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Soft vs. Hard Landings

Depending on the context of a drop to bilateral landing, as well as your training goals/intentions, you may want to stay stiffer/taller when you land, in order to more quickly decelerate & change direction. This is known as a drop to hard landing (aka hard depth drop in plyometrics training).

Alternatively, you may want to opt for a soft landing in certain high-impact or chaotic scenarios. The soft landing (aka soft depth drop) absorbs more deeply/quietly than a hard landing, potentially helping you train in a low(er)-impact, more sustainable way.

 
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The more impactful the drop to landing, the more likely you’ll want to compress your body and absorb through a deeper ROM. See what I mean in this spooky height drop to soft landing by former Apex pro athlete & speed parkour champion Dylan Baker:

While the idea of a soft landing is clear in the video above, keep in mind that often times, you’ll want to use a landing variation somewhere in between hard & soft. Imagine that hard & soft landings are on either end of a spectrum. In the middle of hard vs. soft is a gray area that varies depending on the athlete and application.

Safety note

While it depends on the individual, beginners should consider controlling/stopping their landing ROM before ever hitting a fully-bottomed out squat (e.g. avoid full hip/knee flexion, highly rounded lumbar spine, deep dorsiflexion, etc). On the other hand, intermediate/advanced athletes should strive to develop more strength, mobility, and skill for safely absorbing progressively higher impacts through full ROM.

To learn more about squatting, landing, rolling, and falling for beginners, check out our self-paced online training program Parkour 100 Series.

Drop → soft landing (aka soft depth drop)

Unlike drop to hard landings that stay stiffer/taller, drop to soft landings use deeper squat ROM and palms-to-ground. Drop to soft landing builds strength and control for full ROM landings, as well as offering a lower-impact way to train.

In scenarios where you want to land quietly or gently, soft landings are typically a better option than hard landings. On the other hand, soft landings tend to be slower/weaker during time-sensitive challenges and speed/power-based movements. Consider your strengths, weaknesses, and training intentions when choosing which landing to apply (for lower-impact/longevity, for speed/performance, etc).

Focus: Decelerating more gently, slowly, & quietly
Kinematics: Looks more like a full squat, may result in palms touching ground for balance
Knee flexion: > 90 degrees
Pros: Minimizing impact, being stealthy & quiet, may be necessary for bigger drops & other high-impact landings
Cons: Less powerful rebounding, slower transitions & changes of direction, slower times on speed runs

Drop → hard landing (aka hard depth drop)

Compared to the drop to soft landing where palms touch ground and squat ROM is deeper, a drop to hard landing should stay stiffer and taller. Drop to hard landing builds strength and power for better rebounding movements, as well as faster movement transitions through improved deceleration + change of direction skills.

In time-sensitive A-to-B challenges with a small drop, hard landings are typically the faster option vs. soft landings. On the other hand, hard landings tend to be louder, more impactful, and potentially less sustainable over time. Consider your strengths, weaknesses, and training intentions when choosing which landing to apply (for lower-impact/longevity, for speed/performance, etc).

Focus: Decelerating & stabilizing quickly, rebounding & changing direction w/ speed & power
Kinematics: Looks more like a quarter squat, palms don’t touch ground
Knee flexion: < 90 degrees
Pros: More powerful rebounding, faster transitions & changes of direction, faster times on speed runs, requires less mobility
Cons: More impact, louder, potentially less sustainable for the body

Ryan Ford is author of Parkour Strength Training & founder of ParkourEDU and Apex School of Movement.

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