Jump to New Heights (Part 4)

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Corrective exercise is the responsible, bland, and yawn factor that may be holding you back from your launching potential. I mean, who wants to stretch and do foo-foo rehab type moves when they just want get right to being awesome?

Like this kid! Love the simplicity here:

Before you get to that, have you considered the details in how your body accomplishes movement? Is your body mechanically sound, segments moving when and where they should be moving and staying stable when and where they should be stable? It's not simply a matter of strength or flexibility. Controlled mobility requires strength, flexibility, and a brain that is tuned to proper movement patterns.

When it comes to jumping, your ability to squat 400 pounds is overrated if your hip flexors and hamstrings are tight. Being able to balance on one leg on a fitness ball while juggling dumbbells is overrated if your hip abductors are weak. Good reaction time, balance, and flexibility are overrated if you lack sufficient leg strength and core stability to squat at least 1.5 times your body weight with good form.

The point is to appreciate the fact that functional performance is limited by our weakest points, and yet most of us prefer to work at further improving our strengths.

Let's say that you have tight ankles which force you into a knee dominant pattern of squatting, jumping, and running. That's just you, and nothing you, your coach, or parents did right or wrong. Months and years of this fundamental movement dysfunction has caused your brain to partially lose touch with the gluteal muscles at the hip and stabilizing muscles of the lower trunk. Every time you go to jump, you're unknowingly missing out on the full use of the most powerful muscles in your body.

You can do squats or lunges or leg press or (try) dead lifts. You can faithfully carry out every detail of the plyometric training program listed in part three. You can try to tidy up your jumping form as recommended in part two. But so long as all these are carried out within that knee dominant pattern, you're doing nothing to address what holds you down the most.

Get that out of here, son. 

Holding hundreds of appropriate ankle stretches (to loosen the ankle joints and lengthen lower leg muscles) is so unglamorous. Repping thousands of glute bridges and other corrective movements that wire the brain to recruit the glutes may bore you to death. If ankle mobility or hip strength and stability are not your weak points, then all of this is completely unnecessary. But if this is an issue, then do not pass go, and proceed directly to the corrective work before you risk injury.

No, seriouslyT there's research to prove it. 

As far as dysfunctional movement and painful syndromes during jumping, the knee dominant pattern is a fairly common issue that occurs for a number of issues (not just because of tight ankles). Maybe you have a structural foot issue. Or a leg length discrepancy or a drastic side-to-side strength deficit. Maybe your back is tight or unstable. Are your hips externally rotated, walking around duck-footed all the time?

Again, you have to acknowledge that corrective exercise is unglamorous and requires some time and know-how. But there's no substitute for identifying specific deficits, isolating them, and then integrating them back into the functional movement.
Test yourself

Try a deep squat with nothing but your body weight. If your heels come up or your upper body leans forward or your knees migrate inward, you should raise your eyebrows.

Try the repeat tuck jump test. Jump straight up as high as you can, pulling your knees toward your chest at the peak of the jump, as if trying to clear a high fence. Hit the ground and quickly throw 9 more jumps.

Did you migrate left, right, or back? Were you able to do all ten without stuttering or regrouping, with control the 10th jump as well as the first? Were you starting to get out of sync and flail around? If you have an observer or a video, did your feet hit the ground evenly (contact equally and centered under you, not front or back)? Were your knees in alignment at the bottom of the launch and trunk upright with upper leg parallel to the floor at the peak of your tuck?

These two tests are easier said than done.

Hey, the good news is that corrective exercise exists on a continuum. Dead lifts, squatting variations, and other killer moves count, and that's a work out! Once you quit messing around with all the gimmicks and the weight machines at the gym, and instead focused your efforts at becoming mechanically sound, you can start loading up resistance without the injury potential. Ironing out any mechanical issues opens up new realms of progress in the weight room.

[To be continued...]

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