Jumping is fundamental to human locomotion and doing it skillfully is part of good running form. Running is a succession of alternating single-leg jumps. How those jumps are executed and coordinated affects impact and other forces, running economy (efficiency), injury rates, and running enjoyment. So it is no surprise that proper minimalist running form largely mirrors good jumping form, and incorporating jumping exercises into a running training program is not merely useful, but essential.
When we jump, we intuitively land on the ball of the foot. Doing so allows us to better dissipate impact forces by engaging spring-like mechanisms in our feet and legs. Compared to landing on the heel, a forefoot or ball-of-foot landing allows the foot to flex, and promotes more flexing at the ankle, knee, and hip. The landing is softer, more comfortable, and with less injury potential.
In the first video I’m demonstrating a landing from an overhead drop, and then a single-leg jump off a BOSU® Balance Trainer with a two-leg landing. Jennifer also demonstrates her jumping ability and the explosive power of her hind legs. Each landing/jump is shown first at actual speed followed by slow motion at 35% of actual speed. Notice that in each of my landings there is generous flexing at the ankle, knee, and hip. I land on the ball of the foot, and at the point where my feet first touch the floor they are under or slightly in front of my hips. In the first move my arms are extended forward for balance, and there is a pronounced bouncing at the end that further dissipates shock. If the position I end up in at the bottom looks familiar, you may have seen my post about what I call the “pre-industrial civilization squat.” You can see more examples of some of these elements in the two other very short video clips—added mostly to show how jumping can be fun—that I pulled from the web.
Remember, running is a series of small jumps. Therefore, in minimalist running a forefoot or ball-of-foot landing under the hips is emphasized for the same reasons explained previously.
When adding jumping drills to your running program, start with simple, low-skill, two-leg vertical jumps. Do a series of quick in-place jumps in minimalist footwear or barefoot. Focus not on height, but on frequency, working up to 180 jumps-per-minute. A metronome is recommended. Once you’ve mastered that, try a series of vertical single-leg jumps. Both of these drills will help with form and coordination, but the single-leg jump in particular will help build strength in the foot and ankle.
The landing and jump I demonstrate in the video are more advanced. If you wish to progress to the overhead drop landing, start with shorter drops and as your form and balance improve, progress by bringing your legs up higher before letting go. Landings should feel good, and with practice you will learn to “plant” the landing and not tip forward or backward. For the BOSU® jump, I recommend first learning to balance with a single-leg, flat-footed stance. When you can hold that position easily for 40 seconds or more, try doing it standing on the ball of the foot. Only when that becomes easy do I recommend jumping off. Make sure to generate enough height and backward movement so that you clear the edge of the BOSU® on the way down. With the single-leg jumps you will likely find that you initially perform it much better with your dominant leg. Work on doing them well with either leg. And always make sure you’re having fun.