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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Training for the high jump has changed somewhat since the introduction of the Fosbury flop by Dick Fosbury at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. Until then, the straddle was the main technique used by high jumpers. The run up was straight, the athlete took off on their inside foot, went over the bar face down and landed on their side. The Fosbury flop changed all that. Jumpers now run a J-curve approach, with the first part in a straight line, followed by an acceleration into a curved run over the last few strides. The athlete takes off on their outside foot, which means they will probably approach the bar from the other side compared with the straddle. They go over the bar face up and land on their back and shoulders. Thus the training is quite different.

Acceleration work is an important part of training for the high jump. First, put your hands outstretched against a wall and lean towards it at a 45 degree angle, raising one knee and keeping as straight a line as possible. Next take five steps on the spot and stay in a perfectly straight line. Then get more upright with each standing step. Repeat this using a partner and actual steps. The partner supports the athlete during the first five steps, then moves away, allowing the jumper to keep accelerating. Practice the rocking start by putting the take off foot forward and rocking back on the other foot. Push away hard with the back foot and get the arms swinging early. The rock will help momentum and result in a consistent and straight start. Run the first five steps alone, and also with the transition to the second part of the approach.

A good place to practice the second or curved part of the high jump approach is to use the three point line of a basketball court. Try and land each foot on the line. That will help maintain as perfect a curve as possible in competition. Lean inwards placing most weight on the take off foot. If the right foot is used, run along the line in a clockwise direction. Build up the speed each time until you reach the pace required in high jump competition, which is fairly brisk, without being a sprint. The entire line could be used or just that part up to the middle where foul throws are made.

Running in circles is an important part of high jump training these days, in contrast to the pre-Fosbury flop period. Using a circle of any size within reason and anywhere, you can run around it two or three times, increasing and decreasing speed several times, while aiming to stay on the line. This can be alternated with running in a straight line. Here the high jumper gets used to combining the straight and curved parts of the run up.

Take off drills are an important part of high jump training. If you take five strides away from the near standard and run in from there, you will slow down your run and take off and be able to assess what refinements you might need in the gather and take off. Slowing this down even further will reduce the stress of a fast approach and take off and allows you to practice the take off for longer periods. Another way to refine the take off is to use the scissors jump. This can be done in the backyard or almost anywhere. It’s also a good idea to set the bar fairly low during much of this training. This allows you to use less energy and do a greater number of approaches and take offs. Concentrate on the second last step, and the very last step will take care of itself.

A training drill that can be done in the pit or on the ground is to lie down and place your hands on the ground next to your head, pointing the fingers towards the shoulders, and then press up. Using the pit, you can assume a similar position and push off, trying to touch your feet before landing on your back again. A good way to practice the landing is to stand with your back to the bar and jump over it and into the pit. Or jog to the bar front on and jump, twisting the body 180 degrees before going over the bar. The hardest part of the high jump for some athletes is landing on their back and shoulders. If this is the case, stand in the pit and simply fall or throw yourself backwards, quite gently at first, to get used to the idea.

Special high jump shoes are needed for some of the training and in competition. The shoe on the take off foot should have four holes in the heel to insert spikes. These spikes allow the athlete to gain the extra traction needed on the curved part of the approach leading to the take off. This should prevent slipping.

Weights are an essential part of training for the high jump, especially routines that strengthen the legs. These should include squats, leg presses, heel raises, and step ups, as well as bench presses and cleans. Other exercises should include squat jumps, double leg hops, and medicine ball workouts. Set a training schedule that includes the various high jump specific routines as well as weights and other exercises. Start each day’s training with a warm up of one mile or 1.6 kilometers. Vary the program a bit each day and take one or two days off a week.

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