The following Dissected High Jump Approach information is largely made of my interpretation of high jump technique written and published by David Kerin, former USATF chair, successful collegiate and HS coach, requested speaker, and published author.
My high jump technique comprehension was above average before my exposure to Mr. Kerin’s ideas. I’ve previously coached many local youth champions with sound fundamentals. Since applying Mr. Kerin’s ideas at my 2019 summer jumps clinic however, one student improved his PR by 6″. Another student improved her PR by 8″.
The high jump approach is difficult. It’s difficult because it changes in un-natural ways. It’s also difficult because high pressure and high friction activities happen at high speeds.
Furthermore, the success of the jump depends on what happens on the ground, in the approach.
The approach is designed to:
Generate centripetal force
Generate backward summersault
The first half of the approach should create as much speed as needed to cause lift at takeoff. Furthermore, speed happens in the first half of the takeoff because the running is straight. It’s easy to increase speed when running a straight line. It’s hard to increase speed when running a curve. Conversely, jumpers who try to increase speed around the curve end up changing the curve to a straight line.
Running around a curve will create twist. In fact, the shape of the curve will encourage the jumper’s body to continue twisting in the shape of the curve after takeoff. Moreover, the jumper will twist automatically after takeoff and the jumper’s backside will turn to the bar during flight. In contrast, jumpers who lose the curved path in the approach have a hard time twisting to the bar and have to manufacture the movement unnaturally.
Centripetal force is defined as “a force that acts on a body moving in a circular path and is directed toward the center around which the body is moving”. In other words, the jumper’s body must lean further and further away from the crossbar as the approach ends. This means that the jumper’s steps around the curve progressively increase in angle until takeoff. In fact, the last few steps mirror the path of a spiral and cause greater lean in order to accommodate the changing foot angles. Conversely, jumpers who lose the spiral path will stand up on the last few steps and eliminate all centripetal force.
Lift happens when the centripetal force, lean, and speed marry each other at the right time. Like the tires on a car speeding around a curved road, massive friction happens on the feet because the friction of the shoes on the ground is the only thing holding the jumper in the curve. Additionally, massive force is pushed on the takeoff leg at the exact moment of marriage.
On the other hand, too much speed can blow through the takeoff if the backward lean doesn’t accommodate it. Furthermore, incorrect lean will miss the marriage point and poor centripetal force will cause a long jump instead of a high jump.
The abrupt stop must also happen in synchronicity with each other. Furthermore, the drive stopping motion and jump angle take the jumper from a heavy lean to straight up. This allows the centripetal force to continue moving the lower body in rotation above the upper body over the crossbar, the summersault.
Enemies to the backward summersault are poor speed and more importantly, poor lean. In fact, lack of lean means the jumper will most likely takeoff and block towards the bar. Moreover, lack of centripetal force in the no-lean moment causes the jumper to drag the lower body and not summersault.
High Jump Approach Diagram
Here are illustration recommendations for every step and portion of a 10-step high jump approach.
Before starting the run-up, a waggle area can be used for the jumper to relax. Additionally, jogging, leaning, and any movement that helps the jumper relax are acceptable.
Steps 3 and 4 are still increasing with speed but the jumper should use an upright running style by now.
By the way, the general running style for most of the approach is an upright running style. This means the jumper runs tall and upright with the shoulders and hips above the feet. Additionally, the upright running style includes the feet landing on the ground underneath the body and not out in front.
Step 5 begins the curve. As a matter of fact, the curve will happen with a subtle change in foot-plant angle and slight tilt in the shoulders, hips, and ankles.
Steps 5, 6, and 7 are the drifting zone of the high jump approach run. It is the start of the curve but happens gradually as the jumper drifts through the steps. Each step will increase in angle more than the radius of the previous step but it’s too minuscule to notice much.
As the step angles increase, the lean of the body increases evermore. The start of the spiral curve is here but still subtle.
Also, note that the jumper should use a dorsiflex running style through the high jump curve. That means the big toe is always pointed up.
