SAFE & SIMPLE POLE ADVANCEMENT
By: John D. Mahr,
High School, Hesperia, CA
task of advancing a pole vaulter to a higher rated or"stiffer" pole
is always fraught with guesswork. It is never really based on objective
or factual data. The decision is generally made after much intuitive
observation of the athlete's progress in strength, speed, and a
host of other factors.
Although the training
and competitive conditions will often dictate a change to a higher
rated (heavier) or longer pole, the vaulter will be required to
have the confidence gleaned from practice and competition to advance
to another pole.
The task of instilling
this confidence can be greatly simplified through a five-step progressive
1. Run-throughs with
the higher rated pole
2. Sliding-box drills with the pole
3. Sand-pit pop-throughs/pop-ups
4. Short-run jumps into the pit with pole
5. Sand-pit declined-box vaulting
The pole advancement
should occur ideally in 5-lb. (test weight) increments or decreasing
1.0 cm deflection-rating progressions.
Note: The same result can usually be obtained by simply moving to
the next highest length of pole, while keeping the same test weight/deflection
Have the vaulter perform
one workout of run-throughs on the runway with a competition length
run-up. A run-up of 12-16 strides will give the vaulter the feel
of the new pole and help him adapt to the added weight or extra
length of the pole.
If the pole is in fact
heavier and therefore longer, changes will have to be made in the
carrying of the pole and the rhythm of the run-up. The pole will
have to be carried more vertically in order to offset the additional
weight, while the run-up may have to be lengthened slightly (1-2
strides) to accommodate the somewhat slower entry into the run-up.
The sliding box is simply
a pole-vault plant box that has been taken out of the ground and
is no longer in service. A facsimile of a box can be made in a metal
shop as long as the regulation box's measurements are followed.
Key: The weight of the
metal sliding box is usually just right to assure an active planting
action with the sensation of some returned force back to the vaulter.
The sliding box should
be placed on a dirt or grass surface, so that the vaulter can begin
walking through the planting action from approximately five strides
out. The vaulter should advance the pole into the box by bringing
both hands high overhead and pressing to an active, high plant.
At this point, he will feel the resistance of the box at impact
and the box will move slightly.
As soon as the vaulter
feels more comfortable with the box plant, have him progress to
a jogging plant from five steps and then progressively move back
to 9 or 10 quick, aggressive strides.
Once the vaulter begins
to hit the plant more aggressively, he will bend the pole slightly
and begin to put himself into an active driving position at takeoff.
The optimal sequence of action comes when the vaulter hits the box
with timing and enough force to maintain a high pole and active
split-leg position at takeoff--moving the box several to many feet.
While providing an excellent
simulation of an actual vault, the sliding box can serve as an excellent
drill throughout the season. Such drills are excellent when used
as a warm-up or indoor vaulting drill.
The third step in pole
advancement takes the vaulter to the long-jump pit. The pit is prepared
by digging the sand and building the pit higher toward the middle.
This is necessary to reduce the chance of injury in the drills.
Once the pit is soft
and ready, the vaulter should find a mark on the runway approximately
5-6 strides from the pit. He should then remove the plug from the
end of the pole to ensure the pole's stability on contact with the
With the vaulter holding
a little more than halfway up the pole, he's now ready to perform
a jogging plant into the pit. At this point, check to make sure
the vaulter's handhold is above forehead level at the plant. If
the handhold is not above this level, have the vaulter move his
grip 3-4 inches and proceed to the next phase.
As the vaulter becomes
accustomed to the runway and pit situation, he can begin jumping
at takeoff with a swing-through into the sand pit, landing on his
The vaulter may then
move his run-up back several strides and perform a swing-up. He
must plant high and take off actively so as to allow the legs to
be swung above the waist in a pendulum fashion and then back down
to land on the feet.
As the vaulter develops
the body awareness to perform more acrobatic positions after takeoff,
he can be allowed to use up to a 10-stride approach and to use higher
handholds. He will generally want to move to handholds (top hand)
within 3-4 feet of a competitive grip. When he appears to have the
technique necessary to take off and perform swing-through movements,
he can attempt abbreviated vaulting actions.
These vaulting actions
may include simulated bar clearances. The closer the vaulter can
stimulate the actual technique positions, the better. He should
be careful to emphasize a high plant, which, in turn, can lead to
a swing-through action and ultimately to a vertical position just
prior to the turn and push-off from the pole.
