Are Bad Landing Mechanics Slowly Breaking Down Your Body?

Maximize your jumping ability and protect yourself from injury by learning proper landing technique.

In the world of sports performance, we're obsessed with force production.

How much force can our muscles produce, and how fast can they do it?

Jumping is one of the most basic measures of force production. We constantly test athletes on the progress of their vertical and broad jumps, and those who display impressive numbers in these tests are often rewarded with more playing time or tabbed as having great potential. At the higher end of the spectrum, a monster jump from an NFL or NBA draft prospect at their respective combine can add an additional six or seven figures to their signing bonus.

And there's nothing wrong with that. An athlete who can generate a ton of force quickly does have an upper hand over weaker, slower opponents on game day. But what often gets overlooked in our obsession with improving force production and creating more explosive athletes?

The concept of "force absorption."

Specifically, how we land after a jump is an area that does not receive enough attention. I've seen far too many young athletes develop knee and lower-back overuse injuries because their coach has subjected them to high-volume jumping drills while never teaching them the right way to land. Hundreds upon hundreds of crappy reps, even if you are using nothing but your own body weight, are a recipe for injury.

That all could be avoided if coaches took the time to teach their athletes proper body control and landing mechanics before hopping into high-intensity drills like Depth Jumps or Forward Bounds for max distance.

So what does correct landing technique on jumps look like? This photo provides a great visual example:

  • Chest up
  • Butt back
  • Hips, knees and ankles in line
  • Chin tucked
  • Eyes forward
  • Knees over toes (but not past them)
  • Hands at the hip

The ideas of "landing quietly" or trying to avoid "loud feet" during your landings can naturally help elicit good form. Knee valgus, or the inward collapse of one or both knees, is a common landing mistake among athletes. If an athlete is made aware of it and still can't seem to avoid the issue, they may need to strengthen some select areas to address this problem.

So, how do we go about helping athletes master good landing mechanics?

Before we set our sights on maximal force development, we must first build a foundation of correct movement and body control. This is where we utilize low-intensity technique drills. The most basic exercise in this foundation-building phase is the Bilateral Snapdown Drill:

Once you get the hang of that, get up on your toes and reach toward the sky before initiating the downward movement to make the drill a bit more demanding:

As important as it is to learn correct body control and landing mechanics on two legs, many actions in sports occur on one leg. The One-Leg Snapdown is a baseline exercise that any athlete should be able to execute with solid form before adding unilateral concentric power work into their training. If you can't do it without falling off balance, you're not ready for more challenging single-leg jump drills.

Our final force absorption exercise is the Depth Drop. Because you're stepping off a box, ground reaction forces upon landing are greater than with Snapdowns. The higher the box, the higher the impact. Start low and gradually increase the box height over time.

After you have laid a solid foundation with these low-intensity technique drills, it's time to take off the training wheels and add some concentric jumping with Vertical, Box and/or Hurdle Jumps. These are still simple drills, but it's important to master these before progressing to more difficult/advanced variations. You don't load the bar up with six plates on your first day in the weight room. Why would jump training be any different?

Keep it simple, keep it safe, and move on to harder progressions only as your jumping and landing skills improve. All the explosiveness in the world isn't worth a thing if you can't stay healthy.

Photo Credit: Pekic/iStock