Practical Science on Movement and Pain

Jump Therapy

I noticed something in my own training recently that I wanted to share, because it illustrates an interesting way that training can make you perform and feel better.

One day last summer at the playground with my five year old, I was watching kids effortlessly land jumps off various structures. I decided that landing a jump is a very fundamental movement skill that I had neglected and could stand to improve.

The reason I had avoided this movement for a while is that it makes my knees a little tender and sore. Landing a jump requires absorbing a lot of force at the knee. My common experience is that a lot of aggressive changes of direction from either landing a jump or cutting in sports can make my knees feel a little stiff and sore. It’s not a big deal, just enough to feel it a little when climbing stairs and training the day after.

So when I approached this movement I decided to be very careful, grade my exposure, and try brushing up on my skills in the absence of any major forces or stresses. To do that, I started with just dropping into a squat quickly as opposed to jumping.

I also changed my technique. I noticed that the kids at the playground usually land jumps with the trunk angled forward as opposed to vertical, which increases the work at the hip muscles, and brings the hands closer to the ground where they can absorb some of the force. All this takes pressure off the knees.

So on each landing, I made sure to slap the ground with my hands to absorb some force, even on the tiniest jumps where I didn’t really need it. It felt a little floppy and uncontrolled, and I looked just like my one year old when she was falling forward onto her hands about 400 times per day while learning to walk.

But it worked. This removed a lot of pressure from the knees, and felt really good. I started increasing the height and intensity of the jumps, and within minutes I was comfortably landing jump from heights I hadn’t jumped from in at least ten years. With no knee tenderness at all.

Within another few minutes I had completely forgotten about the idea of taking it easy and was jumping all over the place with foolish abandon, not paying any attention to my knees at all. At the end of the session, the dumb part of my brain thought I was immortal, and the uptight worrying part thought my knees would pay the price for a day or two.

Later that day, I noticed something interesting. As I was climbing stairs, I noticed that my knees felt better not worse. They felt stronger and springier. I decided to test them a little with some sporting cuts and they felt better there too. I actually felt younger and stronger. Why was that?

Here is my explanation.

Obviously not enough time had passed for the structure of the knee to have changed at all. Warming up is not really a good explanation either, because I do not get the same effect from warming the knees thoroughly by other means. In fact, all the work with the knee musculature should have made them weaker not stronger and maybe even a little inflamed.

Maybe I changed my motor control patterns at the knee, making it more efficient? Possible, but I’m not convinced. I do all sorts of coordination work at the knee and it is very beneficial, but has never resulted in this type of feeling.

I think what happened is that the training session didn’t so much teach my brain new movement skills, but convinced it that certain movements were safe to do.

Pain (and weakness) at a joint results from the brain’s opinion that the joint needs to be protected. There was something about my training session that convinced my brain that my knees were not as old as they thought they were, that they didn’t need as much protection as they were currently getting. So it gave me a longer leash to play with. This is why each training session should always send a little good news to the brain about the state of the body.

What do you think? Have you ever experienced something similar? What kind of news is your exercise sending your brain?

Let me know in the comments.

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19 Responses to Jump Therapy

  1. BG says:

    very interesting point! actually, I don’t remember a similar experience, but I guess your post will make me more aware of it happening :)

  2. Mark says:

    I love watching my child do something and then giving it a go myself, great way to learn all those deeply buried movement patterns and most of all … fun! Thanks for the ongoing great posts and looking forward to more in the following new year

  3. dwight pargee says:

    yup, i experienced almost the same thing. last winter, 1.5 yrs. post-op from a total hip replacement (old rugby injury) i attended a 3-day Change Your Age teacher training program. the first day after we played with some short, clear movement lessons that developed the capacity to land efficiently and use ground forces effectively, like this:

    http://changeyouragenetwork.com/index.php?option=com_hwdvideoshare&task=viewvideo&Itemid=48&video_id=17

    we did a quick short lesson where we jumped up and eventually did a 360’ rotation….i flew and landed effortlessly….it really amazed me and felt so fluid and free…they caught it on video here, i’m the one in the upper left corner gettin some air:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/changeyourage?feature=watch#p/u/34/Wsmbe-z_4qA

    i had not attempted any kind of jump or hopping up to that point in my rehab. i so impressed, amazed really, with the lightness quality my movement and the springiness in my step and overall agility, something that had been lacking in my system for years while being injured and having to compensate for the dysfunction. i was surprised how quickly my was brain disinhibited and the autonomic effects of just increased bubbling vitality. looking back at that event in retrospect, i think i quickly learned to shut of the limbic-level regulator that was inhibiting my jumping ability…really cool feeling, and something that i continue to this day 10 months later.

    there’s lots of good research describing our brain’s ability to predict impact forces and change muscle tonus “mid-flight” nowdays…like this excellent post about the latest barefoot running research and impact forces :

    http://www.sportsscientists.com/2010/03/barefoot-running-and-shoes-part-4.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogspot%2FcJKs+%28The+Science+of+Sport%29

    jump on up and clap yo hands, oh yeah!