Remember, we don’t want to run a circle with a perfect radius. Similarly, the step angles around a perfect radius are the same amount of degree increments. In other words, a curve whose steps increase 10 degrees every step is a perfect radius. It would look like step angles of 10 degrees, then 20 degrees, then 30 degrees, etc. There’s the same amount of change between steps.
We want the step angles to increase with each and every step. Even in the drift zone, the steps can increase 2 degrees, then increase 3 or 4 degrees, and then increase 10 degrees in relation to the crossbar. In the same way, the increasing angles start to generate more friction and force around the curve which establishes more and more centripetal force for lift.
Steps 5, 6, and 7 foot plants will also point well outside the nearest edge of the landing pit.
The Hardest Step
Step 8 is the start of serious foot angle increases to finish the pressure of the end of the approach. In fact, step 8 is often the cause of many jumpers downfall because they change direction to attack the crossbar and achieve step 9. This is bad because it causes the jumper to become upright and run a straight line. When this happens, all centripetal force is lost and the high jumper becomes a long jumper.
Hitting step 8 isn’t that hard from step 7 but performing the crossover motion with the furthest away leg and arm in order to hit step 9’s angle is difficult. Step 8 should be around 75 degrees to the crossbar and 10 degrees steeper than the previous step. In fact, a good rule of thumb is that the foot plant should point to the nearest corner of the high jump pit.
Step 9 should be around 55 degrees to the crossbar and 20 degrees steeper than the previous step. Equally, the foot plant should point at the center of the landing pit.
Step 9 is also the penultimate step. That means it’s the step when the jumper lowers their center-of-mass before the final step. Specifically in the COM movement, the jumper transitions from shoulders and hips over the feet to shoulders and also hips moving to a backward lean from the feet. Likewise, the backward lean is critical to handle the takeoff speed.
The centripetal lean is also in-place and continues to increase in preparation for step 10. Furthermore, this transition is easier than step 8 because the nearest leg and arm will land on step 10.
The Ultimate Step
Step 10 is the moment of truth because all movements prior will be exposed. It should also be around 25 degrees to the crossbar and 30 degrees steeper than step 9. In fact, a good rule of thumb is that the foot plant will point to near the furthest standard.
Additionally. the jumper arrives to step 10 with a steep lean backward accompanied by a steep lean inward. In fact, both are needed for lift. Furthermore, the edges of the foot should land first as the jumper rounds the curve. The foot should also land heel-to-toe and on the edge to begin and rolls to a flat position through the steps.
The actual foot plant should happen with a nearly but not quite straight plant leg. DON’T LOCK THE KNEE!!!!! Moreover, straight leg plants are strong and bent leg plants are weak.
At any rate, the jumper should feel like their COM passes outside the plant foot away from the bar. By the same token, the jumper can do this by imagining their hips moving outside of the plant foot. The actual COM will cross over the foot but when the jumper tries to keep it outside, it encourages a straight-up jump movement from the lean.
Another plant feeling from the jumper is to pull the plant leg into the plant with the glutes and hamstring as much as possible. This also encourages a straighter and stronger landing.
Finally, the jumper blocks hard with their leg and arm(s). The block should happen together in synchronicity. That means they start at the same time and stop at 90 degrees at the same time, hard! Additionally, the takeoff and blocking movements occur and bring the jumper from the severe lean to an upright, straight-up position. The jumper should never let takeoff and block movements head towards the crossbar. They should always move in a straight-up motion.
When executed correctly, speed, lean, timing, and centripetal force will launch the twisting, somersaulting jumper over high heights and create a deep center and middle area landing on the upper back. The force of the centripetal transfer will also make the jumpers legs and lower body roll backwards over the jumper upon landing.
After dissecting the high jump approach, we now know we have to generate speed, twist, centripetal force, and lift to be a successful high jumper. The path includes a waggle zone, a speed building zone, a drifting zone, and spiral-like-ever increasing and tighter curve until the takeoff launch.
When performed right, onlookers scratch their heads and high jumpers leap in ecstasy!