By Erwan Le Corre, MovNat Founder

So, you can jump and land on a flat, horizontal surface just fine. But how well can you land on a vertical surface (e.g. like a wall or tree trunk)?

In the real world, we don’t always have a nice wide open space to jump and land on just our feet. Sometimes, we have to land in a hanging or climbing position.

In my upcoming book “The Practice of Natural Movement,” I explain how the launching method, the trajectory, and landing of a jump are related but not necessarily predetermined. Regardless of how you “throw” the jump to enter the airborne phase, you won’t necessarily land on your feet nor on a wide, horizontal surface with every jump you make. This real-life consideration implies that, on top of having to launch your jumps in diverse manners, you also must be prepared, and actually very well prepared, to land them in even more diverse ways.

Long gone is the time when hastily and repeatedly jumping upward onto a box and sloppily jumping down off it was a satisfactory approach to the highly diverse and technical skill which is jumping. How did “functional” fitness even end up thinking that it was, and for that long? In fact, the skill of landing is as important, if not MORE important than jumping itself!

So, today, I want to address a particular “skill-to-skill” move: the forward-downward power jump to a foot-hand hang landing. Wait, what did you just write Le Corre? Well, it’s actually simpler than it sounds. The first part describes the way the jump is launched. A “power jump” is normally known as a “broad jump.” But hey, you can cover a broad distance jumping using other methods than this one. So “power” implies that it relies on your own ability to accelerate on the spot rather than say accelerating through fast forward steps. If you can’t afford to run or even step to generate forward momentum, it must come from your own power, right on the spot, hence the “power jump.” But I digress.

Let’s talk about the landing. What if despite your best effort, you couldn’t generate enough power to land on your feet on the landing surface? It may not mean that you can’t land, only that your landing strategy must adapt. Let’s say you find yourself standing on the edge of a wall, in front of a relatively large gap, with no possibility of accelerating through stepping, and being immediately aware that the distance is too wide for you to land on your feet? You STILL could land safely, but it’s going to be technical. Get ready!

This is a “skill-to-skill” move because in this case, you will end up in a hanging position, which is an element of climbing. Once airborne, the jumping part is already finished. It’s time to land, but using both your feet and hands as seen on the photos below.

Landing in a foot-hand hang will enable you to reach and land on a vertical surface that is farther than landing on the feet, with the feet landing more or less below the height of the launching surface, and the hands landing more or less at the same level with the launching height, depending on the distance/depth ratio. This being said, such landing strategy may also enable you to land with your hands, or even with both hands and feet, higher than the height from which you launch the jump.

Let me tell you, this kind of landing can be highly intimidating especially as the height and distance you are facing increase. So, if you are going to give it a shot, make sure that you train first at ground level. To get started at a doable and safe level, find a wall (eventually landing can be done on trees, but this is definitely not the entry level of practice) no higher than 6 feet tall. Start jumping from ground level with a slightly upward jump. There’s no need to get a lot momentum, if any, at first. That will let your hands grab the edge of the wall and your feet to land on its vertical surface, obviously higher than ground level. This is definitely the easiest, least intimidating, most accessible, and safest entry level of practice to this particular landing skill.

Ready to give this a shot?

Step 1) Face the landing surface and get a quick sense of how much power you need to generate and where your feet should land. Initiate a forward power jump, keeping your gaze on the landing surface.

Step 2) As in the regular power jump, bend your knees and then bring them forward to the front to maintain positional control while airborne. Unlike a neutral landing, keep both arms out in front of you.

Step 3) While keeping a slight forward lean of the torso to maintain hands and feet close to vertical alignment, extend your legs towards the landing surface, starting to slightly split them to land with the feet in a staggered fashion. Optionally they can stay together to land in a square fashion. Hands and feet are level or close to it. Using peripheral vision, keep looking both at where you want your hands and feet to connect with the landing surface.

Step 4) Depending on your trajectory, your hands may land briefly before the feet, at the same time, or slightly after. In any case, the lower body should absorb most of the impact forces, while the hands secure a handhold on the top edge to hang from, preventing the upper body from moving forward or bouncing backward and losing grip, and participating in establishing a balanced position upon landing. Flex your ankles, knees, and hips to absorb the force of the landing so that your hands don’t bear the full weight and momentum of your body. Depending on your foot position at landing, as well as the landing surface (or the sole of your footwear), your feet or a single foot may slide down slightly. Landing with staggered feet, about hip width apart, and in a two-step fashion, allows for a wider and more stable base of support and a better management of impact forces through the feet.

In case you miss the landing entirely and bounce off, you want to regain a vertical body position as soon as possible to prepare for a back roll immediately upon landing, if the depth is sustainable and the landing surface suitable for such a transition. But that’s another story! If you follow safe and steady progressions, you shouldn’t face such an issue until you reach greater heights and distances.

Next Steps

As you progress and feel more confident and in control, you can start increasing the distance you cover but most importantly the height from which you launch your jump. Let’s imagine the wall you are using to train is in your backyard or your neighborhood, you could bring a solid box or something not too high you could step from, to start elevating the launching surface. Next level of progression will be that the height of your feet at launching matches the landing height of your hands.

If you are landing on a tall surface below its top surface, such as on a tree trunk, your hands need to reach around the sides in an open-hand fashion, which is much more technical and challenging. Other forms of transitions to climbing imply landing in a hand hang on a horizontal surface (branch, cable, bar) or a vertical one such as grasping a vertical rope, before feet and legs can assist with hanging and climbing.

Common Mistakes

  • Leaning forward too much upon landing might make you land the feet too low with a body position too vertical and make you slide down extending the body fully downward in a dead-hang.
  • Keeping the torso vertical or leaning backward too much upon landing and missing the edge before the hands can reach it or get a sufficiently strong grip on it, bouncing off the surface and falling on your back.
  • Lifting your feet too high before landing will make you land in an overly compact position where the ankles, knees and hips are already flexed and therefore do not absorb impact forces efficiently. You might bounce off the landing surface to a fall.
  • Landing both with your feet too high and your hands too far behind the feet is guaranteed to make you bounce off at landing.

Final Thoughts

Jumping is a fun, practical skill that provides a number of unique conditioning benefits, particularly when paired with climbing. Everyone should be able to jump well – safely, efficiently, and without expending tons of energy – whether you’re in the gym or out in nature. And with a little practice, done faithfully and progressively, skills like these can become second nature…because they are in our nature.

If you’d like to improve your jumping, climbing, and other natural movement fitness skills, please commit to a MovNat Certification or Workshop today.

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Note: This article contains excerpts from Erwan Le Corre’s upcoming book, The Practice of Natural Movement.