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19 August 2004

How fit must a jumper be?

The jumping events involve short, intense efforts, so anaerobic fitness must be excellent, while aerobic fitness is less important.

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High jump
The jumping events involve short, intense efforts, so anaerobic fitness must be excellent, while aerobic fitness is less important.

Typical build High jumpers are typically tall and lanky. Muscles are well-defined, without being too bulky. In addition to power and strength, high jumpers need to be flexible and supple.

Technique There are three phases to the high jump: approach, take-off or lift-off, and bar clearance. Each phase is dependent on the one before it. Most high jumpers use a technique called the ‘Fosbury Flop’, which revolutionised the event when it was first used by athlete Dick Fosbury in the 1960s. The ‘Flop’ involves running toward the bar in a J-shaped approach, lifting off with the left foot, pivoting the right leg back and clearing the bar backwards.

The approach portion of the high jump, which involves accelerating the body along a curved path that leads up to the bar, is as much a part of high jumping as the lift-off or clearance, and is practised hundreds of times to perfect its speed, rhythm and timing. If the run is weak or poorly timed, the jump will be too. The J-shaped form of approach allows for more horizontal speed, places the athlete in a good take-off position, and allows for turning in the air. The approach is a gradual acceleration, somewhere between a sprint and a jog, comprising about eight to twelve controlled, bouncy strides to build up momentum for the vertical spring. The curve of the ‘J’ is very important: the athlete must put one foot in front of the other and not step out of the curve. At this point, the athlete is actually leaning away from the bar, allowing for the centrifugal force to pull the body into a vertical position for the jump.

The lift-off combines horizontal momentum with vertical leap and includes the last few strides of the run. In these last strides, the movement is relatively fast, with a crouch and spring in the last stride. The jumper must push against the ground with as much force as possible and launch directly upwards. To assist the upward lift, as the jumper leaves the ground the free leg swings forward and upward while the arms swing up.

The ideal bar clearance position is with the centre of the body over the crossbar at the peak of the jump. As the body travels up and over, both arms are thrust over the head and the jumper looks back and up over the right shoulder. This head position enables the back to arch as the shoulders travel over the bar. Once the hips clear the bar, the jumper "kicks" to get the heels up so the trailing feet clear the bar too.

Training programme Training combines working on all aspects of the jump technique together with strength training, several days a week. A jump athlete will usually have his or her training divided up into phases during the year. Typically, the first few months will focus on general development of strength, mobility, endurance and basic technique. This will be followed by a period of honing specific fitness and advanced technical skills. Then the athlete will take part in minor competitions and aim to achieve qualification times for the main competition. Preparation for and participation for the major event follows. The last month or so of the year is used as an active recovery period.

Cardiovascular fitness High jumpers have good levels of cardiovascular fitness, but this is less important than in the long-distance endurance events.

Speed drills High jumpers are concerned with form, power and timing rather than speed, and their training drills reflect this.

Resistance training and muscles Explosive power in the take-off is vital in attaining maximum height in the jump, and strength training, particularly of the leg and thigh muscles, is essential to achieve this.

Reaction time Reaction speed plays a minor role in the high jump. Knowing at which point to make the take-off is more a result of repetition in training than quick reaction.

Endurance training Endurance is not the main focus of training.

Nutrition Nutrition plans for high jump athletes are designed to improve muscle strength and supply them with sufficient energy. Thus diet includes carbohydrate-rich foods that provide fuel for training, as well as protein-rich foods for building muscle. Many nutritionists recommend following up a resistance session with a ‘recovery snack’ containing high levels of protein and carbohydrate, to enhance recovery. It may be even more valuable to have this snack immediately before the workout. Athletes typically eat a number of meals and snacks (from five to nine) spaced throughout the day and according to their training and competition schedule.

Carbohydrate is particularly important for providing energy in the days leading up to the competition, but carbohydrate loading is not as important in quick, intense jumping events as it is in endurance events. The final pre-event meal need not even be carbohydrate-based. However, although jump events do not drastically lower carbohydrate and fluid levels, athletes may have to compete in a series of heats and semi-finals over a fairly long time period. Thus the athlete needs to keep plenty of carbohydrate-rich drinks and light snacks at hand during a multi-event programme.

Mental The term ‘controlled recklessness’ has been used when referring to a top high jumper’s frame of mind when performing. Although other phases of the jump, like the approach run, are highly controlled, in order to really gain height in the take-off a jumper needs to be uninhibited, and psychologically able to ‘hold nothing back’. A state of so-called ‘controlled recklessness’ is possible once athletes have trained so long and well that they are supremely confident in their bodies’ ability to perform without sustaining injury.

It can be helpful for a high jumper to visualise each element of the jump prior to performing it. The aim of many repetitions of the jump in training, though, is so that the athlete can eventually perform its various parts as a seamless whole.

