penultimate step

Penultimate Step And Its Mystery.

What is controversial and misunderstood by high jumpers and coaches?  The penultimate step of course! Coaches see the second-to-last step differently and have different opinions about its purpose.

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Penultimate Step Definition.

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.

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Many expert coaches believe the penultimate step is part of the jumpers takeoff.  Coaches argue most people don’t know how to use it properly or coach it properly.

In fact, Bob Myers, University of Arizona head coach stated:

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 second-to-last 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.

Purpose Of The Penultimate Step.

What is the purpose of a good second-to-last step? The answer is determined by looking forward to the last step or Ultimate Step!

No matter how you view the mechanics of the second-to-last 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. The penultimate step MUST prepare the jumper to fall into these angles!

ultimate step after the penultimate step
Takeoff Step photo courtesy of www.nytrackstarz.org

According to John Evans at elitetrack.com, “the penultimate step mainly functions to lower the center of mass prior to takeoff to allow the jumper to move vertically”. 

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 second-to-last step.

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How The Penultimate Step Works.

Here is a list of movements that happen in the second-to-last step.

  1. Second-to-last step foot plant leaves the curve slightly
  2. Dorsi-flex foot-plant starts if it hasn’t already
  3. Arm movement stops from the running motion and set back until takeoff
  4. Hips and knees flex at the plant
  5. COM moves over the strides after plant, this happens with the hips moving forward and shoulders moving back
  6. The jumper thinks “belly button moves forward”
  7. The second-to-last step is quick
  8. 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 slightly and lower his COM on the second-to-last 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! Go through the motions with the jumpers slowly with many pauses. Once the comprehension is strong, apply drills.

I like this YouTube video because it describes the second-to-last step development and separates the last two strides from the rest of the approach.

Here’s another great YouTube training video because it shows the jumper landing on the penultimate step. Furthermore, the video shows the jumper flexing the knee and hip, moving the COM over the step, and almost jumping into the last step with correct angles. Additionally, his belly button is forward. I  also like how his arms remain behind his back so he can focus on the steps.

While still controversial, there are many ways to perceive the second-to-last step. In the end, the second-to-last step MUST set a jumper up for the takeoff step.

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Oh, one more thing. Remember what Coach Meyers said about how the takeoff leg is used on the last step.

The takeoff leg is used more like a pole vault pole!

If you can imagine that, then molding the penultimate step is easy!

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