Positions in the Pole Vault: Keeping Energy in Your Vault

The technical positions referenced in this post are used to help the vaulter flow from one part of their vault to the next.  Passing through these positions with technical efficiency allows the vaulter to transfer the energy created through the run, into the takeoff and the rest of the vault.  Because one position sets up the next, when one position is faulty, the rest of the vault suffers due to the timing, or loss energy during that phase of the vault.

For instance, lets say I run down the runway with good speed, get my plant up early, have a great “C“, “Cord” and “L“, but then I hit a very low “J” position.  My feet are nowhere near my top hand and my butt is way below my shoulders.  What’s the result? In most cases, my feet would start shooting down towards the pit and I would have a hard time hitting a proper “I” position, and so on.  Thus, hitting that low “J” position caused my energy that was once traveling vertically towards the top of my pole to travel horizontally, causing me to “hip” the bar.  Keep reading…you will get what I mean by the end…

But his straight trail leg looked so cool…But I saw Bubka do it…But he got inverted…

The vault is not a beauty contest.  The vault doesn’t care what you look like.  The vault is a game of vaulting the highest. Period.  When you create enough energy and are on a big enough pole to utilize that energy, all that matters is that energy comes out the top of the pole, to the vaulter, and sends them over the bar.  These positions weren’t made up because it just seemed like the way it should look.  The way people vault in this day and age is a direct result of decades of vaulters before us experimenting with what works and what doesn’t.  70 years ago vaulters had soft bottom arms, were vaulting on super long and stiff poles, running 28 stride approaches around trees and spectators, and landing in saw dust.  Then, people had stiff bottom arms with massive drive knees and straight trail legs. Now you see people taking off super far outside, dropping their drive knees, and some bending their trail legs.  The event is constantly changing on an athlete by athlete basis.  First thing to remember, all that matters is how high you (or your vaulter) go, not what you look like in comparison to some other vaulter.   Second, everyone is going to look a little different, that’s just the pole vault.  Heck, my brothers and I all followed the same system and all look entirely different.  But, referencing these positions gave us an understanding as to why we were doing what we were doing.  Last, all I can do is provide what I find is the best way to cue and reference positions in the pole vault for me, my family and the vaulters I coach.  So, moral of the story… learn these positions because they are important to understand and reference, not because they make the vault look cool.

The Positions

The positions we reference in our system of vaulting are the “C“, “Cord“, “L”,J“, “I“, “Dotting the i” and “U“.  The pictures and descriptions below should give you a basic understanding of each position and why it is important, then I suggest you watch the video at the bottom of the page to get another visual of what I am talking about.

C

In the “C” the vaulter just left the runway for take off.  The top arm should be extended and back behind their head and the bottom arm should be up in front of their face, putting pressure on the pole to allow it to bend and roll through the pit.  The drive knee should be up, close to parallel with the runway and the chest should be up and tall.  On this particular jump I could have probably benefited from having my bottom arm a bit higher.

c
C

 

Cord

The “Cord” is a great reference for the vaulter’s swing.  The longer the pendulum, from the top hand to the bottom of the trail leg, the more force and energy is generated in the swing and hopefully to the top of the pole.  This is why you don’t see many top level vaulters break their trail leg down, if they do at all, until after they get through the “Cord” and “L“.  In the “Cord” the vaulter is still applying pressure on the pole.  You should be able to draw a straight line from the top hand, through the trail leg, to the box. The knee drive is up, because this also helps swing the trail leg up and continues to move the pole into the pit.

cord
Cord

 

L

The “L” is where the pole should be at or around 90 degrees of bend.  The arms are still putting pressure on the pole, whether that is an extended or slightly bent bottom arm, and the knee drive is up and trail leg is straight.  This is where some vaulters, including myself and my brothers, might let the trail leg curl in a bit.  I found the longer a vaulter keeps their trail leg straight, the better.  But every vaulter is different.

L
L

 

J

The “J” is one of the most important positions in the vault, especially for high school level vaulters.  I probably say the letter “J” a couple dozen times every vault practice.  This is the start of the “getting upside down” or “inverted” phase of the vault.  Seeing your shins at your top hand is the biggest cue here.  The higher you can get your feet in this position, the more your butt is above your shoulders.  If you put yourself in a high “J” position, when the pole starts to recoil (straighten out), you have a much better chance of being thrown vertically rather than horizontally.  Along with those things, your bottom arm will start to collapse, but you are still applying a bit of pressure on the pole.

J
J

 

I

Although each position sets the next up, the “I” is a direct result of the vaulter’s “J” position.  After the “J“, the vaulter pulls their right hand from their shins to their right quad (right- handed vaulters).  In this position, the right hand should be on the right quad, the bottom arm collapsed, and the feet together and pointing upward.  If the right hand is not on the right quad, and is instead between the legs, the vaulter will have a late turn.  If the right hand is on the left quad, the vaulter will likely “flag off” and hip the bar.  Last, the head is not dropping out of the vault at this point.

I
I

 

Dotting the i

Dotting the i” means turning your head to look down your pole.  It is an extension of the “I” position.  By turning your head to look down your pole, your body follows that movement and your hips rotate.  So long as the vaulter had a high “J” and a tight “I” position, the body should turn up the pole rather than away and down.  The right hand drags up the quad, to the hip, and past the hip.  The feet stay tight pointing upwards.

Dotting the i
Dotting the i

 

U

The “U” is the ultimate “bar awareness” position.  Every vaulter has a different way of clearing the bar, usually a result of their vaulting style and positioning.  If the vault is executed fairly well, and enough energy was created throughout the vault, the vaulter should be sent with their hips high in the air and chest and arms hanging on the runway side of the crossbar or bungee.  You hope the kick out of the pole is enough to send you over with a clearance, but rounding your chest and clearing your arms out of the way is key.  I always had a lot of trouble with my “U“.  My shoulders always struggled a bit to get my arms out of the way, resulting in a lot of misses throughout my career by hitting the bar off with my elbows.  It can be addressed and fixed with the proper drills.

u
U

 

Conclusion

Use these positions as cues and references for you or your vaulters.  I believe everyone can benefit from a better understanding of how and why the vault works the way it does. Check out the video below to see what I am talking about.

 

See the position pictures below of Luke Winder’s 2014 Illinois High School State Championship vault of 17’3″.

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