Mike Powell Offers Advice and Drills for Long Jumpers

Mike Powell set the world long jump record in 1991. Mike Powell/Getty Images

American Mike Powell broke Bob Beamon’s long-standing world long jump record at the 1991 World Championships, with a leap measuring 8.95 meters (29 feet, 4½ inches). He won six U.S. long jump championships, two world championships plus a pair of Olympic silver medals. He went on to coach jumpers, both privately and at UCLA. The following article is taken from Powell’s presentation at the 2008 Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association seminar. In this article, Powell discusses the long jump philosophy he employed as a competitor and continues to employ as a coach.

The importance of a good approach run:

“The thing that I try to tell coaches, get your athletes to think of the long jump as a vertical jump. It’s really not a horizontal jump. The distance comes from the speed.

“I believe that the approach is 90 percent of the jump. It sets up the rhythm, it sets up the takeoff, and that’s really the majority of the work. Once you leave the ground this whole distance that you can go is already pre-determined (by) the amount of speed you have at takeoff, your hip height, takeoff angle and the amount of force you put into the ground. All you can do when you get into the air is take away from that.”

Coaching points for the approach:

“When you’re teaching athletes the approach, don’t put them on the runway, because the first thing they’re going to do is go, ‛I’m going to get to that board.’ And I tell my athletes, ‛Don’t worry about the board. The board is for the officials. That’s for track meets.’ What you want the athlete to do is do their run and put their foot down where it’s supposed to come down. And then we can coach. We can tell them, ‛OK, move back four feet.’ Or ‛Move it up three feet,’ or, ‛You came up too fast in your transition phase.’”

"What you want to do on the runway, in the long jump and the triple jump, you want to create the illusion that the runway is short ... and by the time they (bring their head up, they think) ‛Whoa, there’s the board!’ And it’s quick. But if they start running and pop up and (think), ‛Oh, where’s the board? Way down there. How am I ever going to get there?’ they start looking around. ... You want to get them to think about the whole way down there.”

How to help young long jumpers with the start of their approach:

“Have somebody back there watching them. ... Partner your athletes up with somebody in practice and have them watch where their foot hits (to begin the approach), to make sure it’s consistent, because if they’re off back there, they’re going to be off at the end, too. It doesn’t matter what they do (for a walk-up or run-up). I did a four-step and two jogging steps into my walk-up. Some people do one step. Carl Lewis did a standing step. The main thing is that it’s consistent. It’s the same thing each time. It should be a measured distance. ... I walked four steps, started to run and then hit my checkmark.”

A good drill for the drive phase:

“Get them to pull the sled, but not digging the sled. Get them to pull the sled with some speed. You don’t want them spending so much time on the ground. That’s the kind of feeling you want to have. At the same time, though, try to get them to get a rhythm in their run. Because remember, it’s a small series of bounds down the runway.”

The importance of speed:

“You want to distribute your energy throughout the run. The main thing is, how fast are you going at takeoff, and how did you get there? You want to get there using the least amount of energy as possible so you can save it for the takeoff.


“I have an athlete who made the world championship team (in 2007). His (previous) coach told him to get out and stand up and cruise to the board and I’m like, ‛No, no, no.’ You want to accelerate into the board. If you think about it in a physics way, speed times height equals distance. You’ve got to go as fast as you can but at a speed that you can control. When Carl Lewis was jumping, he ran on the track in a certain way, but on a runway he ran differently. Because he couldn’t handle it. (The approach is) basically a small series of bounds down the runway, getting faster and faster, to a big bound at the end.


It’s not a sprint, because it’s hard to take off and go vertical when you’re sprinting ... From the beginning, get your athletes to think about being fast at the board. Now obviously you’re not going to start off slow. There’s different types of running. ... So it’s about that optimal speed that you can handle at takeoff, get up in the air and land without killing yourself.”

Whether young jumpers should count their steps during the approach:

“Once they start the competitions, you don’t necessarily want them counting the whole way. But if you get them started early in the year, start them counting – it’s kind of like the words to a song. At first you have to say the words, and you have to say them over and over again, and the next thing you know you can just hum it ... but first you have to learn the words, and if you don’t know the words to the song, you can’t sing it. So you ask your athletes, ‛What are you doing?’ (They respond): ‛I’m in my drive phase, I’m doing three cycles, I’m standing up.’ Ask them what they’re doing. Actually make them say it.”

The takeoff:

“You’re supposed to jump off of the weaker leg. The strong leg is the leg that is going to get you up in the air. (If young jumpers want to use the wrong foot) you can change them, but if they don’t want to change, don’t make them. It’s got to be a thing that they are willing to do and that their body’s willing to do.”

The importance of learning proper technique:

“The main thing that you want to tell your athletes is, when they’re sprinting or jumping, the more time you spend on the ground, the slower they’re going to go. The more time they spend on the ground in the jump, the lower they’re going to go. The more force they put into the ground, to get off the ground, the faster and higher and longer they’re going to go. ... When you hit the ground you create energy, whenever your muscle contracts you create energy. So when you hit the ground that energy can either be a short burst that can help you lift off the ground, or you can hit it and then all the energy just disperses.”

On not looking at the takeoff board:

“If they look at the board they’re going to foul. If they start looking at the board from four- to-six steps out they’re going to find a way to change their steps to get to the board and they’re going to look at it and they’re going to probably be over it. They’re going to lose their speed, they’re going to lose their hip height. Tell them just to put their foot down. Even at a competition, I say, ‛Don’t adjust. If your first jump is a foul, OK, that’s a warning. Now we know. (The next jump) we’ll move back and you should be in the middle of the board if you do everything else correctly.’ But in practice always tell them never to adjust to the board. If you’re six feet over, or six feet behind, put that foot down (and let the coach make any necessary adjustments).”

Landing drills for young long jumpers:

“Start off from a standing position, standing long jumps. Have them throw the arms out forward, drive the knees to the chest, and while they drive the knees to the chest the hips are going to rotate underneath, have them keep the torso upright, extend the heels, hit the sand, and either pull to the side or pull through that way. Start doing that with a standing start, and when they get used to that, get them to take one step back, to make it more like a long jump. Then go two steps back.”

Read Mike Powell’s step-by-step long jump tips, plus an illustrated guide to long jump technique.