What Can Jumping Tell Us About Landing?

We are often asked why Sparta Science does not use a specific landing assessment. The short answer to most “why doesn’t Sparta Science do ________?” questions are usually a combination of practicality and reliability…or lack thereof. While it may seem fun to assess hundreds of movements on a force plate or chase innovation by constantly adding new movement assessments, the more meaningful and challenging question is, “what can we remove in order to be better?”. The goal of technology should not be to add more; rather, it should be to remove obstacles to make you more efficient.

To answer the question, “why doesn’t Sparta Science have a landing assessment?” At one point, we did. After a few years of collecting landing data, we eventually discontinued the assessment because the data was unreliable. Hence, it could not be trusted for interpretation. The last thing we want is to guide practitioners to make decisions based on bad data as many negative consequences can arise from poor guidance.

Our system does capture and store force data from the landing (for potential future use) during the Jump Scan, but that data isn’t currently being displayed in our system for practitioners at this time. The main reason is that the forces measured during landing are unfortunately pretty unreliable unless extremely strict standardization protocols are used, and individuals are cued on “how” to land. This is another example of the specificity of reliability: it may be reliable in the lab, but that fails to hold true in the field.

This causes significant issues, including:

1. Reduced practicality in testing.

Practitioners need to closely watch and pay attention to every landing to ensure that it meets a specific standard making it nearly impossible to use this assessment at scale.

2. Decreased validity of the Jump Scan.

By attempting to measure landing data we often influence the jump itself which can alter how force is produced and give us a less valid measure of force production from the Jump portion of the assessment. 

Remember, the more we try to control an individual’s movement strategy during the assessment process, the less valid our assessment becomes at measuring movement strategy.

The landing forces and deceleration strategy is best interpreted from the LOAD variable in the Jump Scan, as this is measured during the deceleration phase of the stretch-shortening cycle, just like in a landing task. A high LOAD translates to a high rate of force and, in turn, a high rate of deceleration (stiff landing) while a lower LOAD shows a lower rate of deceleration and, in turn, a softer landing or a better “dispersion” of force on impact. This starts to make more sense as well when performance or injury outcomes are taken into consideration. We often see more traumatic/acute injuries (ACL, lisfranc) with individuals with extremely high LOAD as they are unable to disperse and transfer forces efficiently.

As always, we must remember the first question we should ask ourselves when assessing movement. Next, we should ask, is this process making me more efficient? or is it adding more work? After all, time is our most limited resource so we should always be looking for opportunities to maximize the time we have.