Drugs High jumpers, like other power and sprint athletes, may be tempted to use performance enhancers like steroids, which can have serious negative side-effects.

Pole vaulting

This event requires a brief, intense burst of power, so anaerobic fitness must be excellent, while aerobic fitness is less important. The body needs to be both strong and flexible.

Typical build
Pole vaulters tend to be tall and supple, with powerful arms and legs.

Technique
The basic concept is to convert horizontal energy (the run) into vertical energy (the vault over the bar). The vaulter transfers energy from running to the pole, then uses the energised pole as a tool to catapult over the crossbar. A vaulter has two main ways to increase the height of the vault. One is to increase running speed, which increases the amount of energy available. The other is to make more efficient use of energy, by improving overall technique. This requires perfecting several phases, which include:

  • Run-up: this sets up the trajectory of the vault, and must be a smooth, continuous acceleration where top speed is achieved at the moment of take-off. The faster a vaulter sprints toward the crossbar, the more energy is available for the vault.
  • Plant: A good plant allows for the efficient transfer of energy from the run to the pole, resulting in a powerful thrust over the crossbar and therefore a higher clearance.
  • Takeoff: The stronger the jump off of the ground, the smoother the transition onto the pole. The pole must move to reach into a position that is at 90 degrees to the track.
  • Swing, pull and extension: The vaulter exploits momentum to swing himself up as the pole moves vertically, then directs it upwards as he completely inverts his body.
  • Clearing the crossbar: As a vaulter elevates up and over the crossbar, the position of the body is crucial. A limb that is out of position can easily knock down the bar.

Training programme
A vaulter may practise four to five hours per day, several days a week, to gain the power and flexibility needed to vault successfully. Some sport experts have remarked that pole vault training is similar to that of a decathlonist, as a vaulter needs to a broad range of skills. Pole vaulters must develop strength and speed as well as technique and gymnastics abilities. Their training programme is typically varied and includes weight lifting, running, sometimes swimming, and working the different muscle groups to gain excellent control of the body. Other athletics disciplines may be used in pole vault training. Sprinting and hurdling, for example, are useful in improving the approach run.

Cardiovascular fitness
Pole vaulters have good levels of cardiovascular fitness, but this is less important than in the long-distance endurance events.

Speed drills
Sprinting drills are important to improve the speed of the run-up.

Resistance training and muscles
Strength training, both of the lower and upper body, is an important part of training.

Reaction time
Timing is important, but knowing at which points to execute the different stages of the vault (planting, take-off, etc) is more a result of repetition in training than quick reaction.

Endurance training
Endurance is not the main focus of training.

Nutrition
Nutrition plans for pole vaulters, as with other speed and power athletes, are designed to improve muscle strength and supply them with sufficient energy for short bursts of activity. Thus diet includes carbohydrate-rich foods that provide fuel for training, as well as protein-rich foods for building muscle. Many nutritionists recommend following up a resistance training session with a ‘recovery snack’ containing high levels of protein and carbohydrate, to enhance recovery. It may be even more valuable to have this snack immediately before the workout. Athletes typically eat a number of meals and snacks (from five to nine) spaced throughout the day and according to their training and competition schedule.

Mental
The pole vault is a psychologically taxing activity, not least because it can be dangerous. Sometimes even experienced vaulters lose confidence, to the extent that they need to take a break from actual vaulting and focus on other elements of training for a period. Increasing strength, speed and technical efficiency helps to boost confidence and a sense of control. The vaulter needs to employ a combination of discipline, determination, courage, strategy and kinesthetic awareness (a sense of the body’s movement and positioning).

Drugs
Pole vaulters, like other power and sprint athletes, may be tempted to use performance enhancers like steroids, which can have serious negative side-effects.

Long jump and triple jump
The jumping events involve brief, intense bursts of activity, so anaerobic fitness must be excellent, while aerobic fitness is less important. Good strength and flexibility are also required.

Typical build
These athletes are built rather like sprinters: muscular, with powerful arms and legs. They also tend to be tall and long-legged, as this carries an obvious advantage in terms of achieving horizontal jump distance. Many sprinters, such as Carl Lewis, have also competed successfully in horizontal jump events.

Technique
Long and triple jump athletes seek to convert run-up speed into the furthest horizontal ‘flight’ possible. Thus a fast yet controlled approach run is extremely important. The approach is a gradual acceleration to the greatest speed the athlete can convert into the jump, not an all-out sprint into the take-off. The athlete runs on the balls of the feet, and begins the run leaning forward to develop speed. By the last four to six strides, the jumper should be running at nearly full speed with an upright body position and high knee lift. The athlete's eyes should remained focused on the rear of the pit throughout the jump.

