Jumping is something that we used to do easily and often as children, without a thought about how or why. If you play a team sport or have young children or even grandchildren you may have no problem with jumping.
As we age however, we tend to jump less and less. This might be because jumping requires a strong core and strength in the legs with the ability to conjure up explosive power from within. Our lack of enthusiasm for jumping might also be associated with the fear of losing our balance, perhaps the fear of some bladder leakage or of increasing joint pain.
Research tells us that we need impact stressors (such as jumps and hops) to promote and maintain our bone density; simple weight-bearing activities such as walking are not enough to maintain our bone health especially after the age of 50 years. Our bodies also get used to the same stimuli all the time so we need to shake it up with different exercises.
We also know that our articular cartilage responds to exercise and loading- remember “motion is lotion”, as it needs a certain amount of load to regenerate (see osteoarthritis and exercise for on this topic).
So where do you start if you want to add some gentle jumping into your exercise routine, especially if you fall into some of the categories mentioned above or are returning to sport after injury.
Anatomy of a Jump
You actually have to nail your landing position before you can begin to improve your jump. When you think about it you actually move down into a squat type position, with knees and hips flexed (ie the landing position) before you are about to jump. Your arms are generally relaxed and out to the sides, away from your body and extended behind your body. Then, using the energy generated in your quads and hamstrings in this flexed position you push upwards, extending (straightening) your ankles, knees and hips, simultaneously using the momentum of your arms swinging forward and up, to propel you upwards. You then return to the floor to resume a flexed landing position.
Essentially you need to build really strong ‘brakes’, ie your muscles, before you can improve your jump. Watch the slow motion video below to understand this.
So to improve your jumping ability you need to
- improve your quads strength- start with simple functional exercises such as squats, lunges and step ups.
- improve your calf strength-with exercises such as heel raises- by gripping a raised surface such as the edge of a step with your toes and using your calf muscles to do short dips and raises. You can try doing calf raises with one leg at a time, both legs, or even adding weights in your hands.
- Improve your core strength and core motor control.
Then start simply with this low impact jump training-
- in knee and hip flexion (ie knees and hips bent) with feet hip width apart and arms relaxed by your sides,
- breathe in and as you breathe out, swing your arms forward and up as you rise up quickly on the balls of your feet and extend your ankles, hips and knees.
- then quickly drop your heels back to the floor as you again bend your knees and hips and your arms return to your sides.
- progress by actually lifting the balls of the feet off the floor a little, in small hops.
- then try introducing side to side hops and forward and backward hops.
- add in hopping over small objects eg a weight or roller.
- Warm up your body before performing jumping exercises.
- For each exercise, perfect your form before increasing the height of your jump.
- Maintain a slight bend in your knees.
- Land softly and gently. If the impact of landing puts stress on your body, choose a padded floor surface to practice on.
- Use the momentum of your arm swing to help pull your body higher.
- When jumping and landing, keep your feet at the same level.
- When you land, always distribute your weight equally between both sides of your body.
Rebounding is a type of aerobic exercise that is performed on a mini-trampoline. It’s a great way to experience the feeling of jumping and being in midair while putting less stress on your joints.
You can try several trampoline exercises if you’re interested in rebounding. Spend a few minutes on each type or focus on one exercise for a longer period of time. You can also try:
- Jogging. Start with a simple jog to get comfortable on the trampoline. You can either keep your back straight or lean backward a little while raising your knees. Start off by lifting your knees only a few inches. As you progress, raise your knees as high as your hips or chest.
- Intervals. For 20 seconds, intensely jump up and down or side to side, or do jumping jacks. Then, rest or jump slowly for 10 seconds. Do at least 7 intervals. Gradually increase the duration of the work phase to a minute or longer.
In addition to jumping exercises, make cardiovascular and strength training a part of your fitness program by including these types of training sessions in your weekly routine. Building muscular strength lends more power to all your movements.
To improve your performance and move with greater ease, do joint mobility exercises, either on their own or as a warmup to your workout. These dynamic stretches will help you improve strength and flexibility, which has a positive effect on your range of motion. This may also help improve your jumping height and speed while reducing pain.
For the greatest benefit, allow your body enough time to recover between workouts. Keep track of your progress and modify your training program if necessary.
Talk with a physiotherapist if you are new to exercise or want additional guidance especially if you are osteoporotic or osteopenic. They’ll create a custom routine based on your fitness level and goals. It’s important to learn how to do jumping exercises correctly and safely. Some jumping exercises are high impact, and they have the potential to stress or injure your body. A physio can help you modify any challenging exercises, provide you with constructive feedback, and teach you proper form.