (valgus) knees are all things that can lead to injury and negatively impact performance. The good news, though, is that these are easy to correct with a few simple moves and a lot of practice. Without diving into strength deficiencies, which is an entire article in itself, let’s talk about proper landing mechanics and what you can do to work on them.
What does a “good” landing look like? Here are some points I key in on when coaching:
1. Have “Soft” Knees
By telling the athlete to have soft knees, it allows them to absorb the impact of the jump with their legs rather than solely their knees. No need to drop into a full squat here, but, allow enough hip flexion to get the big muscle groups of your legs involved instead of the tendons and ligaments of the knee.
2. Knees Out
This is a cue I use to keep athletes conscious of their knee position with they land. Even though you don’t want to have your knees shooting way outside of your feet, the cue gives them enough mentally to (hopefully) keep them from letting their knees cave.
If you have mini bands available, putting a light band above the knees to avoid caving knees and to ensure good jumping form does wonders. It cues the athlete to keep the knees out and pressure on the outside of the legs automatically so it allows you to cue something else instead of giving multiple cues/things to work on during a set. I like to use the mini bands when teaching the squat as well, realistically, a mini band can be used during any exercise where an athlete may present with caving knees. Of course the goal is to get away from using the band, but, it is a great tool when trying to get the athlete to engrain new movement patterns into their routine.
3. Land As Light As Possible
Landing light goes hand in hand with having “soft” knees. There’s a good chance that if you’re doing one, the other is probably pretty close to being on point, too. Cueing athletes by telling them not to land like a box of rocks has a funny way of working with athletes I’ve worked with. Why? There’s nothing scientific I can put behind it as far as why it works goes. But, I assume that they don’t want to sound “heavy” — especially my female clients! Coaching is just a game of trying to find cues that work for you and your athletes.
4. Land With “Active” Feet
When cueing athletes to land with active feet it’s my way of telling them to be ready to react to whatever is coming next. That could be another jump in a fitness competition or a second jump to grab a rebound in a basketball game. This helps to avoid landing flat footed which again, can cause an injury but in the performance context will slow down your next movement significantly. Another cue I love to use here is to tell the athlete that they should always be able to slide a credit card under their feet.
Athletes I work with must master two movements before I let them progress to jumping: the “snap down” and the low depth drop. Honestly, I start most of my plyometric sessions with at least one set of snap downs to keep positively enforcing the landing movement pattern.
Snap Down Tutorial & Low Depth Drop Tutorial:
Save your knees and improve your performance by improving your landing mechanics. It may seem boring and it is monotonous – I’m assuming you’ll take that over an injury any day, though.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.