Movement Inspiration 7/28/14 Land like a Dancer, Land like an Athlete

A recent video came out called land like a dancer(since taken down) which focused on a study which showed much lower incidence of ACL tears in professional dancers compared to pro athletes and claimed athletes should train to land like a dancer. There is some truth to this preposition but it is a bit more complicated then the initial interpretation  or its subsequent popularization.

First of all the two athletic task are not directly comparable and neither are the athletes. Professional dance involves choreographed routines, with minimal unpredictable interaction or hard cutting movements. Elite team sport athletes have to take contact, change direction unpredictable and in general deal with far more high variable chaotic environment all while moving at higher speeds then dancers. The two tasks are not comparable and there is no reason to expect them to have similar injury incidences.

The athletes are also not comparable, elite male team sport athletes average over 200 lbs, elite male dancers are probably closer to  a 150 lbs with a smaller but similar difference in female athletes vs dancers, this obviously increases joint loads.

The jumping technique is  also different not just the landing. Athletes load predominately through the posterior chain with a significant forward lean of the of the upper body to power jumps, dancers use the quad and calf more due to the demands for the aesthetics of an upright torso during most dance jumping.

Finally the dancers landing in fact ignores one of the key aspects of athletic landings which is quick rebounding and change of direction. A plantar flexed foot and deep knee bend in a landing as seen in dance will distribute the force of landing over a longer time period resulting in lower peak force exposure for the joint. But athletes of course need to respond quickly and can’t spend to much time decelerating a landing, in fact the longer time of loading can result in less powerful stretch shortening response. A stiffer landing with dorsiflexed foot will allow the athlete to rebound or drive into the next movement faster and more powerfully in majority of in game situations.

It would be easy to dismiss the conclusion of this study and the value of the dancing approach for athletes based on the above arguments but there is something for athletes to learn from dancers, which comes down to practicing landings, single leg stability and particular control of knee valgus.

Dance training generally involves lots of standing on one leg and landing with an emphasis on stability and control, this is payed less attention to in team sport athletes, the one injury correlate seen in the video that can not be directly related to sport performance was higher tendency for the athletes to have valgus movement of the knee during landing which has been correlated with knee pain and ACL injury.

Developing a better base for single leg stability and stability during landing would certainly be good for athletes

For the general mover, the jumping and landing strategies of both Dancers and Athletes are worth exploring. I train all my students to land softly like a dancer with the plantar flexed foot and deep knee bend as part of their movement education but I also teach them how to develop stiffness and rebound of a dorsiflexed foot as well, the emphasis depends on their stage in skill development and their personal movement signature, some athletes need more stiffness and some more elasticity. I highly recommend sparta performance science work on movement signatures if you want to know whether you need to bias towards training stiffness or compliance.

For some good examples of landing and take off techniques check out Dylan Baker’s urban long jumping notice the dorsiflexed foot on his take offs and rebounding landings as well as precision landings (dorsiflexion is neccesary for reasons of landing stability), there only  a couple of large drops but on these you can see the pointed toes and deep knee bend.

Then watch this video of Yoann Leroux, Yoann is well known for his comfort with very large drops notice how consistently when taking a big drop he achieves a quite pointed foot, stable knees and a deep knee bend.

I will thrown in some Mich Todorovic as well as his landings both for softness and rebounding are exceptional.

 

Mich, Yoann and Dylan could all be better at keeping their torso neutral but very strong examples of well developed landing abilities with ability to be both stiff and soft.

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