Track Coach


By John Shepherd

British coach John Shepherd explains how to nail a horizontal jumps run-up. Excerpted from the June 6, 2019 issue of Athletics Weekly.

Some of the biggest long and triple jumps in the world don’t count and world records would undoubtedly have been broken multiple times had it not been for the pesky plasticine and the need to hit the 20cm take off board without fouling. Achieving a great jump from great run-up sprinting is a skill and it needs specific practice. It’s no good just training like a sprinter if you want to be a long jumper or triple jumper.

There is a difference between sprinting the 100m and sprinting in the long jump run-up (and it’s not just the distance!). Although both the 100m sprint and the long and triple jump run-up have similar phases in terms of speed distribution—that’s to say, acceleration, alignment (coming up into upright running) and a maximum velocity phase (attack to the board for the long and triple)—there are fundamental differences in what’s required between the horizontal jumper and the 100m sprinter.

The long and triple jump run-up for the mature, established jumper will be around 30-45m in length and the number of steps taken to the board could be anywhere between 16-22 plus. The number of steps will be dependent on how long it takes the jumper to reach top (or optimum) speed to takeoff in a way that will produce maximum distance and it could also depend on whether the jumper uses a standing start or a rolling start.

For younger athletes, length of run-up will invariably be shorter. Up to about 14 years of age, the number of run-up strides will be around the age of the athlete, plus or minus a couple of strides (more likely to be plus)—that’s to say a 12-year-old would run 12-14 strides for his  long/ triple jump approach.

One of the keys to creating an optimal run-up for the long and triple jumper regardless of age is the need to attain optimal/ maximal speed into the takeoff, so the last 5m or so to takeoff.

Senior and elite athletes often have their speeds recorded 10m out from the board and then at other distances into the board, for example, 5m out, at the point of takeoff, and just after (to determine the loss of speed that will inevitably occur when the jumper crosses the board) when biomechanical analysis is being made. Working to minimize loss of speed into the board and at the point of takeoff is therefore fundamental whatever the age and level of ability of the jumper.

Movements Into Takeoff

The movements over the last three steps are fundamental to the long and triple jump. If the jumper fails to set up an appropriate rhythm and technical application then jump distance will be compromised.

In short, the jumper cannot “just sprint” through the board—he needs to perform some deliberate movements to set himself up for the jump. In the long jump the penultimate step is usually recommended to be made from a flat foot.

The jumper lightly drops the heel onto the ground as he moves into takeoff. This should be a subtle movement and the hips should only drop minimally (a couple of centimeters). The flat-foot penultimate step will allow the jumper’s hips to travel more distinctly forward through the takeoff and enable them to exert more pressure on the board (vertically and horizontally which will enable greater height and distance to be obtained).

Note, the jumper should achieve height “naturally” and through the correct technical execution of the takeoff strides and takeoff and they should not attempt to jump high. If he does this then in all likelihood he will slow his takeoff and spend too much time on the board with the result being compromised jump distance.

The triple jumper doesn’t need to gain vertical height off the hop take-off in the way that the long jumper does and therefore he needs to run through the board with even less specific preparation. The angle of takeoff is lower compared to the long jump and therefore “flatter”. They need to maximize speed through two subsequent landings (the step and the jump) and need to carry speed through the takeoff to use in the two further stages of the jump.

Both the long and the triple jumper will also need to move their limbs differently as they come into takeoff compared to the sprinter. This reference is being made to the movement of the free leg and arms on the takeoff stride and the preparation (including the penultimate step for the long jump) for the two-three strides preceding takeoff.

The triple jumper’s choice of take-off arm action, which could be double, single or quarter actions are a further necessary adjustment that need to be made over the final run-up strides.

More Thoughts on Board Accuracy

Researchers in the Journal of Sports Science, when studying young long jumpers, found that jumping from run-ups at the pit perhaps not surprisingly had the greatest relevance to the event compared to run-ups on a sprint track and run-ups on a sprint track with a takeoff.

They wrote: “The task of run- through followed by takeoff on the track lane failed to initiate visual perception, step regulation and technical efficiency at the steps preceding the instant of takeoff… Practicing long jump run-up accuracy at a setting not containing the informational elements of the performance environment fails to develop the key elements of the skill.”

So, it would appear that fundamental to training long and triple jumpers is the requirement to do repeated full run-up, takeoff and jump work at the pit.

This requirement is a further source of divergence for the long and triple jumper compared to the sprinter. Yes, you need speed to jump far, but this speed requires spatial awareness and the ability to “adjust” to hit the takeoff. Doing lots of sprinting away from the run-up, although it will develop speed and improve technique, needs to be kept in check and specific run-up work has to be done over and over again to develop that very fundamental skill for the event/events.

Further research has looked into the use of visual guidance on the run-up—basically the extent to which the jumper “looks” for the board and adjusts his strides subtly to make a valid jump. Researchers in sports biomechanics showed that when jumping from a full run-up, mature athletes employed 50% more visual regulation compared to when they just did run-throughs.

So, again a common theme is appearing—regular jump work from full run-ups will improve sighting and hitting the board. Researchers did add this suggestion: “Our results should compel long jump coaches to supplement run-through training with additional visual guidance exercises, to encourage their athletes to visually regulate more of their long jump approach.”

So what are these visual guidance exercises? Coaches have variously used run-ups longer than the athlete’s normal length, so that they need to find a new rhythm and patterning of strides to target and hit the board. Performing run-ups from “random” starting points is another method and one I have used. These should be just under or over the jumper’s normal run-up length. Using different starting methods to hit the board and takeoff/jump—thus jog on starts, or making the first step with the foot not usually used are further options.