What is a great drill for young and developing athletes to get more quality repetitions in developing their single leg takeoff ability?
Outside of actually practicing the one leg jump in a variety of situations, a good option for rhythm and timing of the movement is repeating takeoffs, a short clip of which is as follows:
The premise of this drill is extremely simple, which is move in a “Left-right-left-right-left-right” manner, with every other step being a jump for both height and distance. In long jump development scenarios, this is often performed over mini-hurdles, and almost purely for distance, and often finished with a jump into a sand pit.
The above video demonstrates an important point, however, which is the mistiming of the drive knee to fill a coaching construct, which we’ll dig into in a bit. As you can see in the mini-hurdle drill, there is no vertical impulse or the related timing to facilitate it!
In showing this plyometric movement, I’d like to dig into detail on a few points.
- Aspects of this movement are often coached incorrectly, setting athletes up for performance ceilings down the road
- Using this drill as a method to get a natural feel for rhythm and timing is best practice
- Understanding the rotational components of movement is helpful in deep-diving into the movement
- There are athletes who can jump extremely high off of one leg who struggle with the rhythm of this drill, but they are usually less precise in their jumping abilities
1. Coach the Right Thing
Regarding point 1, the most incorrectly coached aspect of any sort of skip, gallop, or repeated takeoff is the sole instruction to drive the knee. When the knee drives up powerfully in sync with all other aspects of the jump, then this is a beautiful thing. When athletes sacrifice the push of the stance leg, and mis-time the arms, just to get the knee to parallel or above (and sometimes when above, the knee doesn’t even get a good block) just to make the coach happy, the vertical impulse is limited. I’ve seen athletes who are coached this way from a young age, and are myelinating a jumping style that severely limits how much the rest of their body can contribute to the total movement.
Giveaways that athletes are out-of-sync are a torso that leans forward during the movement (to “help” the knee come up), a lack of rotational power in the takeoff leg (which we’ll get to in a bit), and a leg with an knee angle very close to 180 degrees at the moment of takeoff, often right under the hips.
Athletes should be given more exploratory cues in this movement, rather than rigid options.
2. Timing and Autonomy
This leads us into the second point, which is to use the movement in a manner than gives athletes awareness of what their body is doing, and to exaggerate portions of the movement that come from feel, rather than to hammer away as concrete internal cues that differ from athlete to athlete based on their build, training age, and timing.
3. Rotational Components
As I’ve learned over the years, and we’ve seen some amazing articles on, such as Sam Wuest’s work on the triplanar aspects of athletic performance, sprinting and especially jumping, doesn’t just happen in the sagittal, straight ahead plane. It happens in three planes, and knowing what to look for in this aspect of moment is key. If you check out the still-shot from the image below, you can see just how externally rotated my takeoff foot is, which indicates a strong glute (the glute is a rotational muscle) and big-toe contribution.
If you go and watch the full video below, check out the rotational differences between the left leg (my dominant jumping leg) and right leg (non-dominant jumping leg). This goes all the way into foot structure as well, as I recently talked about at the Track-Football Consortium VI in Chicago this past December.
Right leg takeoff has some key rotational differences. Can you spot them?
4. Some Athletes will Struggle
Some athletes I’ve coached back as a full-time college track coach were incredible single leg jumpers, but struggled at any form of this drill. This is where the division between raw athletic ability and coordination becomes evident. There will always be great track performers who struggle at various sprint and jump drills, but can throw down an amazing competition performance. In these cases, don’t shove these drills down the athlete’s throat! It will only frustrate them. If anything, come up with a new way to frame or instruct the drill if you still find a value in it for the athlete.
In the case of my high performer who struggled with these drills, I abandoned them after a few weeks. The athlete was an NCAA high-jump All-American, and eventually become national champion after I moved on. What I found with him, however, is it was a bit harder for him to connect his approach into takeoff steps, where athletes who could easily perform the repeating takeoff movement never struggled as much in setting up their final steps. There is significant athleticism to be found in this movement, but I’m learning that how it is cued and approached to the athlete is going to make the difference. If I had a time machine, I would have made the use of mini-hurdles to help this athlete (who has a basketball player and likely relied on visual references, such as when he dunked), to establish rhythm, and then take the occasional hurdle or two away from the set.
If you enjoy this series, and want to see how to put these exercises together in context of a complete program, check out our books and training groups, particularly “Vertical Ignition” and “Legendary Athleticism”. Be a part of the revolutionary training systems that are getting dozens of athletes to lifetime bests in speed, jumping and explosive power!