Illustrated High Jump Technique

High jumper
Ty Allison / Getty Images

The most exciting moment in the high jump occurs when the jumper soars through the air and tries to clear the bar. But that payoff moment is the result of a longer, more complex process. The high jump combines techniques used in running and hurdling, as well as jumping events. It’s the approach run that generates the speed that gives a high jumper the power to leap over the bar. At the same time, the approach run must be controlled – as in the hurdles – by employing the same stride pattern on each jump, to complete the approach at the proper takeoff spot. Young high jumpers, therefore, should begin by developing a consistent approach run, then learn the proper takeoff and flight techniques. If you don’t get the approach right, you won’t need to know how to clear the bar because you won’t jump high enough to do so.

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Approach - Start

This Australian high jumper leans forward slightly as he begins his approach. He'll no doubt straighten up quickly, however. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

High jumpers generally employ a 10-step approach – five steps in a straight line, then five steps along an arc that curve toward the bar. Generally, right-handed jumpers begin by standing about 10 strides back from the right standard, plus five strides to the right. You may wish to make a checkmark at your starting point, then make a second mark about five strides forward, at the transition point from straight to curved running. The marks, as well as the number of strides in the approach, can be adjusted if necessary, but once you have your marks on the track it’s important to always hit them precisely.

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Approach - Straight Run

Great Britain's Kelly Sotherton runs straight ahead during the early phase of her approach, at the 2008 World Indoor championships. Notice her erect running stance. The white marks on the track are checkmarks. Michael Steele/Getty Images

A standard 10-step approach begins by pushing off with the takeoff foot. Start slowly, then accelerate throughout the approach. Again, your approach speed can be tweaked if needed, but it should remain as consistent as possible from jump to jump. Somewhat like a distance runner, you can start the high jump approach in a bit of a crouch, but you should be running fully erect by the third step. Continue to accelerate while running in a straight line until the fifth step, which should land on your second checkmark. Prior to hitting the mark, turn your non-takeoff foot slightly to the middle of the track, pointing the toe in the direction of the nearest standard, to initiate the curve toward the bar.

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Approach - Curve

This high jumper is running in an arc toward the bar, during the second phase of his approach. Notice that he's leaning to his left, away from the bar. Gray Mortimore/Getty Images

On the sixth step, your takeoff foot lands in front of the non-takeoff foot to continue the arc. At the same time, lean away from the bar by flexing at the ankles. Continue to accelerate while maintaining the arc toward the bar, with each step falling in front of the previous step. Continue to lean away from the bar. Keep your head up, body erect and focus your vision above the bar, toward the far standard. On your final two steps, your feet should land flat on the ground.

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Takeoff - Double Arm

This high jumper is taking off using a double-arm pump technique. Her right thigh is parallel to the ground and helping her to rotate so her back will be over the bar. Stu Forster/Getty Images

Don’t make the mistake of taking off in front of the center of the bar. You want to take off before you reach that point, so your momentum carries you over the center – which is the bar’s lowest point. Plant the takeoff foot (which will be farthest from the bar) in front of you, with the toe pointing toward the far standard, and drive your other leg and both arms straight up (not across your body), while keeping them close to your body. The thigh on the non-takeoff leg should be roughly parallel to the ground while your arms punch up to head level. Look down on the bar with your chin tight to your chest. Leave the free leg up as the takeoff leg rises into a similar position. It’s important to remember that the takeoff is a vertical jump. Maintain your lean away from the bar and jump up, allowing your momentum to carry you over the bar.

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Takeoff - Single Arm

Germany's Ulrike Meyfarth employs the single-arm technique on her way to a gold medal at the 1972 Olympics. Notice how her left arm is tight to her body to avoid disrupting her vertical momentum. Tony Duffy/Getty Images

Alternatively, you can take off while only pumping your outside arm. This generally allows for greater speed but be careful that the non-pumping arm doesn’t move inside, shifting your momentum and causing you to jump into the bar. Pumping both arms straight up helps keep your body moving straight up. If you're a new jumper, try both the single- and double-arm techniques to see which one works best for you.

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Flight - Arching Your Body

Sweden's Stefan Holm has rotated his body to put his back over the bar. Notice how his head is thrown back and his body arched as his hips clear the bar. Andy Lyon/Getty Images

The takeoff leg should continue toward the bar as your other leg, shoulders, and hips rotate until your back is to the bar. Your heels should be close to your backside with your knees apart. From this point forward, the position of your head is critically important. The head, obviously, will clear the bar first. As your shoulders clear the bar, tip your head back, move your hands to your thighs and arch your body to allow the hips to pass over the bar.

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Flight - Clearing Your Legs

American Amy Acuff tucks her chin toward her chest and moves her arms to her sides during the 2004 Olympics. She'll complete the jump by straightening out her legs. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Once your hips have cleared the bar, move your head forward, tucking your chin toward your chest, and kick your legs up – in effect, straightening them – as they pass above the bar.

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Flight - Finish

Dick Fosbury, who popularized the current high jump technique, leaped to gold at the 1968 Olympics. Tony Duffy/Allsport/Getty Images

Once you clear the bar, spread your arms and then your legs - to slow your momentum - then enjoy the ride down until you land on your upper back.