The Mysterious Penultimate Step
What could be controversial, argued, and still misunderstood in high jump technique and high jump coaching? The penultimate step of course! Coaches see the step differently and often, have different opinions about the second-to-last step’s purpose.Embed from Getty Images
The penultimate step or penultimate stride is the second to last step before an athlete takes off! It’s used extensively in the long jump and high jump.
Many expert coaches believe the penultimate step is part of the jumpers takeoff and argue most jumpers and coaches don’t know how to use it properly or coach it properly.
According to Bob Meyers, University of Arizona head coach,
My feeling is that poor take-off technique is an important factor in bad jumping. Every season I see countless jumpers, from the beginners to sub-elite with poor take-off mechanisms. In my opinion, the penultimate step is the key to takeoff technique and one of the least understood aspects in the jumping events. I believe that we, as coaches, could do a better job with the talent available by gaining a better understanding of the final two steps in the jumping events (https://www.iaaf.org/download/downloadnsa?filename=7f56fbf6-35f2-45b4-9ec2-d1afe80584a7.pdf&urlslug=improving-the-penultimate-step-in-the-jumping).
What is the purpose of a good penultimate step? That answer is determined by looking forward to the last step or Ultimate Step! No matter how you view the mechanics of the penultimate step, it must set up the body to transition into the takeoff step. The takeoff step and body angles are universally agreed on. Below is a blurry photo of what I consider one of the best examples of the takeoff body angles needed by high jumpers. The penultimate step MUST prepare the jumper to fall into these angles!
According to John Evans,
The penultimate step mainly functions to lower the center of mass prior to takeoff to allow the jumper to move vertically (https://elitetrack.com/penultimatestep/).
With high jumping, the center-of-mass (COM) lowers in the jumper by leaning back. The knee bends and the hips bend as well but the leaning back allows the COM to drop towards the end of the penultimate step.Embed from Getty Images
How It Works
Here is a list of movements that need to happen in the penultimate step.
- Penultimate plant leaves the curve slightly
- Dorsi-flex foot-plant starts if it hasn’t already
- Arm movement stops from the running motion and become set back until takeoff
- Hips and knees are flexed at plant
- COM begins to move over the strides after plant, this happens with the hips moving forward and shoulders moving back
- The jumper thinks “belly button moves forward”
- Penultimate step is quick
- A shorter stride than previous strides (ultimate step is even shorter)
Watch this video of Gianmarco Tamberi and you will see him step off the curve a bit and lower his COM on the penultimate step. Please also note how the last two steps are shorter than the others. Slowing the playback down to quarter speed is beneficial.
How To Develop The Penultimate Step
Practice, practice, practice! It’s useful to go through the motions with the jumpers slowly with many pauses in order for them to grasp the angles needed. Once the comprehension is strong, its time to apply drills.
I like this YouTube video for penultimate step development because it separates the last two strides from the rest of the approach.
Here’s another great YouTube training video showing the jumper landing on the penultimate step, flexing the knee and hip, moving the COM over the step, and almost jumping into the last step with correct angles and belly button forward. I like how the arms remain behind his back so all he can focus on are the steps.
While still controversial, there are many ways to perceive the penultimate step but one priority is certain, IT MUST set a jumper up for the takeoff step.
Oh, one more thing….. try to remember what Coach Evans says about how the takeoff leg is used on the last step: “the take-off leg is used more like a pole vault pole”. If you can imagine that, then molding the penultimate step will be easy!