Land Softly: Improve the Power of Your Dance Jumps

“Land Softly!” “Put your heels down!”

“Land soft” and “put your heels down” are two typical corrections a dancer may hear in any standard dance class (i.e. ballet, contemporary, jazz, etc). These corrections are not only for aesthetic, but are also important to decrease the risk of injury. Depending on the type/style of jump, 6-10 times the dancers body weight can be placed on the achilles tendon. Besides injury to the the achilles tendon, improper jumping technique can also lead to injury of other tendons, stress fractures, sprains, strains, or impingement issues. Proper technique with jumping can also increase the power of jumps and improve overall jumping performance.

When initiating any jump, that beginning plie is important. Sometimes, I’ll have dancers that say “well, I don’t have a deep plie, that’s why I don’t use it.” This is not the right mind set. Regardless of the depth of the plie, it’s still important to use it in order to engage the correct muscles while jumping. Another important factor during the plie is to make sure the knees are aligned over the toes. This is very important in landing as well. Also, make sure the core muscles are engaged and are being utilized to maintain correct hip and spine alignment.

Following that plie, dancers should feel their heels pushing into the ground. This leads to an appropriate amount of stretch to allow that jump to happen. I always tell dancers to use their entire  leg to complete the jump. Although dancers often think that jumping happens only at the knees and ankles, the hips (glutes) should provide a lot of the power for jumping.

When landing, dancers have to utilize their legs for ultimate shock absorption in order to decrease the risk of all earlier listed potential injuries. Dancers land “softly” by rolling through the foot to place, placing the heel down, and then allowing knees and hips to bend. I always tell dancers to keep their plie continuous. This allows them to continue that shock absorption instead of landing abruptly. During the landing, dancers should make sure knees are aligned with toes to prevent undue stress at both the knees and ankles.

If all of these steps and corrections seem difficult to think about during combinations or choreography, it would be worth setting aside time to practice jumping on your own or during private lessons or coaching. It would be beneficial to practice double and single leg jumps in both turned in and turned out positions. Once all corrections are mastered with basic jumping, the dancer can progress to those bigger jumps and jumps across the floor.

Cadence: It is a Big Deal

Knee pain, “shin splints”, and stress fractures are one of the most common running injuries. Below is a typical conversation that I have with a runner at 3D Wellness with one of these problems:

Me: “What do you know about cadence?”

Runner: “It’s the number of steps that you take in a minute.” (Sometimes even adding “It should be somewhere around 180 steps per minute”)

Me: Do you know what YOUR cadence typically is?

Runner: “No, but I know it is supposed to be around 180” OR “Yes, it somewhere around (insert number significantly <180)”

Me: Is it something you have worked on before?

Runner: “No” OR “Yes, I took a running form class that talked about it, but I did not really focus on it.”

The reason why I took the time to give you a glimpse into a patient interaction is because runners often DO know about cadence, but the importance has not been stressed enough. What if I told you that over half of patients that come in with knee pain or previous stress reactions had their problems completely if not mostly resolved by simply increasing their cadence? What if I told you that if you just increase your cadence by 5% that you will reduce the impact through your lower leg by 20%? Yes! That’s right. A 5% increase gives you 20% less stress!! Would you put more emphasis into training with a higher cadence? Most would say a resounding, “YES!”

If you are a runner that wants to avoid knee pain or a stress reaction,  be proactive and start working on that cadence! Here are the steps:

  1. Find out where you are starting. What is your current cadence?
  2. Add 5%. Download a metronome app or check out the RunCadence app.  Hit the ground softly with every beat and aim for a rate 5% greater than your baseline.  It should feel weird and make your lungs work a little harder at first.
  3. When it stops feeling weird, add another 5% until you land comfortably somewhere around 180 steps per minute.

 

Achilles Tendinopathy: The First Step to Recovery Is Likely NOT Your Go-To

Dorsiflexion- Calf StretchDorsiflexion- Calf StretchAchilles tendinopathy is a frustrating injury for many athletes, particularly runners. It is oftentimes a lingering nuisance because some of the “go-to” treatment methods are likely impeding recovery instead of effectively returning the injured athlete to training.  Achilles tendinopathy is an insertional tendinopathy, and it is important to reduce the irritating compression of the tendon in the initial stages of any insertional tendinopathy.

When a runner has pain, the common initial reaction is to stretch the tender area. Stretching of the calf involves dorsiflexion (see images), the movement or position that further aggravates a sensitive Achilles tendon by compressing the tendon against its insertion (where the tendon connects to the bone).  Although this movement or position is not inherently bad for the Achilles tendon, limiting it for a brief period of time is necessary to facilitate recovery of an Achilles tendinopathy. Moral of the story…if you suspect you have this injury, resist the urge to stretch!