Landing-to-takeoff (L-T) mechanics are critical skills for athletes to learn in speed and power sports. The discomfort for some coaches when it comes to coaching L-T mechanics for plyometrics (plyos) is due to unfamiliarity. As mentioned previously, it is obvious that, when performing plyos, athletes are often pushed to focus on a stimulus rather than on landing mechanics. As coaches and educators, we must understand the importance of what’s happening on the ground and how it influences movement, rather than just focusing on how a stimulus and response equation influences athletic development.
Landing mechanics: the ability to deal with a landing and produce a takeoff.
I see landing drills or drop landings all over social media and in sport, and while they’re great for stabilization and dealing with forces, I don’t think they’re adequate enough on their own for takeoffs. L-Ts are considerably different from just landings. A stick landing may look similar to the kinematic sequence of an L-T, but there are clear physical differences.
Most of the time, landings in sport are the subsequent result of a takeoff or maneuver in the air. The popular stick landing techniques that are coached are for these sporting encounters—to find stability and to reduce fatigue and/or injury risks. Many common injuries or overuse issues are a result of faulty landing mechanics, in which an athlete is unable to stop the momentum of the incoming velocities when landing. L-Ts are vastly different in their aim to utilize energy. For us to really understand L-T mechanics, we have to delve into what happens in this sequence.
Although it may not be seen as a plyometric, the Eurostep move in basketball is a prime example of an L-T sequence that occurs regularly within the game. It may not be lightning fast like a long jump takeoff, but this L-T is of huge importance in basketball and similar sports for an attacking option to beat opponents in space. In the video here, you can see a prime example in which Manu Ginobili loads his left leg as he lands, and then unloads force to enable a change of direction to beat his defender.Using a mirror drill to beat an opponent to a goal or objective is a simple way to introduce a Landing-to-Takeoff stimulus in training without deeming it an expert-level plyometric. Click To Tweet
These simple but effective movements for beating opponents are a case of outmaneuvering the other player. Your athlete has to utilize force and express it at a faster rate than the opponent, and you can break this kind of movement down into drills with a partner. Using a mirror drill to beat an opponent to a goal or objective is a simple method for introducing an L-T stimulus in training without deeming it an expert-level plyometric. A fast-loading lunge step (bound) and change of direction loads a single leg with multiple times body weight at a rapid rate. This, along with a competitive situation, takes away the clinical drill setting that we may observe in a gym and creates a more specific L-T pattern.
Video 1. Landing mechanics
What to look for: You will notice as the foot comes into frame that the toes are up, which suggests a pre-activation of the lower leg in preparation for the landing. As the foot then comes into contact with the ground, it takes a split second to stabilize and settle, transitioning from the eccentric loading phase to the isometric force transfer phase.
Note: The mechanics of this landing might not be perfect, and ideally we want a full-foot landing to minimize stabilization time. Keeping extra time in GCT to a minimum is paramount for smooth L-Ts.
You will now see that the foot is in mid-stance while the free leg swings through, as the isometric force transfer phase transitions into the concentric force unloading phase for takeoff. There isn’t much here to focus on, apart from making sure that the athlete finishes the movement right off the toe.
Keys: Use footwork tiers to teach landing mechanics. Using a softer surface at first (like grass) enables more of a feel. Use multiple landings to build a cyclical pattern of movements to build sensations.
What to Consider for Different L-Ts
Bilateral L-T: The synchronized coordination of both limbs allows for better control. Due to most of the load being distributed through the hips, the athlete can then trust the wide landing base. Incoming velocities for bilateral landings are unlikely to be fast, so prompt a full-foot landing that rolls through the foot and off the toes, which can support the maintenance of speed.
Split-stance L-T: The front leg will receive a high percentage of the loading upon landing, while the back leg provides a stability anchor to facilitate better posture. The front leg should land with a full foot to deal with the load, with the back leg supported on the ball of the foot.
Note: Do not get these mixed with unilateral movements—there is often confusion with the classification of split-stance movements such as Bulgarian Split Squats as unilateral. They are not truly unilateral, and the posterior leg can offer support that single-leg movements have to create themselves.
Unilateral L-T: Unilateral landings require a much faster stabilization due to the reduction in the size of the contact base point for landings and incoming velocities. So, with bigger movements such as Ping hops, there is a required aggressive ground strike with the landing limb. If the athlete lacks the confidence to whip the foot into the ground, the likelihood is a passive landing and an insufficient kinetic energy production through the SEC.
Keys: Bilateral—if movements look unnatural, keep the focus on hip extension. Split stance—posture-driven, balance between the front and back, land simultaneously. Unilateral—keep things moving cyclically with the landing leg, focus on maintaining a set velocity. Unilateral L-T may be considered harder, but you should introduce both together.
Video 2. Landing mechanics: bilateral and unilateral comparison
“What comes before will predict the future of the movement.”
A major factor for a strong L-T is the preceding action, and what’s happening on a neuromuscular level moments before landing. There are some valuable discoveries in studies (Mcbride, 2008) that have found athletes who produce greater performance outcomes in plyometrics activate soft tissue and pre-anticipate the ground long before less-experienced athletes. This shows us that more experienced performers prime themselves to actively strike the ground, and this is more apparent in highly dynamic movements such as depth jumps and hops. Worryingly, other studies are also finding that highly dynamic movements aren’t as intense as other movements like CMJs for some athletes.If research provides us with evidence to show that athletes without a developmental background can’t utilize these bigger movements, then why are we using them, asks @McInnesWatson. Click To Tweet
When you dig deeper, the athletes used in the studies have little-to-no real experience with dynamic training. This may suggest that in order for us to use certain movements to our advantage, we must teach athletes neuromuscular and proprioceptive control before progressing to more dynamic movements. If research provides us with evidence to show that athletes without a developmental background cannot utilize these bigger movements, then why are we using them?
