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Why Gymnasts Must Change How They Land by Dave Tilley

Posted on 4/18/2016
Across the country in gyms, online in training videos, and at congress presentations I continue to see gymnasts landing in a way that is very concerning and worse I continue to see coaches yelling at their athletes to “tuck your hips under, feet together, and use your knees” saying they are not landing right. Not to mention, I see hundreds of gymnasts doing strength and conditioning including loaded squats, box jumps, and single leg squats with extremely concerning form. The reality of the situation is that we need to change the way gymnasts land, starting from a very young age. The more ideal landing we should be teaching and forcing athletes to use is

  • Feet hip width apart
  • toes, knees, hips, and shoulders close to inline (generally)
  • core engaged in relative neutral (not excessively hollowed or arched)
  • proper angular displacement of the hip and knee joints
  • hip angle generally 30 degrees, and trunk / tibial lines close to parallel
The topic of how a gymnast should land continues to be controversial for many coaches, gymnasts, and judges. I’m not the first person to bring this up, as my good friend Dr. Josh Eldridge as well as Rick McCharles have written on this before. I’m just going to weigh in my opinion on the matter. I feel the unfortunate reality is that the typical way gymnasts were taught to land growing up (me included) may not be the safest for them and most effective to stick skills. Not to mention coaches are also unfortunately very mis-informed about what the best available science suggests for proper landing mechanics. The concerning typical landing position that we need to move away from is one of the following:

Knees and feet together
Glutes engage with the “hips tucked under” into hollow
Knee dominant landing strategy
Stiff impact with upright torso

The main reason for this is the growing concern for significant injuries like ACL tears, patellar tendinopathy, Osgood Schlatters Disease, anterior impact based ankle pain, Achilles injuries, and Sever’s Disease. Remember Dr. Sand’s work has suggested the forces acting on the gymnast can be as high as 17x body weight, and gymnasts take likely thousands of impact reps over a month of training and competitive season. It is due to this that we must stress proper landing mechanics from a young age, to make sure they not only know how to control the forces but also have sound motor patterns that are built. This way, when they mature to weigh more and start doing much higher level skills, they will continue to safely land.

Safer and Better For Sticking

Along with injury based aspects, the traditionally taught gymnastics landing style is also less effective to stick skills. In the more ideal pattern noted above the glutes and other hip musculature can more optimally control the forces eccentrically during landings. A perfect example is this Instagram post I put up following Simone Biles sticking her 2 1/2 at worlds. Note the fantastic squat position. She also has very strong legs, but that chat is for another time. If it’s good enough for her, I think it’s probably good for everyone. There are many, many other cases I could included for generally sticking more times with a squat versus being forced to take steps when feet together and hips are tucked under. There will always be outliers, but this seems to be the general trend.