The take-off stride should be a continuation of the approach run. Athletes often envision accelerating into the take-off and ‘running’ into the air, to avoid hesitating and losing horizontal velocity. The heel of the take-off foot strikes first, allowing a rolling action onto the ball and then the toes to give maximum lift. Lift is further assisted by upward movement of the ‘free’ limbs, the arms and the non take-off leg. The optimum take-off angle for long jump is between 18 and 25 degrees.

Long jumpers employ various styles in the horizontal fight across the pit:

  • stride jump: the athlete maintains take-off position as long as possible. The take-off leg joins the free leg just before landing.
  • hang style: on take-off the athlete drops the free leg to the vertical which is then joined by the take-off leg. The arms go overhead and the legs are lifted upwards and forwards. The arms swing past the legs during the landing phase.
  • hitch kick: following take-off, the free leg is straightened and swung back and down as the take-off leg folds up beneath the hips and comes forward bent. The take-off leg then continues forward, straightening for landing. The free leg completes its backward swing behind the hip and then bends and comes forwards to join the take-off leg before landing.

Technique plays a particularly important role in the triple jump. This event has been referred to as "power ballet," requiring speed, power, rhythm, balance, flexibility, concentration and body awareness. Each of the three phases of the jump is practised as a distinct, separate technique, and then combined into a continuous, flowing movement. The momentum from each phase must be carried to the next with an even rhythm. Of the total jump, the desired distance of each bound should be 35% for the hop, 30% for the step, and 35% for the jump. There are two triple jump combinations: left, left, right, together and right, right, left, together, referring to which feet strike the ground at each point.

  • Hop: the athlete takes off with their strongest foot (e.g. the left), cycles this leg through and lands on the left foot. The body should be erect and upright at take-off, during flight and upon landing. Any forward lean or bending at the waist can inhibit movement into the next phase.
  • Step: the take-off (left) leg pushes off and stays behind the body with the heel held high. The drive (right) thigh is held parallel with the ground, with the lower leg vertical. The drive leg then extends with a flexed ankle and is thrust downward for a quick transition into the jump phase.
  • Jump: The take-off (right) leg pushes off forcefully from the ground. The arms move forward and up, both thighs move into position directly below the torso, with the legs bent at the knees. The arms and legs then go forward and this position is held until the heels hit the sand.

Landing position for both horizontal jumps is similar, with head and chest dropped forward and arms swung back. This allows the feet to extend far beyond the centre of gravity without the jumper falling back into the pit.

Training programme
Training in horizontal jumping focuses on developing speed, technique and strength. This usually entails breaking the jump into its components and performing them repeatedly with proper technique. Up to 75% of training time may be spent on perfecting the approach run.

Jumpers build strength and power through weight and plyometric training as well as jumping.

To be able to control the position and posture of the body while in motion, both on the ground and in the air, the athlete must also develop kinesthetic awareness – a feel for the body and how it moves. Drills and repetition refine this sense.

Since much of the training they do is quite demanding, jumpers require plenty of rest for their legs to recover. Generally, 48 hours are required to recover from a strenuous workout.

Cardiovascular fitness
Horizontal jumpers have good levels of cardiovascular fitness, but this is less important than in the long-distance endurance events.

Speed drills
Speed drills are incorporated into the training programme, as a rapid pace in the approach run (tempered by control) is needed to provide energy for the jump. Training focuses on increasing the athlete's sprint speed and ability to convert that speed into a well-executed jump.

Resistance training and muscles
The body needs to be very powerful, and able to ‘explode’ off the ground at take-off. Resistance training, particularly of the leg and thigh muscles, is essential to achieve this.

Reaction time
Reaction speed plays a minor role in the horizontal jumps. Knowing at which point to make the take-off is more a result of repetition in training than quick reaction.

Endurance training
Endurance is not the main focus of training.

Nutrition
Nutrition plans for jump athletes are designed to improve muscle strength and supply them with sufficient energy for short bursts of activity. Thus diet includes carbohydrate-rich foods that provide fuel for training, as well as protein-rich foods for building muscle. Many nutritionists recommend following up a resistance session with a ‘recovery snack’ containing high levels of protein and carbohydrate, to enhance recovery. It may be even more valuable to have this snack immediately before the workout. Athletes typically eat a number of meals and snacks (from five to nine) spaced throughout the day and according to their training and competition schedule.

Mental
Horizontal jumpers do not have to overcome inhibitions caused by fear of injury to the same extent high jumpers and pole vaulters do. However, they too need to have a high level of confidence so that they go all out in the take-off, and the basis of this confidence is thorough training.

It can be helpful for a long jumper to visualise each element of the jump prior to performing it. The aim of many repetitions of the jump in training, though, is so that the athlete can eventually perform its various parts as a seamless whole.

Drugs
Horizontal jumpers, like other power and sprint athletes, may be tempted to use performance enhancers like steroids, which can have serious negative side-effects.

 
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