Pole Vault: Preparation For Moving Onto A Longer Pole
Once the decision has been made to move onto a longer pole several preparatory steps should be taken in order to make certain that the transition is efficient and safe.
One of the most common factors that will inhibit the move to a longer vaulting pole is poor plant mechanics. By not optimizing the mechanisms of the plant, the vaulter will experience difficulty transferring the available energy. Therefore, the plant mechanics must first be perfected to optimize the chances of the vaulter safely moving to a longer pole. Plant Objective 1: The vaulter should be planting the pole without sacrificing approach speed – if the vaulter is slowing during the final three steps the cause should be determined and changed. Plant Objective 2: Create as large an angle between the pole and the ground as possible prior to the pole contacting the back of the planting box – the vaulter’s legs, torso, shoulders, and arms should be completely extended creating the largest angle possible for that vaulter as the pole contacts the back of the planting box. The body/arm extension will prevent bent levers and joints thus avoiding energy from being absorbed during the takeoff. Plant Objective 3: Raise the center of gravity of the vaulter/pole unit – Accelerate thought the planting strides while running tall/erect and plant the pole as high as possible. Plant Objective 4: Complete the plant in a vertical plane as close to the upper torso as possible – The pole’s plant pathway and resulting inertia will not detract from the available forces which would place the vaulter’s body in an awkward or inefficient position.
The phases of the pole vault often behave similar to the “domino effect” where subsequent actions and motions are the result of previous actions. Therefore, poor plant technique can and will adversely affect the takeoff. However, a great plant will set the stage for a great takeoff. Nevertheless, the takeoff objectives must also be as close to ideal as can be managed by the vaulter. Takeoff Objective 1: Create a high takeoff angle with as little speed loss as possible – It has been determined that an angle of approximately 18 degrees is the ideal angle for an ideal takeoff. The angle must not be too much above or below the 18 degree target or the vaulter’s forward velocity and/or pole rotation velocity will be affected. Furthermore, a takeoff angel of approximately 18 degrees is adequate to place the available energy and forces in a position relative to the way the pole and the pole’s sail piece function efficiently. Takeoff Objective 2: Takeoff from a point which is most efficient for the individual athlete - if the vaulter is not able to takeoff from a point at or near their plumb takeoff point a velocity loss and an altered takeoff angle will result, therefore, accuracy in leaving the ground from a near ideal location is quite important. Takeoff Objective 3: Prepare for an efficient bend and optimal rotation of the pole and rotation of the vaulter – During the takeoff the vaulter’s body position and technique should be at or near the ideal model for the maximum amount of energy to be stored and to set the stage for the “Follow-through Phase” or the next phase of the vault.
As with the previous two phases, the quality of the follow-through phase is greatly dependent on the quality of the preceding phases. Furthermore, a well-executed follow-through phase has significant bearing on the depth of penetration after a well-executed plant and takeoff. This is one portion of the vault that cannot be overlooked and often is. Especially with beginners, follow-through isn’t on their mind when they have targeted the crossbar. However, if done properly in conjunction with the good takeoff technique preceded by good plant mechanics is just about the safest thing that can be done to improve depth of penetration over the safe landing zone, as well as, improving safe vault height.
If the previous two phases are performed in the best possible manner, the follow-through portion will significantly improve the chances of success when moving onto the longer pole. Follow-through Objective 1: Create optimal pole rotation – Pole rotation is the distance the pole rotates from the takeoff plant position to the point the pole has reached when the pole stops moving forward. Generally speaking, the higher the grip the further the pole must rotate to complete a successful vault and to place the vaulter a safe distance behind the planting box within the safe landing zone. Additionally, the higher the grip the more difficult it becomes to rotate the pole a sufficient amount to be safe and efficient. To achieve adequate pole rotation, the vaulter must attempt to achieve the ideal takeoff position during the takeoff and hold that position while his/her torso is moving forward. This will allow the vaulter to penetrate deeply and create a great deal of pole rotation. In other words, adequate follow-through will promote pole rotation and allow the vaulter to land well into the landing mat with the longer pole and/or higher grip height. Furthermore, the rotational velocity of the pole is one of the three energy storage systems (pole rotation, vaulter rotation, pole bend) that directly contribute to the vaulter’s vault height.
