A wiser and older coach once told me: “The higher the level of competition, the further away the coach is required to be from the field of competition.” As a jumps coach, my ultimate goal is to equip athletes with tools in order to self-correct under any circumstance. When the stakes are highest, I want athletes to have a checklist of items to use as a fall back for correct execution. This article aims to explain the importance of these technical components in the horizontal jumps event.
I’ve found that the development of a jumper’s technical awareness can be delayed if general parameters haven’t been developed and trained under various conditions. Most errors in the horizontal jumps (takeoff accuracy, rhythm disruptions, etc.) can be traced back to errors in the execution in three areas: Posture, Takeoff Contact Patterns, and Swinging Segments.
The introduction of event-specific training can be met with frustration without time spent on these items. Every athlete I’ve worked with had a great deal of support work included in their training plan. Once simple tasks are mastered, more complex skills are learned at a faster rate.
Generally, posture is the body’s position while standing, lying, sitting or during movement. In athletics, good posture is expressed by proper alignment of:
The balance of muscle groups on each side of these joints allows for sport movement to function gracefully. Improvement in the technical model of the jump events involves developing the jumper’s general and specific proprioception. The enhancement of that awareness needs to be addressed in ways other than in the event itself. We use the units of training below to aid in teaching postural awareness:
Static flexibility exercises
Dynamic flexibility exercises
General strength circuits
Medicine ball circuits
Volumes, densities, and work to rest ratios are based on an individual’s needs, strengths and weaknesses. General strength circuits involve multiple variations of squats, jumps and core exercises using the body’s mass as its main resistance. Multi-jumps involve multi-directional jumping exercises that can also teach proper usage of the body’s segments as well as takeoff contact patterns. Sprint drills and multi-throws develops coordination between muscles and within a muscle itself. Hurdle mobility challenges awareness by moving limbs and body parts over, under and around an obstacle. Medicine ball circuits teach jumpers how to absorb impact and redirect forces.
Jump-specific posture cannot be considered correct without the athlete’s knowledge of the body’s position. General sport posture developed under a variety of speeds, conditions and environments set the foundation for teaching specialized movements. Awareness grows as focused intent is learned and reinforced by the coach.
Takeoff Contact Patterns
It is often assumed by coaches that takeoff mechanics occur naturally for athletes. But how many of us can explain how to contact and leave the board? Proper takeoff contact patterns turn the lower legs into springs by taking advantage of the elastic qualities of the quad, calf, ankle and knee. It is my belief that building a frame of reference, from a general standpoint, gives jumpers another foundational platform that leads to event-specific activities.
In preparation for impact, ankle dorsiflexion is observed just before contact with the takeoff board. Dorsiflexion of the ankle creates a rigid and stiff lower leg, ready to absorb forces produced from the approach run. Sound takeoff mechanics are often described by coaches as a “rolling” or “rocking chair” contact, a heel to toe movement. Amortization skills have to do with the ability to absorb forces. It can affect, for example, a long jumper’s lowering abilities in the penultimate step or a triple jumper’s fluidity from the hop phase to the jump phase. For this reason, a rudimentary jump circuit is prescribed to athletes within the first two weeks of an annual training plan to introduce takeoff mechanics.
Double foot forward
Double foot backward
Double foot laterally
Single foot forward
Single foot backward
Single foot laterally
Left, left, right, right
Skips for height
Skips for distance
The multi-jump examples above create a safe and controlled environment for teaching contact patterns. Double and single foot hops require the rise of the center of mass to be restricted while uniform joint extension and flexion is developed. Variables such as surface used, height of flight, and distance covered depends on the training age, time of year, health and needs of the individual. Holding a medicine ball in various positions (overhead, on each side, behind back, or in front) as well as using commands increases the degree of difficulty.
* Training Resource: Unique Features of the Triple Jump
Skips for height and skips for distance add power and speed to the equation. Are the jumpers’ balanced? Do they absorb forces well? Can they redirect them in the proper direction? You can rest assure that issues in the long and triple jumps will manifest itself in simple exercises such as skips and other rudimentary activities.
Swinging segments refer to an athlete’s limbs – shoulders, arms, hips and legs. Limb control assists with producing large amplitudes of motion in the jumping events, whether it be in the approach, takeoff or flight. Have you seen a triple jumper takeoff in the middle of the board, only to land to the far left or right of the sandpit? What about a long jumper who flexes greatly at the hip, similar to a cannonball, immediately after takeoff? I would say that these errors can be corrected by bringing attention to the benefit of limb awareness.
We will always lose the battle against the force of gravity as it pulls us towards the center of the earth. Yet, how forceful we are brought down depends partially on an athlete’s limb proprioception. Extension of the levers makes ground contact feel graceful and makes landings less jarring. Swinging through large arcs keeps the hips in a neutral position, in relation to the trunk and spine. Faulty second phase in the triple jump? Look backwards; pay attention to how the arms, legs are contributing, or not contributing, to takeoff stability.
The rhythm of the takeoff compared to the rhythm of the approach feels slower to horizontal jumpers. Long levers directly affect the timing of takeoff contact patterns by allowing more time spent at takeoff. The best way to counteract this change of rhythm is through good posture and extension of the opposing side of the body.
There may be multiple variations of segment usage (single-arm, double-arm, hitch/hang, etc.) between long and triple jump. This has more to do with an athlete’s style versus the technique of the event. Style is a variable that depends on the training age and competency level of the individual. Each style has the same objective: protect the trunk from unwanted rotation.
The array of exercises a coach can use to teach posture, takeoff contact patterns and swinging segments are limited only by one’s imagination. If applied systematically, all three combined can lay the groundwork for more advanced jumps technical training. Each technical component has a direct relationship with each other. As discussed throughout this article: Postural skills affect the timing of the swinging segments. The length of the swinging segments affects the timing of takeoff patterns. Optimal takeoff contacts are affected by the postural skills of the jumper.
Coaching Resource: Workout Progressions for Sprints & Jumps
In conclusion, a jumper who has developed their proprioception under multiple conditions and environments equates to a prepared athlete in the field events. Learning to adapt to different training conditions supports an athlete finding his or her individual, dependent performance pattern. Proprioception is the body’s “listening skills.” During a competition, instead of being result-based, we are giving athletes reference points for problem-solving by teaching the three technical components. Cultivate superior body listening skills, technique will always evolve and change throughout an athlete’s career.