Gymnastics Landing Forces

Landing forces in gymnastics are the impacts generated upon the completion of a jump of other air borne maneuver. Both the aesthetic appeal of gymnastics and the systems used to score a particular performance consider the manner in which the athlete is able to land at the conclusion of a routine. "Sticking the landing," the ability to land as efficiently and as emphatically as possible, is a concept where the athlete may not take an extra stabilizing step. Sticking the landing invariably results in the direction of maximum landing forces into the body.

Force is defined by the equation Force = mass × acceleration. As a corollary principle, the amount of downward acceleration produced as an athlete seeks

American gymnast Shannon Miller grabs her knee in pain after she was injured on her first vault landing in the 2000 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials.
to generate an upwards force to perform a jump will be equal to the downwards acceleration measured at the landing. Where the athlete uses a springboard to produce greater acceleration, as in diving or the vault exercise in gymnastics, the acceleration will be the product of the athlete's muscular power and the effect of the springboard.

Gymnastics landings are usually performed from either a height above the floor, as in the dismount from equipment such as a pommel horse or uneven bars, or as the concluding segment to a series of floor exercises. The ability of the athlete to control the landing forces will translate directly into both improved scoring and physical safety.

The control of the landing force is dependent upon two general factors, the control of the body's momentum at landing and the ability of the athlete to dissipate the forces directed into the body to achieve an even impact upon the body. The precondition to the control of the landing forces of gymnastics is the physical training of the athlete. If the gymnast lacks the musculoskeletal strength and flexibility to sustain the forces, which particularly impact upon the soft tissue structures, the repetitive nature of gymnastics training and competitive routines will greatly increase the likelihood of injury to the athlete. The importance of overall physical fitness in gymnastics in relation to the effect of landing forces upon the body is confirmed by the fact that ankle and foot injuries are the most common incident in gymnastics. These body parts are also the most frequent base upon which a landing is executed.

The landing forces generated by gymnasts are so significant relative to their usual physical size that even the slightest variations in the equipment used by the athletes can produce a significantly different landing force result. As an example, the protective mats used in gymnastics are made by various manufacturers, with different patterns of seam fabrication. Where a gymnast lands directly upon a rigidly sewn seam, as opposed to the flat mat surface, the landing forces will not dissipate as evenly, and the amount of force directed into the body through landing on the seam may be increased by over 10%. In a similar fashion, where the landing is executed directly on top of a spring in the mechanism (such as the entry into a vault routine), the forces will be absorbed differently than if the athlete strikes an area where the spring support is aligned differently.

The landing forces of male versus female athletes are also significantly different for most gymnastics apparatus. In the run up to a floor exercise or vault, the male athlete is able to typically generate greater speed, due to their larger proportion of lean muscle mass and consequently greater available muscle power. The speed of the male gymnasts, coupled with greater mass, will produce a greater force to be ultimately directed into the body, a calculation that does not include the additional muscle power that will be created by the male gymnast in the propulsion of his body from the surface of the vault.

Most landings in gymnastics include a spinning or other angular movement by the gymnast. This motion is referred to as the athlete's angular momentum, and as with the acceleration generated by the athlete at the beginning of the jump movement, the angular momentum at landing will be identical to that created at the take off into the jump. Gymnasts seek to control the effect of angular momentum through the maintenance of their body position in the air for as long as possible, to permit themselves the time to control these forces on the impact of landing.

In most sports, one of the inherent means that forces of all types are absorbed is through the athlete's utilization of the athletic crouch or athletic stance. The athletic crouch positions the athlete in a posture that keeps the head and spine erect, with the legs bent, so as to permit both the rapid and efficient movement of the athlete in any direction, as well as maintaining a position where a force may be received and absorbed without compromising performance.

In gymnastics, the athlete rarely is engaged in movements through the course of a routine that require the athletic crouch. The spinning, twisting, and artistic elements of gymnastics demand balance, strength, and flexibility in a variety of positions. However, the landing of the gymnast is a specific adaptation of the athletic crouch, as this is the most inherently stable athletic position. The athletic crouch permits the immediate distribution of the force at landing through the slightly flexed legs, into the hips and through the upper body.

A desirable side effect of the exposure to landing forces by gymnasts, particularly among female participants, is the increase in bone density in the bones that chiefly absorb the landing forces, the bones of the legs and the lower spine. The repeated exposure to landing force compels the body to strengthen these structures through the deposit of bone building minerals.

SEE ALSO Gymnastics; Gymnastics vaulting; Plyometrics; Vertical jump.