Follow-through Objective 1: Create optimal pole rotation. In order to get the maximum benefit of the lifting potential of the pole’s rotation and enhance the summation of forces at the end of the vault, the rotation velocity should not be too slow or too fast. Either slow pole rotation or excessively fast pole rotation can affect the potential height of the vault. Slow pole rotation can be the result of many factors, but the most common factors are top hand grips that are too high for the vaulter’s technique proficiency, slow approach speeds at the takeoff point, inside takeoff points, or low takeoff angles to name a few. Too great of a pole rotational velocity generally indicates that the vaulter’s grip is too low and may be able to be increased accordingly. The value of suitable pole rotational velocity and properly adjusted grip height is greatly misunderstood and frequently overlooked, but is directly related to the necessity for adequate follow-through mechanics. Follow-through Objective 2: Create an efficient bend and storage of energy in the pole – If the vaulter’s takeoff angel is near the ideal angle and the plant and takeoff objectives are correct, the pole will bend in the manner in which it was designed to function. The energy stored within the bend will be stored in an efficient manner and potentially returned at the correct moment (summation of forces). Follow-through Objective 3: Increase the vaulter’s potential for greater rotational speed – During the follow-through phase nearly 33% of the vaulter’s energy is stored within his/her torso and levers. As the vaulter leaves the ground during the takeoff the takeoff body position should be held while allowing the mid-torso to move forward and “follow-through” in the direction of the takeoff. The pole will resist the vaulter’s forward motion causing their hands and takeoff leg to “drag” backward while the mid-torso moves forward. This takeoff/follow-through position is referred to as the “Reverse C Position”. It is in this position that the vaulter’s body’s connective tissues, muscles, and skeletal system are elastically stretched into the “Reverse C” position. The result of the elastic stretch is significant energy storage within the vaulter’s torso and levers. As the follow-through nears completion the energy stored in the vaulter’s “Reverse C” will be returned. This energy will aid in keeping the vaulting pole bent while the vaulter inverts, the whipping swing-up inversion potential (potential to get upside down) will me improved, the vaulter will continue to penetrate deeper into the landing mat, and the vaulter’s vertical velocity will increase. Follow-through Objective 4: Prepare for the summation of forces between the pole rotation, vaulter’s rotation, & the thrust of the pole – The follow-through and the “Reverse C” position will allow the timing of the penetration and inversion to occur in the correct sequence and at the proper moment for a full “summation of forces” to occur.
Checklist for moving onto a longer pole:
- Is the vaulter using a top hand grip height that is at the top of the current pole’s grip range?
- Is the vaulter using a pole that is at least 15 to 18 pounds over his/her body weight?
- Is the vaulter over bending the pole or landing very deep past the planning box when all preceding functions seem to be correct?
If the answer is yes to all three questions, the next pole length at the target weight of the same brand should be located. (Example: If the vaulter is using a 430cm (14’1.5”) 165 - 170 lbs. flex pole and the vault’s weight is 150 lbs. then the appropriate 460cm pole to begin with would be the 460cm (15’1.5”) 150 lbs. flex pole. Also, the grip height must be adjusted. The top of the recommended grip range for a 430cm pole is 13’7.5”. The bottom of the recommended grip range for the 460cm pole is 13’7.5”. ) For the first few vaults on the 460cm 150 lbs. pole would be at 13’ 7.5”. Even though the 460cm pole is rated at 150 lbs. flex, it will seem to have the stiffness of a 430cm pole of 165-168 lbs.
