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How to Pole Vault

The pole vault is considered the most difficult technical event in track and  field. It can take years to master! But don’t let this deter you from trying. The pole vaulters’ grace, speed and fearless attitude are contagious and enviable, and whether you are the athlete in mid flight or the spectator watching, the pole vault will always keep your heart pumping.

Pole Vaulting Technique

In this event, you sprint down a runway carrying a pole which you will use to vault yourself over a bar. The higher you vault in the least amount of attempts, the better you will place.

Competing in the pole vault event requires a very high attention to detail when learning the different parts of the vaulting technique.  While the same can be said for all the different track & field events, it's especially true in this one. The fact that vaulting itself will take you several feet in the air adds an element of risk not associated with most of the other events. So take your time when perfecting your technique; the more time you practice, the safer you'll be able to compete.

The following technique advice is for a right-handed vaulter. Do not attempt this without a coach.

Proper Pole Carry and Grip

The grip is usually 6 to 18 inches away from the top of the pole. A red band may indicate the recommended grip range.

  • Grip your pole with your hands about shoulder width apart. Place the right hand near the top of the pole with the palm up. The left hand is palm down. Find your ‘sweet spot’ on the pole by practicing different hand placements.
  • Carry the pole with the top hand holding it at the hip and the bottom hand supporting the underside of the pole at about elbow level.
  • The weight of the pole should rest in the gap between your the finger and the thumb while the pole lies slightly on the body. Your right hand should be positioned directly under your right elbow and you should carry the pole next to your hip. Your left hand will hold the pole in front of your chest.

While these guidelines generally describe how you should grip and position the pole, feel free to make subtle adjustments so you're more comfortable holding the pole. The more comfortable you are, the easier it will be to be successful.

The Approach Run & Pole Drop

In the beginning, hold the pole vertically up, almost perpendicular to the ground.  Early in the run, hold the pole close to your chest and in a comfortable position so that your hips can move freely in the run-up.

  • Carry the pole at an angle of about 75 degrees until you are about six strides out.  Start with a powerful but slow rhythm. Keep your hips tilted forward, and run tall and upright the entire time.
  • About six strides from the takeoff, start to drop the pole tip. You can mark this point on the runway.

The pole should be parallel to the ground at the 2nd to last left step.  You want to be at maximum running speed at takeoff.

The Plant

All the work you did in the run is meant to transfer energy to the pole.

  • You body must be rigid the instant the pole strikes the ‘plant box.’
  • Your hands will move forward and upward.  At the time of the plant the thumbs are towards the topside of the pole. Keep your top hand as high overhead as possible.
  • The instant the pole strikes the ground, move your top hand directly above the toes of your takeoff foot.

The goal here is to approach the plant at a high speed, and plant the pole high in the box. Achieving both of these things will go a long way to helping you clear the bar.

The Takeoff

Time for liftoff. Maintaining a good body position is the most crucial element of taking off.

  • Your eyes, head and chest are directed outward and upward as your foot moves forward and upward.
  • Your hips and shoulders remain square and will continue to move forward, so that they are past the hands and takeoff foot at takeoff.

It's difficult to reposition yourself once you're in the air, so the more prep work you do, the straighter you'll fly.

Pole-Bending Phase

 
Vizualize Your Form

Think of your top arm as a cable that is being pulled by the force of the pole. Your front leg is bent at the knee and kept high.

Your momentum will initiate the pole bend. The swing up is initiated by moving the torso forward ahead of the limbs at takeoff. The takeoff leg and top arm should be extended. As the swing slows, you should bend at the waist so your shins come near the pole.

Pole-Straightening Phase

The axis of rotation is around the top of the handgrip. You need to stay as close to the pole as possible or behind it as your body extends up and turns. The goal is to ‘beat the pole,’ or get into a position on top of the pole to take advantage of the energy return from the pole.

Your feet should shoot upwards to initiate a rotation that turns your stomach to the bar.

Clearance

Assume a pike position and flex at the waist to set up a rotation over the bar. Your left arm releases the pole first, after it reaches full extension. The pole is then released entirely.  After the pole is released, rotate your elbows outward to avoid contact with the bar.

Fly High, Land Safe

Whether you clear the bar or not, the hard part is over. Though it sounds a bit counterintuitive, try to fall comfortably. Ideally, you should shoot for landing on your legs and immediately move into a rollover. The more you practice the steps involved in actually vaulting, the easier it will be to land safely.

For those people who really want to fly, the pole vault is for you. Check out this guide for the basics on track and field's highest event.
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