Modern workouts have adopted explosive training as part of a routine. This means exercises like the box jump and jumping squats are all part of training, even for those who have just started working out. But in chasing the challenge to get off the floor to make the jump, we tend to forget how important it is to land properly. A lot of the impact of successful jumping exercises is taken by the knees, but there are ways to minimise the force on this all-important injury-prone joint by making sure you learn landing techniques.
Team sport athletes will tell you that a good landing technique can be the catalyst to reacting quicker than an opponent. In track and field, landings are vital to where you finish on the podium. And for fitness enthusiasts, it could play a huge role in reducing the risk of injuries.
“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,” states an article on fitness website Barbend.com, titled I Know You Can Jump, But Can You Land? Given that while landing your body can end up absorbing almost ten times your body weight, it’s important to know how to do so correctly.
One of the most common pieces of advice that an observant coach will give you while you’re doing something like box jumps is “to keep soft knees.” This sounds simple, but very much like “engage your core”, it needs some practice. It is, however, easier to master. What soft knees means is to keep a slight bend in the knee while performing the exercise. What this does is alleviate the pressure on the knees when your body lands. It does so by dividing the force of gravity across muscle groups rather than to one concentrated area. An attempt at a squat jump will also tell you something about your form— if your knees cave in during the landing, that’s a problem. Your knees must always travel away from each other rather than towards each other.
There are some mini-band exercises which may help in controlling the way your knees react to a landing. The video above is a quick abduction exercise to correct knee tracking. Apart from this, another technique to teach your knees how not to cave in is by wearing a mini-band just above your knees while performing these exercises. It is a simple instruction for mind-muscle connection.
Another exercise for proper knee tracking is the resistance band lunge, where you attach a band like in the video above, to train your knee to travel properly during any exercise. A common mistake that beginners make while doing box jumps is to land in a deep squat. YouTube fitness channel Performance U has landing technique videos for beginners followed by advanced phases where you can get the hang of what is the right way to land. As the instructor says in the video, “take off like a cannon, land like a butterfly.”
A very interesting study published in the Journal of Athletic Training says that landing techniques should be corrected at an age as early as between 11-15 years old. “Athletes between the ages of 11 and 15 were able to take generalized cues, such as “land softly” and “knees over toes,” and immediately translate them into sport-specific movement tasks, theoretically reducing the risk of lower extremity injury,” it says. It also defines poor landing as stiff landings with excessive hip adduction and knee frontal-plane motion (which means knees not tracking in the right direction).
It followed three phases of exercises, the first being static warm-up routines which included stretching the hip flexors, quadriceps, hip adductor stretches and jogging. The second phase was injury prevention warm-up and put the young athletes through exercises like forward skipping, toe walks, squat jumps, side shuffles, and forward lunges. The last part was a dynamic warm-up: high knee runs, back pedals, butt kicks, lunge walks and straight-leg marching. There is no reason to do all these exercises in a bid to land properly, unless your landing is assessed to be causing you issues in the lower back and knees.
Your body will give you the best signal about your landing quality, with small aches and tiny niggles. But the sound of your landing - that is the main assessor. If you are going to land on a box or off it with a pounding sensation, then you’re doing it wrong. You must chase a stealthy soft landing sound, without a jarring sensation through the lower body into your back. Until then, work on it, and land well, to live well.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.