Parents sometimes fail to realize how complex jumping can be for young students. The coordination of the fast twitch muscle fibers in the glutes, legs and upper body along with proper posture maintenance, center of gravity adjustment and landing safely can be daunting.
One of the biggest performance differences between children can be seen in their ability to properly and safely jump. (Side note: This is why the “ring game” is such an important part of our initial visit with kids 7 and younger).
Proper jumping mechanics can increase performance and safety in sports and make life just more fun! But often, people trying to diagnose jumping problems only focus on the actual pushing off of the legs and assume that kids that jump poorly must have weak legs or are just uncoordinated. In fact, performance problems can often be based on poor starting position and safety problems can be found in the landing.
Performance Improvement Through Proper Setup
Proper jumping performance begins with proper setup.
There are several areas to address:
- Feet shoulder width apart, pointing forward to align the body.
- Knees flexed forward allows full engagement of glutes and thighs.
- Hips pushed back over ankles for balance and maximize thrust.
- Back straight with shoulders above the hips to push through the body at the jump.
- Arms loaded to the front for pre-jump balance. (Will be swung backward prior to the actual jump and then forward again with the jump.)
- Head up and eyes forward for balance and orientation.
You can accomplish the same things from a deeper squat (also called “froggy position” in class). We still have:
- Feet shoulder width apart, pointing forward.
- Knees flexed forward.
- Hips pushed back over ankles.
- Back straight with shoulders above the hips.
- Hands on the ground for pre-jump balance.
- Head up and eyes forward.
Contrast this with an improper body position before the jump:
- Knees only slightly flexed forward.
- Back curved over with shoulders at or below the hips.
- Hands on the ground for holding weight but not able to help with balance right before the jump.
- Head down and eyes toward the ground.
Improper “froggy position” is mainly evidenced by having the shoulders at or below the hips.
So what are the problems with improper position?
- Lack of knee flexion will not allow full engagement of the muscles in the glutes and thighs.
- Having the back curved and shoulders below the hips means that effort and time has to be made to get the torso aligned with the lower body prior to the jump or the levering of the upper body will actually drive the hips back down offsetting some of the thrust of the glutes and legs.
- Not having the head up and eyes forward can cause balance and vertigo issues when the head is swung swiftly upward.
Safety Improvement Through Proper Landing
Safely landing a jump actually starts midway through the jump by bringing the knees and feet to the front of the body.
Many times you will see kids jump and they bring their knees and feet behind them when they do. The first problem with this is that if they bring the legs toward the front too late, they will not have full support on the landing and could collapse on their knees causing scrapes, bruises or even worse! The second problem is that by bringing their legs from the back toward the front, they run a higher risk of snapping the feet forward and landing with the knees in a locked out position. This could compromise the integrity of the ankles and knees on contact with the ground.
By bringing the knees and feet to the front, the jumper can “push” them forward to the landing so that the feet will hit first and the knees will be able to cushion the landing by bending on impact. The landing should look very similar to a proper starting position with knees flexed and weight over the feet.
Here are some pictures of a US Army jumping exercise and a box jump exercise that can often be found in Crossfit-type workouts. You can see proper setup and landing in these pictures.
Whether doing a long jump, a box jump or jumping just for fun, proper setup and proper landing will increase performance and safety. To help your child perform better jumps, pay attention to their starting position. To help your child perform safer jumps, pay attention to their ending position.
A great article about jumping with a nice video can be found at Jumping Mechanics – Orthopedic One.
Hey Parents in Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook, Cahaba Heights, or Liberty Park! If you would like more information about life skill and leadership lessons for your children, please check out one of our age appropriate programs!