Master Your Jumping and Landing Mechanics
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
When it comes to optimizing athletic performance, speed, and power output, mastering your jumping and landing mechanics are key. Additionally, learning to properly jump and land with correct biomechanics can do wonders for improving muscle function, stability, motor control, body composition, and overall fitness levels not only for athletes but also for general populations and fitness enthusiasts. While I use a number of protocols and training techniques to teach proper jumping and landing mechanics there are several methods that expedite the process and reinforce optimal form and activation patterns for jump training. Here are 10 of my go-to methods.
Note: Most if not all of the jumping variations you’ll see any of my athletes perform involve barefoot or minimalist footwear/socks conditions. That’s because learning to master your lower body mechanics including force production, force absorption, and optimal biomechanics starts with the feet and ankles. Learn more about foot and ankle training in my best-selling e-book, The Ultimate Foot & Ankle Manual.
Eccentric Isometrics Jump Squats
If I just had to choose one method to master jumping mechanics it would be eccentric isometric jump squats using any modality from bodyweight to barbell loading as shown here by NFL athlete Lawrence Virgil. Read more about Eccentric Isometrics here.
The eccentric isometric protocol helps maximize proprioception and sensory feedback by activating muscle spindles. As a result this helps the athlete dial in their lower body mechanics as they can more easily tune into their “sense of feel” and fine-tune their body positioning. Ironically, once the athlete cleans up their mechanics they often find they can actually jump higher on eccentric isometric barbell jump squats, compared to standard barbell jump squats, due to the enhanced sensory feedback, improved body mechanics, and increased motor unit recruitment associated with eccentric isometric protocols. These are also amazing for producing post activation potentiation and can easily be paired with other explosive movements for an acute spike in power output.
Deconstructed Box Jumps
Maximizing the effectiveness of box jumps doesn’t require a tall box as demonstrated by NFL superstar DeAngelo Hall in this video. In fact using a shorter box is ideal for teaching proper box jump and depth drop/drop jump mechanics. The key is having the intention to jump with max or near-max power regardless of the height of the box and sticking each position.
Additionally, performing the box jump in a deconstructed fashion by breaking the movement down into individual segments helps the athlete hone in on their form. That’s because they are essentially doing a rapid eccentric isometric jump position which allows them to fine-tune their body mechanics before jumping onto the box. It also allows them to use their arms to drive their hips into the optimal position without feeling rushed or sloppy.
In addition, this protocol eliminates momentum and teaches the athlete how to produce power from a dead stop position, which can be invaluable for speed and power training. In essence, using the stretch reflex (without pausing) allows you to achieve maximal jump height (i.e. testing scenarios), while performing them in a deconstructed fashion is best for improving your jump performance.
Reverse Depth Drops
You’ll also notice in the above video how I have DeAngelo Hall performing the movement with the reverse depth drop/drop catch which is much easier on the knees than the standard depth drop (moving forward). That’s because the hips are able to sit back more naturally and absorb more force with less anterior/forward knee drift. Essentially this version is easier on the joints while simultaneously reinforcing proper landing technique, similar to using reverse lunges rather than forward walking lunges.
Slide-Board Jumps Squat Jumps
The slide-board is one of my favorite training tools to use not necessarily for traditional slide-board drills but more so for anti-sliding exercises. For instance, I’ve found that applying the “anti-sliding” effect to many of the foundational movement patterns (squat, pushups, lunges, glute bridges, hip thrusters, hinges, side lunges, and more) does wonders for enhancing mechanics and teaching proper form. That’s because in order to resist the sliding effect the lifter’s form has to be spot on. Read more about slide-board training here.
However, this same protocol is incredibly effective when applied to jumps and variations thereof as the athlete’s jumping and landing form has to be meticulously dialed in not to mention their foot and ankle mechanics. Any aberrations or dysfunction will immediately be exposed primarily because faulty mechanics produce wasted force vectors with varying amounts of force being transmitted horizontally, laterally, and diagonally instead of perfectly vertically into the floor. This is even more relevant when applied to jumping and landing drills as the lifter is forced to stick the landing.
Until the lifter can produce perfectly vertical force vectors with no wasted force and energy leaks, he or she will continue to struggle to maintain a firm base without sliding and slipping. In essence, the slide board amplifies any technique flaws and neuromuscular aberrations. And yes, that also means the toes need to be perfectly straight both on the jumping and landing phases. Here are 3 of my favorite methods for applying the anti-sliding protocol to my training.
