When is a Hop not a Hop...

The frustration with labels and names sometimes starts at the research or medical end of things when I look for progressive programming information to translate for coaches and athletes. A typical title phrase may be: ‘The effect of hops on vertical jump ability…’ or something like it. Filled with anticipatory hope I read into the information to find that untrained college students were doing standing vertical leaps or drop jumps from a platform; not hops at all in my view. It’s not the fault of the authors or translators; our language is full of blended words and descriptors. For example, kangaroos and rabbits hop, and frogs leap, but they are essentially performing the same type of bilateral move. Humans leap, jump, hop, stride and shuffle in various patterns in order to move, yet depending on the author/ observer the descriptive title may be the same. In addition we add the cultural influences, type of activity or historical use and create descriptors that are like different languages speaking of the same things.

This type of confusion of terminology has the potential to hurt, limit or exclude athletes from expressing their performance abilities. Misinterpreting written or oral information may introduce faulty movement patterns or programme expectations resulting in compensations and overloads to hard and soft tissues. Using the fictional example of a research article that outlines ‘hops from a box’ a coach or athlete may interpret this (as I might) as a one-legged landing. Typical heights used are 30-45cm according to the methodology (but may be higher). I’m not sure how far out from the box the landings are, nor do I know the direction of rebound. The image I then create in my brain is not one that was actually performed in the experiment. But the results showed an increase in vertical jump ability after just 8 weeks, and that has a seductive appeal I may wish to experiment with (after all the researchers used untrained students, so it should be easy). So, I might programme one-legged landings from a 45cm box with athletes that are not prepared for the impact and don’t have the ability to absorb the forces with soft tissues. The result is a jarring, jolting landing that has no reactive impulse to it. Non-dominant leg landings might resemble efforts to avoid collapse. Further, after a couple of sessions athletes may become increasingly reluctant as anxiety levels and shin-ankle-knee pains rise.

The example is quite fictional. The possibilities are real. Without getting into debates about effective research or coaching education, one way to start is to develop categories of leg dynamic movements that share common mechanics. The prime objectives are safety and ease of communication. For the MOVERS programming and TAKEOFF articles used within this site an effort will be made to name movements according to the types of landings and takeoffs they have in common. There will be a few exceptions or overlaps, and kangaroos are still allowed to hop even though they really leap…


1.     STEPS: a left-right move or stance where the toe-off isn’t completed until the other foot has ground contact. Walking is the obvious continuous movement.

2.     STRIDES: typically left-to-right landings with a toe-off that is complete before the next foot contact. Running is the basic example here...

3.     SKIPS: typically a lower intensity, continuous hop-step, where the hopping leg stays behind the step leg. Rhythms can use a one sided hop (R-R-L-R-R…) or alternating hop (R-R-L-L…)

4.     LEAPS: typically a two-legged takeoff and two-legged landing, often in a consecutive series. Feet are usually parallel and aligned together.

5.     HOPS: one-legged takeoffs to landings on the same leg. Often in a series or in combination with other moves.

6.     BOUNDS: a stride variation where the R-L pattern emphasises air time (vertical or horizontal), often in a continuous rhythm.

7.     JUMPS: a one-legged takeoff to a two-footed landing. Typically used with several strides in order to generate horizontal momentum.

8.     SPLIT STANCE: a step-leap variation where the legs are staggered front-back for a longer narrow base of support. In the air moves can exchange front-back, or stay fixed.

9.     SHUFFLE: a step-leap variation where landing times are slightly displaced in a repetitive pattern such as R-L, with the rear foot never getting ahead and always landing first.

10.  HOP-SCOTCH: a two-legged takeoff to a one-legged landing, as with the 2-square move in the classic game. Usually used in combination moves and footwork drills.

11.  GALLOPS: a stride variation where the rhythm typically uses a short-long air time pattern with a repetitive da-DAH sensation.

12.  POPS: a directional variation where horizontal movement leads to an emphasised vertical move. Inserting a vertical bound (pop) into a series of horizontal bounds is an example.

This list may not suit your needs or activity, so there is an encouragement to create a list that works for you… The key issue here is communication, and how our brain likes to operate. As an example, if I say to you that ‘Matt walked over to the bar.’ your brain will probably create a quick image that involves city streets and social gathering spots. Our brains are programmed to save energy and so we tend to grab onto a mental image that suits the information available. We will readily fill in plot-holes with information suiting what we hear, just as we do with news stories. It’s a good system but can be faulty. With that example, if I give you more information and explain that Matt is a high jumper, you now have the option of creating a different picture related to sporting activity (or you may stick to the original notion). Any initial sense of confusion is replaced with aha! and a smile at being verbally tricked.

With clarification or additional information you can create a new mental picture, and within a short time your brain will have a new energy saving, automatic communication pathway. The sensation we then feel is one of less confusion; less uncertainty. So it is with the labels of leg dynamic movements. At first leaps will be hops or are they jumps? As you apply new information such as the type of landing and takeoff the labels and the mental image will change and the information you communicate to yourself and others will be more precise.

This site is a focal point for information and programming that strives to work back from the ultimate goals of speed, landing management and takeoff performance. To do that the labels we use need to be clear at some base level. After establishing that level we can then look at variations or regimes using other postures, equipment or gravity overloads and still keep the original label. In that way we build in safety and progressions that look at outcomes and longer term goals. The programming that results from this effort at creating distinct movement types serves to meet the needs of coaches and athletes looking to improve their performance levels. With hundreds of possibilities the classifications help us narrow down our selections to those that are suitable and progressive for the individual or team.

J. Erik Little