High Jump Takeoff Technique

Sequence of high jumper crossing bar
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The takeoff is where the fun begins for a high jumper. Granted, if the jumper’s approach wasn’t right, the fun won’t last long. But good takeoff technique remains important. High jump coach and 6-time All-American jumper Holly Thompson offered her advice on takeoff mechanics at the February 2013 Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association clinic. The following article is adapted from her presentation.

Upper Body Position at Takeoff

At the takeoff, everything is back away from the bar, everything’s at an angle. At the beginning of the approach, you're running, you’ve brought all of this speed, you're using quad strength. You get into the turn now, and the objective is still to have continued speed, leaning on the turn but staying away from this bar and keeping an angle of about 45 degrees so you have the ability to jump up and go up in the air. So keep everything back. The shoulders are going to be back behind the ankle joints, the hip joints. Shoulders back, inside shoulder drops down in order to jump up in the air.

Something you have to teach your athletes — you see this a lot, and it’s not bad — but especially a lot of high school athletes, they run and they do these big arms, a big gathering of the arms. It’s not horrible, but it’s a lot of extraneous movement. When you’re coming through the turn and you’re getting ready to jump, you’ve got to learn to hold that right arm back by itself (if you’re approaching from the right), to have the other arm come to meet it in order to jump.

On the takeoff, there are two types of arm movements you see. You see this double-arm punch, and then you see the one-arm drive. The Europeans all jump with the one-arm drive. It’s beautiful. It looks great. The better jumpers do it a lot. But it’s a hard thing to teach, so we usually teach the kids a double-arm punch. And you have to teach them the walking movement as they’re going through, that one arm has to stay and the other one comes to meet it and then it goes from there. So we do a lot of walking approaches, walking drills so they learn that position.

Hip and Feet Positioning at the Takeoff

There is a very slight lowering of the hips. If you get your hips down too low, what happens? Dead legs; nothing happens. There should be a slight lowering of the hips and a quick last two steps. It’s like you’re dunking a basketball in the gym. To dunk a basketball you have to do a quick last two steps in order to get up. Same thing. You can’t get down real low. So, quick last two steps, slight lowering of your center of gravity, making sure that all of this horizontal momentum is going vertical.

On the foot plant, you don’t want that foot crashing on the ground. You want a slight rolling from the heels, off the toe and a natural run off ground. High jumpers jump off the ground, but you’re only jumping because you’re converting this speed over those last two steps. Having a good vertical jump is of course important, but you need to know how to convert those last two steps.

The takeoff’s probably the easiest part of the high jump to fix. This is the part where you can really show your kids, you can stand there with a camera and film your kids and show them exactly what they do. There’s an app for your iPhone or iPad called Coach’s Eye. You can film the jump, play it back in slow motion, draw angles on it. You can do it right in practice and they can see right then. Use this stuff to really show the kids what they should be looking at.