The first video involves a hanging kettlebell eccentric isometric squat protocol as demonstrated by 4 NFL athletes including Julian Williams, Marquell Beckwith, Tyson Graham, and Brandon Barnes as well as baseball phenom Jackson Boyd.
In the second clip my awesome client Amy Shea is performing a close stance eccentric isometric squat jump protocol as part of her rehab from an ACL tear. It should also be noted that Amy did not go the surgical route to repair her ACL but decided to use proper training methods as her form of therapy to rehab her knee injury – something more athletes may want to consider.
Similarly in the third clip my awesome client Eric McIntyre is performing a front curled eccentric isometric squat jump variation which further enhances spinal rigidity due to increased activation of the anterior core. Eric is another prime example of an individual who had a significant spinal injury but decided to chose the oftentimes smarter non-surgical route by precisely applying proper training methods to his routine.
Band Resisted Squat Jumps
When it comes to athletic performance, deceleration & force absorption are just as important as force production. Using band resistance for squat jumps as shown here by Carolina Panthers QB Taylor Heinicke is one of the most effective techniques to address this.
Yes this drill is great for teaching athletes how to accelerate and blast through the band tension which is phenomenal for improving power output & speed. However, its just as effective for teaching athletes how to absorb impact and decelerate high level forces as the band resistance acts as a slingshot launching the lifter back into the floor on the catch. This represents incredibly high levels of eccentric stress which also does wonders for injury prevention not to mention functional strength & hypertrophy due to heightened levels of mechanical tension and muscle damage.
It should also be noted that this is an incredibly advanced training technique and should only be performed by athletes who’ve developed an appropriate foundation of strength, power, motor control, and technical efficiency on basic movement patterns. Employing this method with an athlete who isn’t prepared is setting them up for disaster as the risk for injury becomes exponentially magnified. With that said, I’ve worked with Taylor for several years via GSP and have a good read on what his body can handle. Simply put, make sure you know your athletes so you can match up their level of technical efficiency with the appropriate training intensity & modalities.
You’ll also notice a very slight valgus collapse particularly on the first rep that Taylor eliminates as he progresses into the set. Lastly, notice how I have Taylor using a brief eccentric isometric squat on the eccentric phase before the concentric jump. As previously mentioned this helps provide additional proprioceptive feedback & kinesthetic awareness due to increased activation of muscle spindles and intrafusal fibers. In other words, the athlete will have a better sense of feel so they can fine-tune their mechanics and position which is critical for explosive and dynamic movement such as this.
Band resisted squat jumps can also be performed using the hanging kettlebell or dumbbell setup as I have 2 of my NFL athletes (Julian Williams and Marquell Beckwith) show here. Besides providing similar benefits as the barbell jump squats these tend to be a bit more low back and shoulder friendly than the barbell variations.
Rapid Eccentric Isometrics Squat Jumps
When it comes to building explosive power including jumping performance, rapid eccentric isometrics are one of the most effective training techniques in existence. That’s because they not only maximize muscle spindle feedback due to the rapid rate of stretch but they also wake up high threshold motor units and survival fibers that normally would not be forced to activate. When combined with squat jumps as NFL athlete Julian Williams demonstrates with the barbell back squat in this circuit, the effects are quite potent as the lifter can learn to transfer the enhanced motor unit recruitment into their actual jumps. Read more about Rapid Eccentrics Isometrics here.
In fact it’s not uncommon for athletes to feel an immediate increase in jump height due to the hyper-activation of the nervous system associated with the quick deceleration that’s produced from the rapid eccentric isometrics. Just make sure you’ve already mastered your squat form and jumping mechanics with traditional eccentric isometrics as these can be quite stressful on the joints and connective tissue if technique is not dialed in.
Single Leg Jumps
Learning to produce and absorb force in a unilateral (single leg) fashion is critical not only for optimizing jumping performance but also for eliminating asymmetries and instability in the lower body. This has a tremendous impact not only on jumping mechanics but also on sprinting technique, agility, speed, and overall footwork.
Because many athletes have greater difficulty dialing in their mechanics with single leg jumps, I typically program eccentric isometric jump squats as NFL athlete Marquell Beckwith demonstrates in the above video, using the dumbbell pinching method. The combination of single leg stabilization, eccentric isometric skater squat, and dumbbell pinching method does wonders for enhancing motor control, biomechanics, proprioception, and overall technique. You’ll also notice how I include a core stabilization drill (bear crawl bird dog) mixed in with the circuit to ensure that the core is fully engaged as this also greatly helps dial in jumping and landing mechanics.
