| | Plyometric Training: Landing

Author / John

Power-Athlete-Female-Vertical-Jump-PlyometricsThis year, like every year, the CrossFit Football booth posted up at the 2014 CrossFit Games to catch up with Power Athlete nation, introduce some new training apparel, and of course, humble passerbys with the vertical jump test.  This year we went the extra step to geek out on testing by collecting the best of three attempts on the vertech from each athlete.

As the jumpers began to line up and attempt to leap past one another, the Power Athlete coaches began to see a common theme amongst the jumpers. Plyometrics are a key component of every strength, power or conditioning program, no matter what you are training for.  But why is this movement never discussed in great depth such as squatting technique, accessory work or even conditioning practices? Power-Athlete-RG3-JumpThe vertical jump and broad jump are even wrapped up in the dangers of the numbers game.  Athletes are evaluated based off of vertical and broad jump numbers written on a clipboard, when the true evaluation comes from the execution of the movement.

As gracefully shown above by RGIII in an advertisement, we witnessed many valgus knees during the takeoff phase of patrons vertical jumps, and even more dangerous landings.  A huge problem across the board, from professional athlete to Games attendee, lies in the execution of a jump and catch.  The athletes whose misalignment in takeoff or instability during landing put a magnifying glass on their lack of balance or cohesion among the hip, quad and hamstring.  As a result, the athletes were losing power in the jump and putting themselves at a risk of injury. Valgus-Knee-Plyometrics-power-athleteAthletes may not feel a misalignment and the coaches may not know what to look for, but ignorance is not an excuse for injury.  The plyometric argument shouldn’t be focused on the bound versus step down for a box jump, or the DANGERS of depth jumps.  The focus needs to be on the execution of the jump and the landing, no matter the program applied.

Jumping and landing technique is as important for athlete development as sprint mechanics, but few coaches invest the time to showing their athletes how to land properly and effectively.  If either the take off phase or the landing is executed improperly, the athlete will be more likely to do more harm than good.  This series will reserve engineer the jump through covering the basics of landing and takeoff, provide assessment tools for strength coaches and how to program plyometrics to build the Power Athlete. [s2If !current_user_can(access_s2member_level1)]

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Before applying any form of plyometric training, one must learn not the take off, but a balanced landing position.  The most effective way to educate an athlete in this form of training is to reverse engineer.  Begin with the universal athletic position.  This is a safe, stable position an athlete can catch in a box jump, vertical jump, burpee and any other training drill that involves jumping and landing.

Athletic-Position-Power-Athlete-plyometricsThe goal of setting up in the athletic position is to find a balance in the quad, hamstring and hips in a way in which the athlete is ready for any action.  Notice the alignment of the feet and leg.  The heels are just outside the shoulder, knees above the in-step of the foot and toes pointing forward.  With the weight in the mid-foot over the arch, butt is pushed back to find a sense of balance.

The athlete is capable of jumping or stepping to either left or right, forwards or back, and up and down.  Perfect for a field sport athlete who needs to catch any jump or hurdle into a reactive position to make a play.

The position for the jump and landing are slightly different, but the goals are in line.  The set up for the jump will be discussed in Part 2, but the following points apply to both positions.  If aligned correctly, the muscles will be set up not solely as dampening springs or force generators, but be positioned to work together.  If alignment is off then dampening goes too much to one muscle group or too little to the other, then there will be a dysfunction.

