Training Female Athletes – How to Jump and Land to Prevent Injury

Girls/women, it is critical that you learn early in your sports career (ages 9, 10 or 11) the proper jumping and landing technique in order to train properly for your sport, prevent injury and increase your vertical jump. In research done on female athletes, we are seeing that jumping mechanics differ from male athletes and these differences are predisposing women to a greater amount of leg and knee injuries due to bad technique on take-off and landing from jumps. We know that girls/women play sports in a more upright position causing weak trunk, hip and leg musculature. Girls/women also jump with incorrect knee position and land in an upright position thus allowing the knee to move side to side or twist during landing. Improving technique and getting stronger in the hips, legs and core will decrease your chances of sustaining a leg injury.

We also know that girls/women tend to have a wider pelvic angle and increased low back curve, factors that result in the femur, or upper leg bone, rotating inward and the knees assuming a “knock knee” position. This “knock knee” position places stress on the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). Combine these factors with landing forces up to five times your body weight, and you are at a high risk for injury. These ground reaction forces place a great amount of tension on the muscles, tendons, ligaments and cartilage surrounding the knee. One of our goals at Female Athletes First.com is to teach girls/women how to jump and land, therefore, we have listed for you the keys to developing correct form on the take-off and landing from a jump. We cannot stress enough the importance of trying to perform each and every jump with the correct form.

Take-off:

1. Use your arms when you jump, meaning, take your arms back behind your body for balance and to prepare for the jump. Jumping is a coordinated movement involving many muscle groups in the body. The muscles in the shoulders, back, chest, arms, core, hips, legs and feet all work together to put you in the proper position for take-off and to propel you up into the air. Strengthen these muscle groups for increased stability and power.

2. Use the thumbs-up rule, which is driving or punching your arms and hands with thumbs upward on the jump. This arm and hand motion can account for approximately 10 percent of the height jumped.

3. Knees should be bent at least 60 degrees or greater and hips flexed 30 degrees or greater before the take-off. In other words, bend your knees more and squat down farther before you jump. Your ankles will be flexed 25 degrees or greater if you do this.

4. Keep a neutral spine before take-off and not a rounded back or sunken chest position. You also don’t want to be bent over too much at the waist. 5. Keep knees over your feet. We don’t want to see “knocked knees” while in the squat prior to the jump.

5. Jump straight as an arrow. Maintain a tall hips posture and project them upward (and at times forward) for height and distance.

Landing:

1. Try to land softly, light as a feather, we don’t want to hear a loud landing or a loud slap on the landing.

2. Land on the ball of the foot and sink into your heel.

3. Land with flexed hip, knees and ankles to absorb the landing forces.

4. Maintain a straight back, neutral spine position.

5. Land with chest over knees and knees over the feet. Again, don’t land “knock kneed.”

6. When performing multiple plyometric movements in an exercise session, try to be like a super ball. Be as quick and elastic off the floor, the idea being to spend the least amount of time in contact with the floor.

7. Land on two feet if at all possible to help absorb the landing forces.

When performing a jump training program always remember that Quality is better than Quantity. It is better to have six quality jumps than 10 sloppy ones. Athletes should have a good strength and flexibility base before starting on a jump training program. Always train on the proper surfaces. Land on an exercise mat, grass, track or wood gym floor.

A proper plyometric training program should consist of a balance and mix of jumps, hops and bounds. Incorporate jumps and hops into your program done both forward and back and side to side. Different directions stress different muscle groups and will aid in injury prevention. Keep the volume of jumps or foot contacts per session low especially with beginners, anywhere from 25 per day and 100 per week. Plyometrics can be performed 3- 4 times per week, skip a day in between sessions or divide the jumps into linear and multi-directional days if done on back to back days. Always be aware of the amount of jumps being done in each session. Perform your jump training program in the presence of an informed coach, parent or teacher. This person must be able to supervise and provide the correct feedback on each and every jump.