Double Rebound Jump Squats
Here are two of my NFL athletes Prince Iworah and CJ Okpalobi performing a unique but effective eccentric isometric double rebound weighted squat jump. This eccentric isometric double rebound jumping technique is something I’ve been using consistently with athletes as it allows us to employ the best of all worlds when it comes to performance training.
By employing this immediately prior to the double rebound plyometric jump this helps the athlete jump and land with superior technique than had they not employed the eccentric isometric. In other words this technique allows us to train both body mechanics and explosive plyometric-based activities at the same time. This does wonders not only for improving jump performance and explosive power but also for teaching athletes how to absorb force and decelerate with maximal motor control. I recommend starting with bodyweight and dialing in your form before progressing to additional loading.
Squat Jumps with CAP Protocol (Concurrent Activation Potentiation)
Here are two of my NFL veterans Jarius Wynn and Fernando Velasco demonstrating one of my favorite jumping variations using bumper plates.
Performing jump squats by pinching either bumper plates or hex dumbbells teaches the athlete to maintain a tight and stable core as the intense hand, finger, and forearms activation (essentially acting as a mini plyometric for the hands and grip) produces concurrent activation potentiation (CAP) and irradiation. As a result this creates greater neural drive to the core and working extremities thereby enhancing spinal rigidity, force absorption capabilities, and proper biomechanics.
This is also one of the single most effective variations I've found for teaching proper landing and force absorption on the impact phase of the jump as the athlete is forced to generate extreme levels of intramuscular tension to keep the weight from slipping out of their hands. As a result the potentiation produced from head to toe translates to reduced energy leaks and more precise landing mechanics. This is something many athletes have trouble with as they tend to allow their body to go limp and over-relax on the landing phase of jumps. Besides losing torque for the subsequent concentric phase and leaking energy, this places undue stress on the joints and connective tissue. The drill is excellent for eliminating these forms of dysfunction as it literally requires near optimal jumping and landing mechanics.
Once the athlete masters the bumper plate or dumbbell pinching variations, they can progress even further by performing isolateral barbell suitcase variations.
This method has several benefits.
First the double suitcase barbell protocol is very difficult to stabilize and control. Any deviation in posture, shoulder stability, or body mechanics will result in the barbells moving in an uncontrollable fashion. This teaches the lifter to maintain a tight core, rigid spine, and strict jumping mechanics.
Secondly, this is one of the most effective jumping variations I've ever used to expose and improve symmetrical jumping mechanics. Because most athletes tend to favor one leg and push off more with one side of their body this can produce injury and loss of power output. With this specific loaded jump any asymmetries become immediately apparent as the bars begin to tilt to one side and twist uncontrollably.
Third and lastly, this barbell squat jump is incredible for teaching proper landing mechanics as the unstable yet heavy loads forces the lifter to brace their core, hands, and shoulder stabilizers upon impact. Similar to the plate pinch method, this produces concurrent activation potentiation and ultimately greater neural drive to the working extremities thereby teaching the lifter how to properly absorb force and stick the landing rather than hit the ground like a wet noodle.
Eccentric Potentiation Jumps
Although the deconstructed jumping method using an eccentric isometric loading phase is unbelievably effective for cleaning up technique and form issues, some athletes will have difficulty fully engaging their nervous systems and turning on high threshold motor units particularly when using light or bodyweight loads. Although this is typically remedied via proper coaching and cueing as well as mental concentration, periodically employing eccentric potentiation jumps can be a quick and effective remedy.
Simply perform the eccentric portion of the drill using a controlled yet loaded eccentric isometric. After holding the position for 3-5 seconds which allows ample time for the neuromuscular system to ramp up to its highest levels of motor unit recruitment via temporal summation, the lifter dumps the load on the floor then performs the concentric jumping phase in a deloaded fashion. Here I have several of my NFL athletes including Taylor Heinicke, Blake Sims, and Mazi Ogbonna performing an eccentric potentiation dumbbell RDL into a broad jump.
This method also has several additional benefits. First, it allows the athlete to perform the jump in a systematic deconstructed fashion which further enables them to dial in their form. Second, the neural potentiation from performing a loaded eccentric typically produces greater jumping height and/or distance compared to a standard jump. Third, because the nervous system is hyper activated from the eccentric overload, this improves their landing mechanics as it reinforces crisp, strict, and controlled landings rather than loose and sloppy ones.