Editor’s note: It is important to realize that different manufacturers and different brands of poles should not be compared to one another. Different brands and different manufacturers should only be compared to the same brand and manufacturers. For safety sake it must be an apples to apples comparison. The following examples are ones that have been used by the UCS/Spirit Company to roughly allow for an approximation of the difference in polls. It by no means is the final word and if in question the company should be contacted for clarity. Due to the manner in which vaulting poles are designed, the stiffness (flex) and “feel” of a vaulting pole is relative to the pole’s length, recommended grip height, and sail piece location. Based on those facts, the 460cm 150 lbs. flex pole has a feel and stiffness that is approximately 18 lbs. stiffer flex than a 430cm 150 lbs. flex pole. Therefore, a vaulter that would like to move to a longer pole must be penetrating deeply into the landing zone while successfully using a 430cm pole with a top hand grip at the top of the recommended grip zone and is approximately 18 lbs. to 20 lbs. flex about his/her body weight. (This example is approximately the same with any move onto a pole that is the next pole longer in designed sequence length. Ex. 12’ to 13’, 13’ to 14’, 14’ to 15’, etc.). Poles of varying length that fall in between the 370cm, 400cm, 430cm, and 460cm have a feel that’s different than the noted 18 pounds. Furthermore poles under the 370 cm and poles over the 460 cm also have “feel” of stiffness different than the 18 lbs. However, rather than to utilize the approximations stated above when a pole switch such as this is made the coach should contact the main factory of that brand of pole for the approximations of the difference in feel from one pole length to the next of the same brand.
Once the target pole is located the following sequence should be used as a lead up activity for making the switch to the longer pole.
The vaulter should: Warm-up in a normal manner.
- Complete several warm-up vaults on whatever pole he/she normally use during his/her warm-up vaulting routine. The vaulter’s goals should be: To accurately hit his/her ideal takeoff point while at, or near full velocity without inverting and land on the mat in a sitting position facing the back of the landing mat. In other words, takeoff and follow-through without inverting remaining in the follow-through position, allow the pole to straighten and land in a siting position facing the back of the mat.
- Continue to increase his/her grip height on successive vaults until his/her grip is at the maximum grip height and to maintain an ideal posture during the approach and takeoff (increase to stiffer poles (same length) as needed)
- To continue to press the pole upward and attempt to follow-through until the body begins to swing
- Make no attempt to invert during the follow-through, just allow the pole to straighten.
- Continue to increase pole selections until the pole stiffness is 18 lbs. to 20 lbs. above his/her body weight and is landing well into the middle or back of the safe landing zone
- Complete four to six of the “takeoff/follow-through vault drills (described in 1 through 5) with no attempt to swing up or invert. This takeoff follow-through drill is an actual vault with no attempt swing or invert.
- Once the vaulter is comfortable, on a pole that is 18 lbs. to 20 lbs. above his/her body weight, using the maximum recommend grip for warm-up length pole, they are then ready for the move to the next pole length sequence (ex.430cm to 460cm.)
- If a maximum grip range of 13’7.5” is being used on the shorter pole (13’7.5” is the top of the grip range on a 430cm 14’1.5” pole) then progress to a 13’7” grip (bottom of the grip zone on a 460cm or 15’1.5”) on a pole that is at the actual vaulters weight.
- Continue to practice with the longer pole at the same beginning grip height with the “takeoff/follow-through vault drills (described in 1. through 5.) with no attempt to swing up or invert. This takeoff follow-through drill is an actual vault with no attempt to swing or invert. The focus is simply using the pole in a correct manner while penetrating sufficiently deep for safe vaulting and getting used to the longer, “stiffer feel” pole.
- Eventually, full vaults over crossbar with standards set at 80cm can be attempted. If at that time the vaulter seems to be over penetrating with all other factors within acceptable standards a slightly higher grip may be attempted. Don’t forget to adjust the takeoff point to agree with a slightly elevated grip height. When raising a grip height it’s best to be a little conservative and only raise the grip height by approximately 2” after two or three attempts with the same hand grip. The grip can continue to be raised if the vaulter is still landing deep in the pit with correct mechanics.
To make a long explanation short, it is possible to follow-through without inverting while focusing on the follow-through with no attempt to swing. This will allow the vaulter to perfect one of the most important facets of a safe, success, and high vault, the takeoff & follow-through phases.