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Trampolining as a therapeutic aid

Written by Martin Laws, Chairman, National Trampoline Technical Committee and Director, Jumpers Rebound Centre, Gillingham

England physio Alan Smith surprised many people by using a mini trampoline for David Beckham last year during training in the Jeju World Cup Stadium in Seogwipo.

Beckham was put through half hour sessions on the mini-trampoline as he continued his recovery programme after breaking the second metatarsal bone in his left foot. The England captain was seen bouncing repeatedly on his left foot to cushion the injury, allowing him to kick balls with his right foot to get himself back into shape.

So what is the technology behind this strange new technique?

Well in fact this technology isn’t new at all! A study by NASA in 1980 has already proven that 10 minutes on a trampoline is better than 33 minutes running.

“…for similar levels of heart rate and oxygen consumption, the magnitude of the biomechanical stimuli is greater with jumping on a trampoline than with running” N.A.S.A., Journal of Applied Physiology 49(5): 881-887, 1980

This study was actually carried out on full size trampolines, but the benefits can be similar on the small rebound equipment available everywhere. The USA has recently seen a resurgence of Rebounder exercise classes and often refer to these as the new craze in fitness. The trampoline in its current competitive form was invented by an American George Nissen in his garage in 1936. The US Air Force, and later the Space Agencies quickly employed trampolines with their pilots and astronauts, so it could be said that Beckham is following in the footsteps of Buzz Aldren. In fact father follows son Brooklyn who had been trampolining on a number of occasions at a club close to their old home in North London.

The trampoline is totally plyometric – a form of strength training to improve muscle tone. Speed and strength are integral components of fitness found in varying degrees in virtually all athletic movements. Simply put, the combination of speed and strength is power. For many years coaches and athletes in most sports have sought to improve power in order to enhance performance. Throughout this century and no doubt long before, jumping, bounding and hopping exercises have been used in various ways to enhance athletic performance. In recent years this distinct method of training for power or explosiveness has been termed plyometrics. Whatever the origins of the word, the term is used to describe the method of training which seeks to enhance the explosive reaction of the individual through powerful muscular contractions as a result of rapid eccentric contractions. The advantage of the trampoline over all other forms of plyometric exercise is that it is an even return and distribution of force cushioned by the web bed and springs. It is this quality that brings physios like Alan Smith to use this in rehabilitation.

Trampolining is better than any other traditional exercise as it is excellent aerobically and has a unique benefit over and above the muscular skeletal system with zero gravity at the top of the bounce with 1 – 9g at the bottom of the bounce depending on height obtained. This constant shift in gravity has been shown to stimulate every cell in the body.

It has been realised by physical educators that the trampoline had something new to offer by observation of the physical benefits which trampoline had produced during the war years and also the enthusiasm of those who participated. The trampoline was used in its training of pilots and navigators, giving them concentrated practise in orientation such as had never been seen before.

In trampolining the lower threshold of skill is so low that almost anyone of any age can get on and do something which is fun, exhilarating, aerobically effective, and caters for the highest level of skill and daring which some are capable of. Trampolines have even been used for comatose patients! It is particularly popular amongst the young, who now have something better than their parents’ double bed to jump upon; although many parents complain that the kids jump even more on their beds to try to reproduce the fun they have in the gym.

 Known physical benefits

Trampolining is instinctive, fun and a great way to get fit.