Eyes Closed Jumps
Eyes-closed training is something I incorporate quite frequently with my athletes particularly when performing eccentric isometrics. That’s because it further enhances proprioceptive feedback as the lifter is forced to perform the movement by relying on their kinesthetic awareness and sense of feel rather than their vision. While it’s quite advanced, applying this method to jumps can also be incredibly effective for cleaning up any type of movement abberation or biomechanical flaw as anything but textbook mechanics will make it difficult to control the exercise. Read more about eyes closed strength training here.
Lateral Box Jumps
I'm a huge fan of incorporating single leg jumps into the programs of my athletes and clients as most individuals have significant imbalances and asymmetries particularly during explosive movements such as jumping. This specific single leg box jump over variation involves both lateral and medial side hops as it teaches the athletes not only to produce and absorb force vertically but also in medial and lateral directions.
This has a profound impact on lateral movement, jumping, cutting, accelerating, and decelerating, and overall sprinting as it teaches the lower body to handle a variety of forces. It's also quite effective for addressing foot and ankle stability particularly when performed in barefoot or minimalist conditions as shown here by my athletes.
It's important for athletes to work on jump performance involving a variety of force vectors, including vertical, horizontal, lateral, medial, backwards, and a combination of these not only from a double leg position but from a single leg as well as a lunge, squat, and hinge position. Doing so not only maximizes performance and power but also minimizes injury and joint trauma. It should also be noted that this drill is incredibly beneficial for addressing foot and ankle collapse both in terms of pronation and supination due to the combination of medial and lateral force vectors acting against the foot and ankle complex as well as the hips.
Besides improving Olympic lifting technique which in and of itself can have a tremendous impact on explosive activities and jump performance, jump shrugs and power shrugs are incredibly effective for directly improving jump height and distance. That’s because it reinforces the notion of relying on the hips to initiate the movement while producing maximal and violent triple extension.
Power shrugs and jump shrugs can be performed from a variety of positions including clean grip, snatch grip, floor variations, and hang variations.
If you’re looking for a movement protocol that simultaneously enhances jumping performance, running mechanics, enhances your mobility, improves your speed and power, and enhances your stability and balance, then you’ll want to incorporate lunge jumps and variations thereof into your training. Here’s a unique example using a reverse pause-lunge to jump with contralateral knee-drive combo as demonstrated by one of my collegiate high jumpers Bailey Weiland.
Notice how she maintains a forward lean and hip hinge on the lunge phase which represents ideal lunging mechanics for any lunge variation. Once she locks the eccentric isometric into position and feels for the most stable and strongest mechanics she then explodes out of the lunge by loading her front leg while simultaneously driving with the opposite knee. In addition notice how she focuses on landing on one leg briefly to teach unilateral force absorption - a critical aspect of speed, power, and performance. Finally notice the use of the dorsiflexion throughout which is another subtle yet highly critical coaching cue and technique pointer.
Bottoms Up Jump Squats
Want to learn how to absorb force and decelerate efficiently? Try this bottoms up eccentric isometric kettlebell squat jump shown by my awesome athlete Ben Lai.
Although power output and force production are critical for athletic performance, learning how to absorb impact and decelerate high level forces is arguably more important not only for performance but also for joint health, injury prevention, and motor control.
The bottoms up squat jump teaches the athlete how to maintain full body tension particularly during the landing phase as even the slightest loss of tension, spinal rigidity, core activation, stability, and tightness will result in the kettlebell flipping. Simply put the lifter will be required to maintain maximal tension from head to toe. Additionally the heightened grip and forearm activation creates increased concurrent activation potentiation and irradiation (fancy scientific terms for “staying tight”) which has been shown to improve neural drive and motor control to the involved extremities.
This further helps cue the athlete to eliminate valgus collapse, toe flare, energy leaks, and other deviations in jumping and landing mechanics. Lastly, you’ll also notice how Ben uses a brief eccentric isometric prior to the jump. This further helps dial in body mechanics via enhanced proprioceptive feedback and muscle spindle activation (a result of emphasizing a more controlled eccentric phase). Once you go back to traditional jumps expect to have both greater control, technique, power output, and overall vertical jump height.
To learn more about applying jumping exercises such these to your workout routine check out my Complete Templates Program.