Some dysfunctions include broken posture, uncoordinated movement, a reduction in power or strength, or a tweak or tear in a muscle if overloaded. There needs to be an even distribution among the quad, hamstring, ab/adductors, and the hip int/external rotators to minimize force bleed, and enhance applicable power for the athlete. Force-Bleed-Plyometrics-power-athleteTeach Position First
Once the stable, athletic position is established as the finishing point of the movement, the next step is to challenge this position moving through space.  The jump becomes a limiting factor in this situation.  Many athletes will not be able to execute a high enough jump to allow of the landing position to be established. In order to eliminate this factor and shift the focus to the landing, a depth landing may be implemented. [vimeo]https://vimeo.com/103337779[/vimeo]

Depth Landing
This will not only train athletes a default position to land in, it will drive a strength adaptation and prepare them for plyometrics.  Depth jumps without the rebound after landing have been found to have a significant effect on concentric and eccentric strength (Siff, 277).  Weight training, especially with inexperienced athletes or jumpers, cannot produce this intensity with voluntary, submaximal effort.  The high risk of overload injury associated with falling from great heights should always be borne in mind.  It is important to increase the drop height gradually from fairly low levels, to limit the number of drops per session, to land on suitably firm shock absorbing surfaces and to pay careful attention to landing in a balanced athletic position as shown above.

Physio Detective
For this series I have elicited the help of the Physio Detective from down under, Antony Lo, to help discuss alignment and execution.  After a few discussions involving the jumping, landing and alignment, he has helped identify some points of performance for coach’s to pay attention to when coaching plyometric movements.

  • 1. Teach a Loaded Hamstring as a Check In
  • Athletes either catch too much in their quad shooting their knees forward, or abductors turn off/adductors do too much and cause valgus knee. Pushing the hips back on the landing assists the hamstring with loading and finding a balance amongst all the muscles involved.
  • 2. Land on the Ball of the Foot
  • The ball of the foot was made to absorb the force and distribute it throughout the foot and into the muscles up the leg. The eccentric use of the calves are the brakes and springs for reloading to go or slowing down on the landing. Catching in full plantar flexion or the heel of the foot can lead to many force injuries.
  • 3. Hip and Knee Move at the Same Rate
  • Once the ball of the foot catches the ground, the hip and the knee should absorb the force of the landing at the same rate.
  • 4. Control of Center of Gravity
  • Many athletes focus so much on their feet during the landing, they forgot to control the trunk, collapsing throwing off their center of gravity.
  • 5. Monitor Positions, Don’t Focus on Them
  • See the athlete as a whole during the landing. Never simply focus on the foot or knee position, observe what full action is causing.
  • 6. Landing in a Balanced, Stable Position
  • Balance and stability are functions of controlling the center of gravity, and can be accomplished by loading the glutes and hamstrings catching in the athletic position. The glutes and hamstrings contribute different amounts of stability at different ranges of hip flexion.
  • 7. Stable Now → Stable in Changing Positions
  • You have to be relatively stable in your dynamic movement to produce a stable change of direction for the next position.

Jumping and landing technique is as important for on field performance as sprint mechanics. Sprinting and jumping have immediate carry over to on-field performance because both of these are skills necessary to compete.  As with many other coaching fallacies, the improper application by sport coaches and misguided execution by athletes prevents plyometrics from accomplishing all it should from training.  An education in jumping is necessary for all athletes and coaches.  The challenge is to not view jumps in terms of inches, but execution.

This series will continue with a breakdown of the jumping phase and assessment tools for educating coaches on what to look for before implementing a plyo program.  We will then dive into assessment tools to identify limiting factors for the jump, and last but not least, plyometric programming![/s2If]


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John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.


  1. Mex on August 15, 2014 at 7:33 am

    Loving the knowledge you’re sharing Tex! Great piece

  2. stevenzissou on August 15, 2014 at 7:49 am

    Thanks Tex.

  3. Josh on August 16, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    Great article Tex! It is long the old saying, “you have to crawl before you can walk.” The huge box jumps make great vids, but we can’t forget the basics.

  4. Gavin on August 19, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Knowledge bombs to get my chili hot.

  5. shredalert on October 12, 2014 at 4:14 am


  6. Conor Lynch on October 18, 2014 at 11:50 am

    @mcquilkin Any favorite drills for instilling the feeling of a loaded hamstring in highly flexible athletes? For instance, an athlete with a gymnastics background who can bend over to place their hands flat on the ground without any sense of stretch or limitation in their hamstrings?

    Another awesome article. Love these movement breakdown pieces.

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