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Jumping Advice for Gymnasts


Quite a number of sports require the ability to jump, and the skilful execution of leaps and vaults spell the success of an athletic performance. Jumping involves proper training and the use of technique. Here, John Shepherd investigates several theories and workable approaches to improving jumping in multiple directions with the aim of developing dexterous leaping agility.

In a study centred on standing long jump distances, Australian researchers discovered that the start out velocity and angle of a jump directly affects the jumping distance. Inadequate jumping distances were the direct result of high take-offs which produced insufficient horizontal speed. This caused jumpers to be unable to sufficiently thrust their bodies further forward. A lower take-off angle of 19-27 degrees, and not the 31-39 degrees jumpers favoured, was discovered to be better in optimizing distance.

Athletes and Arms

A computer model simulation used in a study conducted by University of Texas, researchers found that using the arms when jumping increased the jump speed from the gravity centre by 15%. This underscored the importance of free arm movements while jumping, as opposed to limiting arm motions. Computer simulated jumps recorded an increase in distance by as much as 16 inches, aided by uninhibited arm movement. This was also true of using the free leg when propelling the body forward with the use of one leg.

The arms-aided increase in forward motion is specifically the work of the shoulder muscles, which add a further 80 joules of energy in driving the jump forward. To achieve this, the jumper starts a brisk forward and backward swinging of the arms in time with each ascent of the thigh. Swinging the arm up beyond the legs to coincide with the thrust extends the velocity of the jump. The importance of arm movement is conclusive in determining the best possible execution of any kind of jump.

To illustrate this point, Javier Sotomayor of Cuba set the men’s world record for the high jump (the supreme test for jumping straight up) by scoring an amazing 2.4 meters in 1993. This has encouraged researchers from the John Moore’s University of the UK to go by the premise that the capability of first-rate high jumpers in generating vertical speed stems from the optimal use of their free limbs.

A series of tests involving six of the finest male high jumpers was undertaken to establish the role of a jumper’s joint movements in relation to the force and velocity during take-off. It was revealed that the arm motions made by the jumper upon take-off created a bigger impact on the leap execution compared to the thrust generated by the free leg. The capacity of the arms to propel additional momentum into the jump versus the limited power that the free leg contributes to the take-off, proved evident in the high jump tests.
The analysis of free-limb movement during jump take-off showed that 7.1% of the drive that impelled the body forward was a direct result of free-limb motion. Researchers came to the conclusion that to fully utilize the free limbs in making the jump, a forceful downward movement of the arms at the exact moment of take-off achieved the highest momentum yield from the free leg.

Best Foot Forward

Utilizing the force expelled by the free leg’s contact with the ground contributed additional momentum to the jump. The foot’s position at take-off, and especially upon landing, played a great part in how well a jumper performed. The researchers paid particular interest in jumps executed during drills aimed at training the leg muscles to reach maximal force in the shortest time possible. The athletes were made to perform these plyometric exercises from a platform of specific height, stepping off, then springing up, forward or to the side, immediately upon landing. The amount of thrusting power produced by different foot landing positions (flat-foot and forefoot) were then analyzed and compared.
The jumping performances of a group of ten fit male university students were put to a test using two different kinds of depth jumps. A 16-inch high box was positioned about 3 feet from the central point of a force plate, and served as a platform from which the athletes carried out the different types of jumps. The jump categories included:

1.) Landing on the balls of the feet, or fore-footed landing, while preventing the heels from making ground contact during the succeeding vertical jump;
2.) Landing on the heels, or a flat-footed landing.

It was found that the first category, the forefoot landing position, generated 3.4 times more thrust power compared to category two, which lowered forward thrust considerably.

This study carries substantial implications in the role that forefoot landing positions play in optimizing jumps required for different kinds of sports. From an analysis of the types of jumps that are needed for a specific sport, coaches and athletes can adapt exercises tailored to strengthen a particular jump type in order to optimize performance. In depth jumps for instance, a flat-footed landing works best to achieve maximum forward thrust.

To cite some examples, sprinters will find that making a single-leg-standing depth jump with a forefoot landing will work more to their advantage since forward sprint motions follow the same action principle. Meanwhile, flatfooted landings, either single or double-leg, when executing depth jumps, will give basketball and volleyball players much greater vertical thrusts needed for their sport.

