Proper Landing Mechanics

Received an e-mail the other day requesting more information about proper landing mechanics. Here’s an excerpt from the e-mail:

Could you talk a little about landing positions, if you haven’t already done so?  I remember reading a comment recently about coaches emphasizing legs together on landings, but it makes more kinesiological sense to have knees and feet shoulder width apart.  The Gymnastic Minute on YouTube addressed the correct landing posture today, but I’d like to have a more in-depth explanation.

Here’s the YouTube video that this individual is referring to:

In terms of the feet being together versus apart, a wider base of support allows for more stability.  Secondly, it is nearly impossible to get the hips shifted back enough to allow the glutes and hamstrings to assist in absorbing the energy from the landing if the feet are together.  Why is this important?

Well, here is an article from the NSCA Performance Training Journal (a free online publication on the NSCA’s website) that explains matters more in-depth.  However, I will give you a brief overview.

The hamstrings originate on the ischium of the pelvis and attach on the back of the tibia (shin bone).  Their main job is to bend the knee and their secondary job is to open or extend the hip.  Well, as the knee bends from a landing, the hamstrings will activate and pull the shin bone backwards.  This takes some of the stress off of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).  The ACL attaches at the back of the femur (upper leg bone) and the front of the tibia.  Its main job is to prevent the tibia from moving forward too much.  So, if the hamstrings activate and pull the shin backwards, this takes some of the load off of the ACL.

Now for the glute max.  The glute max’s main job is to open the hip (extension).  However, the glute max also helps in controlling rotation of the femur since it partly inserts on the greater trochanter of the femur.  (I say “partly” because part of it also forms with the TFL and creates a sheath that runs down the side of the leg known as the IT Band and this connects on the side of the tibia)  Further, it assists the gluteus medius (as Kris Robinson mentions in the YouTube clip) in preventing the knees from dropping in – known as “valgus” position.

Controlling rotation of the femur and preventing it from dropping inward is very important to knee health.  Coupled with an inwardly rotated tibia,  you’ve got the makings for disaster.  This is why what appears to be a perfect landing could end with the gymnast on the ground in agonizing pain.  Having been witness to a couple of these in my coaching career, I now have a better understanding behind the “why.”

While this is all well and good, the problem is that gymnastics promotes a quad-dominant landing despite the obvious biomechanical problems that it presents.  Despite the traditional gymnastics approach, I encourage all of you to think about the health of your gymnast and consider having them bend at their hips a bit more and push their butt backwards to allow for the glutes and hamstrings to engage more and assist in absorbing the landing.  Your gymnast’s knees will be thankful later.

Anyway, I hope this offers some insight into proper landing mechanics and their importance.

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5 Comments on “Proper Landing Mechanics”

  1. Emily Says:

    “Despite the traditional gymnastics approach, I encourage all of you to think about the health of your gymnast and consider having them bend at their hips a bit more and push their butt backwards to allow for the glutes and hamstrings to engage more and assist in absorbing the landing. Your gymnast’s knees will be thankful later.”

    Our upper level coach always instructs the girls to land with their butt slightly tucked under to protect their backs. I coach the compulsories, but try to keep the basics in line with what he teaches for consistency. I understand what you are saying about using the glutes and hamstrings more to protect the knees, but will it put extra strain on the lower back? I heard recently that the higher ups at usag are encouraging a “hip neutral” position instead of the traditional “hip tucked” on landing. Is that similar to what you are suggesting? And how much of a hip angle is too much?

    Thank you so much for all the work you put into this website. I’ve shared it with the other coaches at my gym and it has brought out several great conversations and we have tried several of the drills you suggest. I am really excited to see how the girls develop from them!

  2. Chris Says:

    Landing with your “hips under” is not going to protect the low back. If anything, it’s going to stress the lower back. When the hips are tucked under, the pelvis is in a position referred to as “posterior tilt.” This tends to cause lumbar flexion or “rounding” in the lower back. When the lower back flexes (“rounds”) under a loaded condition (i.e. landing), this causes compression to the front of the vertebrae and pushes the disk more posteriorly (backwards). The posterior side of the vertebrae is less stable. Repeated flexion episodes are often the culprit for a herniated disk.

    To protect the back, it must remain in a neutral position. In other words, the low back should always demonstrate a slight arch as the normal spine displays similar to the letter “S.”

    I would love to see how the “higher ups” at USAG are promoting to land in a “Pelvic Neutral” posture. The torso would have to be completely upright and again, I can only see it as a quad-dominant type of landing.

    Even the “Posture Lady” is promoting a quad-dominant landing as shown in the video.

    As for a hip angle, I would suggest probably around 45 degrees. And, I think the knees should bend at least 60 degrees. Of course, these are generalities and a lot of it is going to be dependent on the athlete and how they are built. Are they proportionate?

    If you really want to fully engage the glutes and hamstrings, you need to at least bend the knees to 90 degrees or greater. But, that’s far too low of a landing by gymnastics standards. I think that what I am describing allows for one to remain within reason of the traditional expectations of a gymnastics landing while also protecting the gymnast.

  3. Gem Says:

    I guess the higher up folk at USAG are focused on elite, using the FIG code which encourages ‘safety’. A few years back in our national manual they included an article on encouraging a hip angle for landings and went over the safety reasons. Then the new code came in and common sense went out the door, suddenly coaches were being told landings had to have open hips, and minimal knee bend. It’s great to see others promoting safety over points.

  4. Just Another Opinion Says:

    I understand that in certain situations, the difference of an inch is a huge deal. As in, a neck can only bend so far before it breaks. And, I understand the significance of repeated abuse over time being significant where a single occurrence wouldn’t be. BUT. I’m having a hard time understanding why the difference of about 6-8 inches in the feet-together/feet-apart landing controversy is such a big deal. That is, I’m having a hard time understanding how one can be safe, and one dangerous, when it seems to me that the length/mass/structure of the legs/hips/etc. ought to be built to handle that specific purpose? If you picture this as some kind of rectangle, hips-legs-feet, viewing a kid face-to-face, given the length of the legs, the box doesn’t seem to change that much if the feet are together or apart. But, however slight the difference is, you’re saying it is enough to matter?


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