Safe Landings: How to Jump Down from a Height

By Alex Schenker, MovNat Master Trainer

The human body is capable of experiencing a moment of freedom from the constraints of earth’s gravity through jumping. It’s a liberating, primal feeling that we are all familiar with. We can generate enough power to propel ourselves into the air, but it’s the landing that is the most important part of any airborne action. It’s safe to say that the vast majority of injuries that occur during jumping, happen when we are landing. Landing is the most important part of jumping. So, this guide is going to dig into landing techniques.

 

Practicing landings develops our ability to effectively disperse the forces of impact as we receive the ground. The more reliable our landing ability is, the lower the risk of danger in many movements, and the more movement potential we develop when it comes to interacting with our external environment. Jumping is usually a transition to another skill like crawling, balancing, rolling, running, climbing, etc. Jumping variations and landing transitions can expand into a seemingly endless array of combinations. So, today, we will focus mostly on landing on a flat surface after jumping from a height.

Jumping is obviously relevant to sports-specific abilities, but our primary focus for developing such skills is practical application for navigating difficult and complex environments; and preventing injury if such skills are ever demanded in serious situations.

When it comes to landing, it helps to think of it as embracing or receiving the ground, rather than bracing for impact. In Japanese martial arts, the term Ukemi is used to refer to breaking your fall, but breaking falls is a poor translation. Ukeru is the root verb that roughly means “to receive.” Breaking a fall sounds like you are trying to resist or stop the fall, when really you are receiving the ground.

The point here is in the mindset: jumping down, falling, rolling, all involve the mindset of embracing the ground like a trusted friend; not fighting it off like your mortal enemy. Receiving the ground is about building your relationship with gravity and learning how to ride that wave rather than stubbornly trying to stand up to it crashing into you.

Landing Techniques On a Flat Surface

The first thing to make contact with the ground in a jump should be the balls of the feet and the toes. Then the legs should start to bend to absorb the shock and eccentrically slow down the force of the landing. Ideally, the heels then come in contact with the ground, providing a stronger base of support to make it easier to balance and control the descent into a squat position. The shoulders remain in line with the hips as the arms swing out in front as a counterbalance while you are sitting back into the squat position. The depth of your squat will be determined by how much force needs to be mitigated.

The squat position has a very high level of structural integrity, which is why it is an ideal movement pattern for lifting heavy objects. This position keeps our skeletal structure aligned with the direction of force and allows our muscles to “catch” and disperse the impact of the landing. This results in the synergistic recruitment of the whole body as one. Once we settle into the landing and reestablish stability, we then ascend into a relaxed standing posture or transition to the next movement.

Downward Jump Practical Application

Now that the groundwork has been set, let’s focus on what you came here for: Jumping down to reach a surface that is below your current position. The Downward Jump is the easiest to initiate, as gravity naturally does all the work. The landing is often quite a bit more demanding and technical depending on the height you are jumping from.

To initiate the jump, transition into a Deep Knee Bend to lower your center of gravity. Drive forward just enough to clear the distance required for the jump. Bring your arms back behind you as you drive forward to counterbalance. Swing them as you jump so they are in front of you as you land. If you are clearing a distance as well as height, this arm swing can be more utilized; but if you are jumping from a height without much of a distance requirement, the arm swing is unnecessary.

While in the air, reach your feet out in front of you and position yourself to receive the landing.

Note: You can perform a vault down from your surface as an alternative when jumping from a greater height. From your Deep Knee Bend position, put your hands down on the obstacle next to your feet and transfer your body’s weight from your feet to your hands as you thrust off of the obstacle. Push off with the hands to complete the vault.

Foot Hand Landing

When jumping from a relatively greater height, we may not want to absorb the landing solely with the lower body. A foot hand landing can disperse a greater amount of impact forces through the entire kinetic chain by transferring some of the load to the upper body after landing. This adaptation happens as we are landing, before the heels would touch the ground if we were doing a regular Downward Jump landing.

As you land on the balls of the feet and begin to absorb the impact with the legs, the arms should be by your sides and on their way forward with the hands rotated outward slightly. Instead of the heels coming down as in the regular Downward Jump landing, they will stay slightly off the ground. As the knees continue to flex and the body’s weight shifts forward, the hands reach down and make contact with the ground to allow the upper body to help receive the landing in a quick “one-two” pattern (i.e. feet land first, absorbing most of the impact, then hands land next for additional impact absorption).

You may have to lean forward more or less depending on the landing. Landing relatively vertically, the hands come down between the legs, as the elbows bend, pressing against the inner thighs to support the knees. If you lean forward instead as you land, your hand will touch the ground in front of your body and your elbows will bend more to absorb the impact. The more you lean forward, the more force you pass onto your upper body.

As soon as the bodyweight transfer happens from the lower to upper body, the bodyweight is transferred back to the feet. This is like a Front Vault on the ground and can be practiced as a ground movement drill.

When jumping from above a certain height, you’ll probably want to roll as you land. This is a complex technique worthy of it’s own tutorial, which we may cover in the future. For the time being, you can use these drills to develop the coordination and skills of throwing yourself and receiving the ground. You can also get started with this Beginner’s Guide to Rolling. Please leave a comment if you have any questions, and don’t forget to like and share the video if you found it helpful and feel it may help someone you know.

About the Author

Alex SchenkerAlex Schenker is a MovNat Master Trainer, Martial Arts Instructor, Movement Therapist, and the creator of Natural Mobility. His approach emphasizes restoring and maintaining the natural state of our human bodies, reconnecting with the evolutionary movement aptitudes of our species, as well as stimulating our own natural healing capabilities through corrective exercise. Alex coaches people privately, and teaches regular weekly MovNat & Combatives classes in Toronto, Canada. Follow him on Instagram: @naturalmobility.

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