As stated previously, research results of the effect of free-limb movements on the momentum of the jump should also be taken into consideration. Employing exercises that utilize the principles behind this will prove beneficial to athletes playing a sport that involves frequent use of the free limbs. Depth jumps executed by high jumpers, for instance, if executed simultaneously with a double-arm shift action and a single-leg landing jump, will improve performance considerably. Practicing the double-arm shift action through drills where both arms are thrown back and then swung forward and upward to coincide with the jump take-off, will condition the athlete to perform the same powerful action during actual sports competitions.

The Rigid Leg

The greatest test in horizontal jumping is the long jump. German researchers have looked into several detailed studies and the various elements involved in this particular jump, including the jumper’s centre of gravity upon take-off. One of the crucial aspects that contributed to an ideal long jump included “leg stiffness”, or the rigidity of a jumper’s leg muscles.

Tensing the leg muscles affects the athlete’s springing power during the execution of a jump. This tension or rigidity is one of the properties of muscles, without which, anyone who’d attempt to jump would have his joints fold out from under him from the force of take-off. Affecting a rigid leg musculature upon springing up would add velocity and forward thrust to a jump.

Suppositions were brought up likening a jumper’s legs to plasticine, a soft elastic modelling material. If the jumper’s legs were as malleable, it would be impossible to build up the thrust to launch into the jump due to the yielding characteristic of the material. If the athlete’s legs were composed of a kind of tough carbon fibre, however, the stiffness would work to his advantage in giving him the force to propel himself up and forward.

The German researchers came to the conclusion that a certain degree of leg stiffness or rigidity in the muscles is one of the requisites for maximizing the thrust in the execution of a long jump. On the other hand, excessive leg stiffness lowered performance parameters by narrowing the distance attained by the jump.
Improving leg stiffness can be achieved by proper plyometirc exercises and specific weight training. Repetitions of these, complemented with the actual performance of the jump itself, will work in improving distance. On the other hand, researchers looking at the technical points of the jumping technique advise that increasing the speed attained by the take-off leg upon ground contact will result in greater jump distance.

As the long jump is in itself a plyometric action, George Dintimen, a world leading speed coach, also recommends this technical approach. He asserts that carrying out plyometric drills in incrementally increased speeds will improve the power of the jump. As a parallel example, the harder one throws a ball against a wall, the greater the speed and distance it attains upon bouncing back.

In other words, the speed with which the foot meets the ground determines the acceleration achieved during take-off. Certain types of jumping may require more ground contact than most (see Table 2). In a high jump, for instance, using the same technique employed for long jumps will ultimately cost the jumper to lose more upward thrust since high jumps require more ground contact time. It is essential for both athletes and coaches to take this into consideration during training. Timing the take-off for different kinds of jumps, including foot positions during ground contact, and maximizing the use of the free limbs is important for attaining optimal jumping power.

Powering Up The Jump Through Training

The research results above can be used to improve athletes’ training techniques to boost their jumping performance. Using plyometric drills supplemented with weight training will help jumpers make the most out of their exercises, along with the following tips:

• Pattern plyometric training exercises after the jumping action, including speed and movement.

• Better results are achieved when athletes are alert and well-rested before performing any of the plyometric drills, particularly if done in conjunction with anaerobic pathway activities like the long and high jumps, and the gymnastic vault.

• In sports like football and soccer, in which a fair amount of fatigue is involved, focus should be placed on undertaking repetitious drills to develop an exceptional jumping force. Performing the jumping exercises when the athletes are fresh, as well as when they are tired, is a good way to cultivate fatigue endurance. In the same way, both exercise and practice should take place on the different types of surfaces that the athletes typically play on (e.g., a hard court surface for basketball, soft grass turf for rugby).

• Special attention must be placed on field sports like football and rugby. The unpredictable nature of bodily movements involved in these sports means that perfecting a particular jumping technique is next to impossible. Athletes must instead pay more attention to the use of their free limbs to add distance and elevation to their jumps. Tuning up on balance, sensory awareness and perceptive mindfulness of body position and spatial orientation also weighs a great deal in helping players prevent potential injuries while playing contact sports.

• Research has proved that during the training period, a combination of plyometric exercises and weight training should be utilized to improve jumping power, sharpen reflexes and hone muscular thrust.



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