The entire vaulting sequence
should not be cut short, but rather, abbreviated. Although not recommended,
some vaulters can actually progress to near competitive heights
during this phase.
With pole advancement
and safety being the primary concern, it is unnecessary to stimulate
competition jumping into a sand pit.
This step in the advancement
series should take approximately one session to complete.
At this point in the
pole advancement, the vaulter can begin using the vaulting pit and
stationary planting box. He can execute short-run vaults with the
"new" pole and begin to gradually move his run-up back while moving
his handhold up.
This step is characterized
by the use of "pop-ups," or drills designed to emphasize several
aspects of the plant, swing phase, and bar clearance. Pop-ups are
generally taken from a 6-9 stride approach in which a high and accurate
plant rather than speed is the prime concern.
The stress on a high-aggressive
plant (in the pop-up) will facilitate the smooth transition of the
body into vertical pre-clearance positions. The vaulter must attempt
to move his handhold gradually to a point close to the bottom handhold
of a competitive grip.
Caution: Do not allow
the vaulter to move his run-up beyond 10 strides. Too long a run-up
will allow for too much speed and reduce the efficacy of the plant
and takeoff actions.
This step may include
the use of a bar in order to emphasize bar clearance techniques.
Step four will generally take one session to complete.
The final step in pole
advancement is actually made up of several progressive phases, all
utilizing a sand pit, pole-vault pit, and portable plant box. The
run-up length is that of a competitive approach.
First, a portable plant
box must be sunk into the sand pit end of the runway. The box must
initially be placed at a depth wherein the closed end of the box
is four inches below ground level, with the flared or open end of
the box remaining flush with the runway surface at ground level.
Be careful to move the
sand away from the edges of the box and to pack sand under the box
for stability. The lowering of the closed end of the plant box will
promote greater mechanical leverage for the pole plant. This, in
turn, will allow the pole to bend more easily and facilitate the
use of a high rated pole.
Once the vaulter has
attempted several run-ups and achieved a rhythm and feel for the
run-up, have him attempt a vault or two with his previous competitive
pole. Since the pole will bend much more easily with a declined
box, he may want to hold an inch or two lower than in previous situations.
If the vaulter's techniques
are proper and his confidence appears good, you may allow him to
progress to the new pole. With the declined box, the new pole should
bend and progress far enough in toward the pit so as to move the
vaulter well into the pit.
Hesitancy by the vaulter
may cause his first vault with the new pole to be unsuccessful.
Make sure to have him try again and again. Whenever the pole appears
to be working well with the declined box, the vaulter can be judged
ready to move to Phase Two of Step Five.
If the pole is not progressing
into the pit as hoped, the vaulter is obviously not ready to advance
beyond this point, and may need another session before continuing.
Whenever you see the
vaulter handling the pole better, or if the pole is bending too
much and feeling "soft" to the vaulter, it's time to raise the declined
box. By adding sand under the box and thus raising it an inch or
so, the coach or vaulter can gradually move toward vaulting with
a level box.
As long as the raising
is gradual with a number of vaults being taken at each level, the
vaulter will become accustomed to his new pole and can complete
It is recommended that
the box be raised in approximately one-inch increments. This will
allow for a smooth transition into jumping, with the box at ground
level. At the same time, the vaulter will not experience any great
change in pole stiffness and his techniques will remain ideal.
With many inexperienced
pole vaulters, the act of advancing from a lighter to a heavier/higher
rated pole can be very frustrating and dangerous. The pole-advancement
series will assure the coach of progressively building the vaulter's
confidence and advanced technical skill, enabling him to move to
an advanced pole.
drills can be used as part of the vaulter's everyday workout. Each
step can be used as a diagnostic indicator of the vaulter's strengths
The series should be
followed step-by-step when working with new or inexperienced vaulters.
Since each step represents an important aspect of pole advancement,
it should be given adequate time for completion. An average high
school vaulter (12-14 feet) will need approximately 4-5 days or
sessions to complete the series.
may actually pack all five steps into one or two workout sessions,
with the main emphasis of pole advancement being placed upon Step
Five. With an experienced vaulter, the act of advancing to a higher
rated pole will take on a new meaning when done in competition.
This is true for high- and low-level vaulters alike, so that the
pole advancement series becomes a superlative source of preparedness
training for competition. This series will enable both coach and
athlete to develop patience with the event and its intricacies.
While performing the series, there's no reason the vaulter cannot
continue to use his old poles.