What You See Is - Frog Leaps

frog leap.jpg

I call them frog leaps because its seems better than referring to them as consecutive bilateral jumps… besides, athletes and coaches alike will remember catchy names more easily. In the illustration, adapted from a video, you can readily identify the movement: one used around the world in games, sports and conditioning. From a standing start the young athlete has to generate horizontal momentum and keep leaping for a pre-scripted distance. It is an extremely valuable movement skill that is adaptable and has dozens of variations.

I recall, from my own folklore, playing with a fellow jumper on a basketball court. We had finished a workshop and decided to take a few jump shots using a medicine ball. While my friend could sink most shots I missed them all. As soon as I tried to make a shot my shoulders twisted around and I had no control over where the ball was going. The whole thing puzzled me. He was a much better jumper, and I realised long afterwards that one of the reasons for our differences related to how we initiated movements off the ground. With no weight, a regular ball, I was the better shot but with any added weight I lost all accuracy quite simply because I used mechanics that were quad dominant and used an added arm thrust to give me a sense of height.

RE-VIEW

Look again at the illustration. In this case the athlete is moving forwards with a definite flick from the lower legs that balances the vigorous arm action. Posture remains bent at the hips after takeoff and the entire movement is heading out and down.  From a side view there is excessive lower leg and knee involvement in addition to the long arm swing. Not much height or distance is achieved. Over a few leaps this series will surely turn chaotic with arms and legs out of phase, a loss in continuity and the feet struggling to save the upper body from tipping over.

The reason for this relates to how we learn or don’t learn how to jump, run or bound. Ideally a stride, leap, bound or hop is initiated from the hips if the objective is to move quickly, far or high. Our hip muscles are built for power: shorter and fan-shaped with short, thick tendons. They can deliver several times the force-over-time of the quads. But many of us learn to leap around without fully using the glutes. Combined with our modern habits of sitting too much, our hip muscles and their motor connections simply don’t get developed. Over time we exaggerate our quad and lower leg dominance, or an injury ends participation.  The illustration is identifying an athlete headed for knee injury. **Trick: I illustrated the sequence as a youth, but in fact used a veteran athlete for the source… It seems that habits learned in youth have a sneaky way of persisting through to senior years…

Some of the influence for continuing a limited style of leaping may relate to instruction. If the perceived objective is to leap for distance (and perhaps continue leaping) then any notion of correct technique goes out the window. If the athlete only has to complete one leap (Standing Long Jump), they may get away with a self-limiting style, although the risk of collapsing on the landing and feeling squashed knees is higher. If the instruction is to complete a series then the imbalanced patterns become obvious. Over 5-8 leaps the athlete’s ability to handle landings deteriorates into a stop-start struggle: less hip extension, less knee extension, arms out of synch and more forward body tilt.

RE-FOCUS:

A big issue with all of us is the notion of personal competiveness: if we feel we need to jump far then we’ll try to do so, and technique isn’t even considered. So, for a coach or PE teacher, if we took away that assumed objective and replaced it with a rhythmical series where all the landings felt the same then the patterns would change. If we gave an instruction that for every landing-takeoff the absorption and rebound emphasised the hips, then the whole movement would be transformed. Further, most of the imbalances and compensations would correct themselves.

Ultimately, the jumper/ leaper will want to achieve height or distance. So, the re-focus attempt needs to look at the chains of action that provide the desired result. Many of us learn to leap/ hop/ jump with the notion that our quads provide the power we need. In fact, the hips are the source. The hips initiate a whip-like action down to the feet, which the knees stabilise and control. The chain of action needs the hips, but if they are not the prime mover the knees and ankles do more work at a slower pace. ‘Slow?’ Did I hear ‘Slow’?  Yes, slow, because muscle groups that are better at stabilising are being used as prime movers.

RE-FRAME:

Even though the vast majority of land-based sport-dance actions occur off one foot, bilateral moves have great value and deserve their place in the programme. Dynamic posture: top-bottom, front-back and right-left, all derive from an ability to manage moves from a two-legged stance. Go back to when you were a toddler and others may remind you that you first learned to teeter and control sway on two feet before running out the door.

Frog Leaps, Bunnies, Kangaroos (and the rest) retain their initial value of knowing that with a two-legged landing there is an added measure of stability to use while concurrently developing power. Developing an effective bilateral landing-takeoff sequence is actually as easy as 1-2-3.

STEP ONE: Learn –to-Activate

Most of us use our hips in a limited way, and often without a simultaneous action from the ankles. So, learn to rise up onto the toes with a hip-lifter (basically the opposite of a partial squat). Stand comfortably with knees slightly bent, feet placed at about hip joint width and toes pointing forwards. Imagine that there is a string attached to the top of your head that is pulling you up a bit and preventing sway. Slowly raise the centre of your body by squeezing the hips forwards and pressing the feet down into the ground. Ignore the knees for they’ll naturally extend with the hips and ankles. Hold a tall position with squeezed hips for a second or two then slowly control a return to a stable pose. Try this 8-10 times to retain the sensation of hip-ankle extension. In slow motion this is the movement skill that you take into leaps. You can adapt this to an intermediate level by moving a bit faster, say 2-3 seconds for a rise and return. It will then feel more rhythmical and bouncy.

STEP TWO: Learn-to-Land

Amazingly, a big issue with learning to execute a leap or bound is in learning to land effectively so that gravity can be used to advantage. Try this easy leap using a distance you can handle without tension. Assume the same posture as with step-one, with the exception that you keep the arms outstretched to the side (a T-pose).  Leap forwards with an emphasis on the hip-ankle extension. Upon landing do a ‘freeze-frame’ in that you try and stop all motion in a split second. Hold for 2-3 seconds then try again (turn around or continue in a line). Try this 8-10 times so that your body now knows where the ground is and will automatically prepare for landings that are stable and balanced. Taking the arms out of the picture for a moment will challenge the hips to be more active in the landings.

STEP THREE: Learn-to-Move

Putting the landings and takeoff’s together into a sequence is easier if the instruction is to create a smooth rhythm and ignore actual distance or height for a moment. The notion of smoothness creates a preconceived sensation for us that mechanically brings the landing forces together with the takeoff forces so there isn’t a pronounced delay between the phases. Adopt the previous pose, keeping arms in a T-pose for the moment. Give yourself room (space and no obstacles) to leap forwards about 5 times. Keep the original hip-ankle focus and simply bounce forwards in a relaxed fashion. Try several of these to form a set. Within a short time the movement will become automatic and you will also find that imbalances and sway issues take care of themselves.

In time the new movement pattern will provide strength and power benefits, balance the whole posture and use less energy to leap further and higher. Once the movement map is re-programmed to use hip initiated dynamics the variations of arm actions, distance, speed, height, and direction can be applied with relative ease. The three step process seems a bit like something to use with young athletes who haven’t much experience, but athletes of all ages and stages can benefit with movement reminders. And if there is ever an injury that requires time off, learning to move again from the hips may be a necessity that helps prevent chronic problems. From this perspective Frog Leaps are less a basic move and more an entry ticket into the world of dynamic takeoff’s.

J. Erik Little