Our question, as coaches, is how to progress an inexperienced athlete who is tentative in dealing with the high GRFs and lightning-quick GCTs to an athlete who strikes the ground with intent? And one who sequences this all in less than the blink of an eye?
Intent Means Well but Doesn’t Always Deliver
In recent years, many other coaches and I have seen the degradation of bounding (defined as a stride variation where R-L pattern emphasizes air time, vertical or horizontal, often in continuous rhythm). The S&C community seems to have changed the movement’s grace and natural beauty derived from the horizontal jumps. On a daily basis, I spot the stamping motion of concentrically focused bounds. This immediately confirms to me that an athlete has avoided many developmental stages of learning locomotive plyos and has gone straight to force-expressive bounds. This is just a small part of a whole array of plyos that are being forced onto athletes at the wrong stage of development and/or coached incorrectly.
We must recognize that the lower extremities (below knee) are the drivers of our first contact with the ground. Now, whether you want to see this as a ground-up or hip-down approach is up for discussion, but pre-anticipation of the ground cannot be solely driven from the hip in a stamping motion. Many coaches teach movements like bounding as a piston action from hip flexion to extension. They are not considering the finer details of how precise the foot and ankle need to be to deal with multiple times bodyweight in <0.25 secs.
Video 3. Concentric-focused bounds (Note: This video was created for learning purposes and is not the way I typically bound!)
Keys: Tough to create air time if the movement is cyclical, hard to recover foot = no time to prepare for landings. L-T won’t sound crisp and will feel flat and heavy-footed.
Note: You will find that athletes with a developmental background in plyos will perceive effort for even the most intense plyo as easier than beginners do. The unloading phase of a locomotive plyo gives a brief moment for the body to reset, rather than a continuation of held tension.
Resolutions to Building Better L-T Patterns
A large part of learning locomotive plyos on a developmental spectrum is the load-unload cycles we run through as we land and then become airborne. When we can recognize that the unload and airborne phase is equally as important as the loading and grounded phase, then locomotive plyos will become much easier to understand.When we can recognize that the unload and airborne phase is equally as important as the loading and grounding phase, then locomotive plyos will become much easier to understand. Click To Tweet
The lighter tiers, Footwork and Medium, feed into our ability to unload effectively and then prepare better for the next landing. We can all spot a tense sprinter or player, and we are quick to remedy these issues, but there are only a few who can spot an athlete unable to unload during a plyometric sequence. So the footwork and medium tiers teach timing and rhythm of force expression and preparation. Without this, an athlete cannot utilize the SEC effectively to express force through the L-T.
Locomotive plyos have the ability to feed the learning process of landings and takeoffs with their multiple variations, magnitudes, amplitudes, speeds, planes of movement, and forces.
Keys: All bounding L-T mechanics will be very similar. All bounds are about creating a form of air time. This regulates landing forces, and getting the landing right under the hip will initiate a stretch-reflex which gives a great pop to the movement.
Video 4. Variations to bounding
The learning that comes from a variation of locomotive plyometrics can provide proprioceptive and neuromuscular control responses. They help drive better pre-anticipative activation methods for muscles moments before landing. This runs in parallel with the adaptations that come at a tendinomuscular level, for dealing with eccentric loading and creating greater landing stiffness, etc. The CNS and proprioceptive feedback receptors begin to reprogram their anticipative skills for judging incoming velocities, falling heights, displacement of the CoM, the direction of incoming momentum, and the subsequent direction the athlete then needs to travel.
With all of this reprogramming and greater adapted tissues, the athlete then has the ability to produce a specific outcome need, like height, velocity, and direction of motion. This can prove to be important with in-game variable needs that may arise. The individual must be prepared well enough to produce what their body requires at moments of competitiveness. And who knows what our bodies will do to win!
Improve, Don’t Ignore, Your Athlete’s L-T Mechanics
The takeaway from this article should not drive you to neglect some of your plyometric practices, but inspire you to focus your coaching practices toward improving your athlete’s L-T mechanics. Our common denominator should always be how the L-T influences, and is influenced by, movement. If your athlete does struggle with L-T mechanics, then reduce your volume of ping work and bring them back to more footwork and medium tiers.Our common denominator should always be how the Landing to Takeoff influences, and is influenced by, movement, says @McInnesWatson. Click To Tweet
Keep an eye on how they move when they’re airborne, as this, too, could influence their L-T. Also, adding a small footwork and medium tier of plyos to your warm-up or activation series can drive proprioceptive and neuromuscular learning at a small price, but great effect, for your athlete’s programs.
Just remember that locomotive plyometrics should be dynamic and graceful!
Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask. More people are reading SimpliFaster than ever, and each week we bring you compelling content from coaches, sport scientists, and physiotherapists who are devoted to building better athletes. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — SF
McBride, J. M., McCaulley, G. O., and Cormie, P. “Influence of pre-activity and eccentric muscle activity on concentric performance during vertical jumping.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2008; 22(3):750–757.