    -dwight

  4. Great post Todd! I had been doing similar movements during my workouts and seriously wondered why my knees didn’t hurt. I called it the comic book landing. Glad to see I wasn’t crazy to think or do it for that matter. I’ll be linking back on my blog.

  5. Todd,

    What you’ve said makes perfect sense to me. Trager asked the question long ago: Who can land the lightest? Then he built a career in bodywork.

  6. jeff castle says:

    I started off jumping in the manner you did and found that my body was more interested in protecting my low back than my knees. I no longer have low back pain, but this showed me the defenses are still there. I decided to back off and take a gradual approach.

  7. Jeremy Brown says:

    I joined a climbing gym here in nashville about a year ago. I experienced the exact same feeling along with the endless amounts of physical advantages it has provided to me. Most notably when I am jumping off the tops of the bouldering problems. I recomend this to anyone having doubts about their ability to obsorb the falls because there are pads underneath you. Even with the pads there is a significant difference if you put your hands into action. Plus climbing is the most fun I have had since the Jean Claude Van Damme movie marathons I had with the super hot girl that babyat me.

  8. Rod says:

    Reminds me a lot of Scott Sonnons work.He is the writhing snakehead of a marketing machine now but if you can ignore all that and the “I’m a commando” stuff,his approach to movement in the context of his fear/reactivity writings is well worth looking at.

  9. Bennett says:

    Hah, funny thing, I was about to point out the same thing as Rod. Scott likes to make everything sound really Whiz-Bang, but his basic point is that if you’re scared to do a movement, even though your body is capable, your mind will shut you down, so you forget that you even can.

    So it really makes sense that you’d have generally higher performance after facing a fear–you were probably subconsciously acting to protect yourself from pain that wasn’t really there. Once you felt safe, you regained what was already yours.

  10. Todd Hargrove says:

    Rod and Bennett,

    Sonnon has some great stuff, but as you point out, the signal to cheese ratio is sometimes a little low.

    Jeremy Jeff and Erson,

    Thanks for relating your experiences with jumping, very interesting.

  11. susan says:

    fascinating! i’ve struggled with a lot of aches and pains in various parts of my body over the last few years and it’s made me so fearful to move my body quickly. your post is making me think that perhaps i’ve gotten myself overly cautious. i actually cringe when i see folks at the gym jumping up and down from these platforms!
    maybe i can try some little baby jumps! i am 55 and overweight so some caution is in order i think.

    • Todd Hargrove says:

      Good luck Susan and let me know how it goes. Start with the baby jumps and ease into it. It doesn’t have to be jumps, any quick powerful or youthful movement you haven’t done in a while might have a similar effect. Arm circles, punching movements, sprints, dancing. Whatever you can get away with safely that will remind the brain that you are young. But don’t get hurt! Caution is a good idea. In the right amount.

  12. Erik LaSeur says:

    Todd – Great article. In the past year I’ve been teaching myself how to run differently, learning to use the forefoot as my ‘spring-board’, observing many others while they ran too. The idea of keeping your weight forward both in running and jumping has a way of utilizing the stored up energy in the calves that makes the two very enjoyable, as opposed to landing vertical (whether in jumping, running, or even going up/down stairs or hills). I’ve started teaching some of my clients to do mellow jumping on the forefoot, kind of like what Dwight eluded to earlier, as a way of revving up their own engines…and the feedback has been very positive.

  13. Erik LaSeur says:

    And this is also related to the very first lesson in the ‘Awareness through Movement’ book “What is good posture”. Moving your head forward, while your pelvis is moving backwards. The necessary counter-balance to make easy, low-effort sit-to-stand-to-sit movements also is used for jumping and landing those jumps with pleasure as opposed to pain.
    Three years ago when I was first acquanted with my now step-son, he was 7yo and we’d go to the beach, and I would watch while he jumped from boulder to boulder. I quickly put my fears aside as I watched how well he landed on each boulder, his head almost coming to his hands, but always in control. A great teacher!

    • Todd Hargrove says:

      Thanks for the comments Erik. I get all sorts of good ideas watching my kids. The head coming to the feet is something I noticed in jumping and it helped me a lot.

  14. James Eldon says:

    Hi…..suppose the moments passed but here goes anyhow! Really enjoyed that little story. Maybe oneday, we’ll have gyms, etc, that are like adult playgrounds. I’ve spent a night just hopping from topic to topic via various websites (started with an article on fascia and connective tissue) and happily found myself at Better Movements! Took my dog for a walk and (ironically, she’s got a touch of arthritis) but as she was chilling I took the time on a beautiful evening to play, play with a few jump squats, sprints, climbed a tree in the park, etc, just running around with that free spirit in some long grassed park in South Africa, and it made my body remember itself from long ago….everything was working and alive! Here’s to jumping off walls like a crazy kid!!!Thanks James

  15. Too right there. I love your conclusions by the way; that pain and weakness at a joint often result from the brain’s opinion that the joint needs to be protected….that’s something i think more clinican’s need to understand. Instead of just treating the joint, thinking of why the brain think’s that, and get onto removing that, aka coordination/motor control (with jumps being towards the later end of that training progressions). Thanks

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