I have previously written about the role of a proper landing in the prevention of ACL injuries. I thought that I would expand on that somewhat. We often think about landing playing a role in basketball and volleyball injuries. I’ve also had it happen to athletes playing football, soccer, and lacrosse. If we take time to carefully evaluate our athletes, many of them in all sports display poor landing mechanics. This can put the knee into an awkward position and can cause extra stresses to be placed on the ACL. Since an ACL reconstruction generally keeps an athlete out of action 6 months, anything that we can do to help prevent these injuries can be huge for our athletes.
So, what can be done to help? We often get into a hurry to get kids running and jumping too fast. In my mind, when car gurus design a newer, faster car, they make sure to spend plenty of time designing and testing the braking system before they take the car on any test runs. It should be the same with athletes. We need to test and train the braking systems before we go crazy with the jumping and running. The simplest way to help your athletes is to teach them how to land properly. Now this isn’t just a 5 minute drill that you do once and never repeat. You have to emphasize landing every time that you do a jumping drill. We all want to see how high or how far the kid jumps. However, it’s probably more important to watch how they land. Yes, you should try to watch and coach everything. Just make sure that you are putting emphasis on the landings.
Want to see the effect that proper landings can have? Myers and Hawkins published a study in 2010 that looked at changes in tibial shear forces when they worked on landing mechanics. They found a 56% decrease in forces when the emphasized proper mechanics. The athletes that they worked with also increased their vertical jump about 2.5 cm. The only negative was the fact that the athletes tended to revert to their old habits once they got tired (see this article on knee landings which discusses the study further).
I think that a 56% decrease in forces could make a huge difference in ACL rupture prevention for athletes. Because of this, make sure to emphasize it during your training.
So how should the athletes land?
- Should land on their toes
- Keep their knees flexed
- Keep their head/shoulders up
As for how to limit the return of bad habits once your athletes get tired, I have two suggestions:
- Repetition, repetition, repetition
- Make sure to do some of the landing training when the athletes are tired. We all get sloppy when we are tired. Putting them into this stage for some of the training will give you a chance to show them what happens and then correct it.