The most important thing in the pole vault is safety. Hands down. Nothing tops health and the ability to compete in the event in the first place. Second to safety is performance. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to set yourself up to vault safely and optimize your performance at the same time? I’d like to think yes, but there is not an exact solution to this, nor will there ever be…It is just the nature of the event. What I can do is provide some insight on the event in regards to the hazards or problems within coach/athlete decision-making as well as give you some tips on how to set your workouts up for success.
Pole Vault Safety and Decision Making
There is no end to the list of safety precautions that should be taken into account in this event. The coach, athletes and officials can all be doing their part to help keep the event safe. This means communicating if the pole vault pit is not centered or if there are gaps in the mats, if the pole looks or feels too big or too small, if the box collar (that we all love) is not positioned correctly…the list goes on. It is always better to speak up about something than not speak up at all. If the coach, athlete or official is annoyed that you keep asking questions or saying things, just respond with, “I just want to keep the event safe. Thank you for double checking.” Then again, if you have no idea what you’re talking about, I probably wouldn’t say anything at all…
More importantly, what I want to do is introduce or review a couple of things with you in regards to the vaulter’s weight and pole size, grip, and approach/run. This is not a focus on technique, although the vaulting style or form can have an affect on a vaulter’s safety.
Am I too big to vault on this pole?
That depends…It is CRUCIAL the coach and athlete are on the same page about the vaulter’s weight. What I mean by that is, not only do they need to know the exact amount the vaulter weighs, but they need to determine if that weight is suitable for the vaulter and the poles they are using. With this number they can then get an accurate idea as to how “big” or “small” the pole really is that they are vaulting on. In most US states, being on a pole that is below your body weight is illegal in high school competition (for NCAA athletes this does not apply, but is still important to understand). This means, for instance, if I have a vaulter who weighs 151 pounds it would be illegal for them to vault on a 150 pound rated pole in a high school competition. So, the first step to ensuring you are following the rules and also making sure your vaulter isn’t on too soft of a pole is to make sure they weigh below the label at the top of the pole. If your vaulter cannot safely vault on a pole at or above his or her body weight, then I suggest shortening the length of the pole. A 15′ 170 is going to be a heck of a lot stiffer than a 14′ 170, and so on…
Not quite yet…Grip height is one of those subjects that a lot of coaches disagree on. I’ll start by telling you my take. I believe you should vault with whatever grip height makes you go the highest. Pretty simple haha! Unfortunately, it takes a while to figure that out. The best thing to do to stay safe and continue to figure out the appropriate grips for a vaulter is to start gripping lower than you really want to (yes this can make the pole more stiff). Depending on the pole length and level of vaulter, it is very rare that I allow my vaulters (or myself) to grip anywhere near the end of the pole at the start of the vault workout. As the workout or meet progresses, you should start moving your grip up, when needed, usually in one or two inch increments.
Just Run it Back…
Or not…Use a tape measure! Your approach length and run set up your whole vault. 90% or more of the vault takes place on the ground. It is pretty darn important you have that down fairly well. You must know where to run from before you expect to flip upside down on a bent pole and safely land in the pit. If there are inconsistencies in your run, you can take off with poor form, usually resulting in landing in the box or getting spit right back onto the runway.
Some issues I commonly see in the approach/run include:
- Running it back- rather than measuring out your run with a tape measure
- Inconsistency in speed and take off marks- due to impatience and lack of warm up
- Running from too long of an approach too often- only wanting to go long to jump “high”
- Running from too short of an approach too often- not confident from longer runs
- Poor posture- usually during the back of the approach and/or transitioning to plant and take off
Pole runs from approach lengths you usually run (or would like to run), as well as short pole and short approach workouts can help with confidence and posture on the runway. Once a vaulter has consistency, speed, and posture, it is usually okay to start moving them back to a longer approach length.
How Can I Start Solving Things Now?
I am going to provide 5 tips that will help keep the vaulter safe, build confidence, as well as optimize performance in practice and meets through developing consistency in technique and bar clearance.
Warm Up Properly
Your warm up should have two parts:
Dynamic Warm Up– Consisting of things like skipping variations, high knees, butt kicks, etc., as well as dynamic stretching, such as walking or jogging between stretches. This part of the warm up should also include loosening up your joints, hips and back.
Sprint Form Drills with a Pole– Similar to the dynamic warm up, this involves things like high knees, butt kicks, skipping, etc., but all of these are done holding a pole. You can also throw in a couple pole runs to get your legs moving a little faster.
Straight Pole Drills to Start Your Vault Workout
Incorporate a series of straight pole drills at the beginning of your vault workout after you have already warmed up. This enables the vaulter to focus on the mental cues within the event without putting too much stress on the body. This helps your body get used to moving down the runway and planting the pole. Click here for more straight pole drill ideas.
Bent Pole Drills After Your Straight Pole Drills
If done near the start of a vault workout or meet, bent pole drills always helped my body feel less of a shock when moving to longer approaches and higher bungee or bar heights. It helped me mentally and physically prepare for the end goal of the workout. More importantly, if you divvy up your technical objectives between bent pole drills it allows you to hone in on the exact parts of your vault you want to improve. If done correctly, the objective behind these drills will bleed off into your bungee or bar jumping that follows. For example, if I wanted to work on improving my posture and arms at take off, I would start my vault workout off with some straight pole drills then transition into the RPD, or Running Plant Drill. After maybe 3 or 4 RPD’s I may transition to another drill like the 3/4 Drill, or just go straight to a bungee. The RPD drill helped my body get used to planting a pole, and reminded me to keep my arms high and put pressure on the pole.
Start the Bungee/Bar Low at Vault Workouts or Meets
You should NOT start the bar or bungee at or even near your personal best in practice or at a meet. This causes the vaulter to think about the outcome instead of the process right at the start of a workout. That’s a big problem. Instead, I would suggest starting the bar about a foot and a half or two feet below your personal best. What’s important to remember is the bungee/bar should be used as a point of reference for a coach and/or athlete. The vaulter should ALWAYS be trying to focus on technical objectives during their vault, not worrying about where the bar is, or whether or not they made a “no touch”. It is an easy trap to fall into though. Instead, if you have consistency over a bar (maybe a couple makes or so) a couple feet below your personal best, move it up six inches or a foot and try to do the same thing. Soon, you will be so confident clearing bungees/bars close to your personal best. After doing this for several workouts, that next bar seem a little easier, or a lot easier than it did when you were starting your workouts out hooking your foot over the bar and almost landing in the box…
Start Small and Work Your Way Up
This is referring to pole size, grip, approach length, bungee/bar height, and anything and everything else that may get you hurt, or hurt your performance in the event. Here are some Do’s and Do Not’s that can either help you, or prevent you from starting small and working your way up:
- Only bring one or two poles to a workout or meet (if you can help it)
- Start on one of your biggest poles in your bag
- Grip at the end of the pole on your first jump
- Go straight to long approach
- Start the bungee or bar at or around your PR
- Raise your grip 6 inches or more between jumps
- Go up 10 or 15 pounds of pole between jumps (pole length has an affect on these numbers)
- Bring more than a of couple poles to workouts or meets (if you can)
- Start off on one of your smaller poles at or above your body weight
- Start gripping much lower than you ended at your last workout
- Take a couple vaults from a shorter approach, be it drill work or at a bungee
- Start the bungee or bar low and don’t skip more than 1 foot at a time
- If you want to raise your grip, raise it an inch or two at a time
- When going up poles, go up 5 pounds (at most) at a time